Bob Harper reflects on the year since he suffered a heart attack

Last February, "The Biggest Loser" trainer Bob Harper suffered a completely unexpected heart attack.

Considering that Harper was essentially the poster boy of good health, the health scare proved that knowing your numbers and understanding how to combat heart disease is important for everyone.

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In honor of Heart Health Month, Harper teamed up with AstraZeneca for the Survivors Have Heart Essay Contest, which encourages his fellow heart attack survivors to submit their stories for an opportunity to meet him.

We chatted with Bob Harper -- with input from NYU cardiologist Dr. Warren Wexelman -- via email recently to chat about the year since his heart attack, why he wants to hear other survivors' stories and the changes that he's made to his daily life since his health scare.

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Check out our full conversation with Bob Harper below:

Where did this idea for an essay contest with AstraZeneca come from?

Bob: Survivors have incredible stories to tell. I found strength in sharing my personal journey so that others can understand they are not alone. You need a support network and there are steps survivors must take after their heart attack because the chances of having another one high after you’ve already had one and that’s scary. The more stories survivors can tell, the more we can raise awareness about heart attack risk and inspire others to take an active role in their health.

What do you hope to gain personally from Survivors Have Heart?

Bob: I think the main thing I hope to gain is to be able to guide other heart attack survivors through this difficult transition. Also to show how important our support system that includes friends, family and health care providers are in a survivors life.

Surely, you sharing your story and encouraging others to do the same has helped your fellow survivors. When you were recovering from your heart attack last year, who encouraged and inspired you? Who got you back on your feet?

Bob: My doctors, friends, family and my dogs helped me to get back on track. My cardiac rehab was absolutely crucial in helping me find my confidence again. That got me to trust in my heart again.

Talk about this "club" of survivors that you are now in -- and not by choice! -- how has it changed your life?

Bob: I am forever in a club that I had no intention of being in, but life has brought me here. I am a survivor of a heart attack, and there are so many people out there in the world that are in this club too. We are connected by a tragic event in our lives, but it made us stronger and it is my mission to help other new members.

What are some of the key lifestyle changes that you've made since your heart attack?

Bob: Not only have I had to change my diet, which is much more balanced and plant based, I have changed the way that I workout, which is more balanced too. I don’t rely on super high intensity workouts any longer. I work more mid-level intensity for a longer time domain. Another major change in my lifestyle is the help that I get from my doctors for so much, including guiding me through my medication regimen, including taking Brilinta, which has been totally new and different for me.

Dr. Wexelman: There is a reason why Bob is taking Brilinta, why his doctor was so specific about giving it to him. In a major clinical trial, Brilinta at 90mg, twice a day, with one aspirin a day, was found to be better than Plavix, in reducing the rate of getting a second heart attack, as well as dying from a heart attack. Even though Brilinta is not a drug that everyone should take -- especially without doctor’s advice, because it can cause bleeding -- it is a very important drug to keep stents open and to keep patients from having another heart attack.

What are the biggest misconceptions when it comes to who is at risk of a heart attack? Age? Gender? Weight?

Bob: I’m sure Dr. Wexelman can give you more information on this subject matter since I am not a doctor, but what I have learned is that no matter your age, gender or weight, we can all be at risk.

Dr. Wexelman: The biggest misconception of people who are at risk for heart disease is thinking that anybody is not at risk. There is no immunity from heart disease, everybody is candidate; some people, because of risk factors, are more of a candidate and more likely to get it. Heart disease is an equal opportunity killer, it doesn’t discriminate. I think everyone is at risk for heart disease and everybody needs to protect themselves for heart disease.

What still needs to be done when it comes to heart attack treatment, prevention and awareness?

Bob: Again, I am not a doctor, but what I will say is how important it is to take care of yourself in regard to your diet, exercise and stress management to do your part in living a long life. I also put together 6 survivor tips on that are easy to follow and essential for a sound mind and body.

Dr. Wexelman: What really needs to be done is that patients need to find a doctor that they can work with as an equal opportunity partner -- a 50/50 partner. It is the most important thing to have that relationship between the doctor and the patient, so patients can actually get the proper treatment. Then it is a question of following what the doctor says -- if the doctor says you need to do specific tests or blood work, take medicine to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure or for diabetes, then you need to follow his instructions. There are so many things that we can do, diagnostically and therapeutically, with medication to prevent any further damage or any second or third occurrence of heart attacks, so I think at the end of the day, it comes back to the same thing -- having that 50/50 partnership with your physician.

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