Published on November 11, 2021

Surviving and thriving after a major heart attack

Ben Soliven, heart attack survivor

Ben Soliven thought he might have COVID-19. Experiencing body aches, a runny nose, and a burning sensation in his lungs, making it hard to get a deep breath, he wondered. A mechanic, he attributed back aches to strained muscles from hoisting engines.

A day later, Soliven, 63, and a friend set out on their routine walk up to the water tower on the former Fort Ord property. Yet halfway up the hill, he didn’t have the energy to continue. Wondering how he was suddenly out of shape, he went home, took a Tylenol PM and a shower, and rested. Until he was awakened by night sweats and nausea.

“I went to get a COVID test,” says Soliven, “which was negative. I called my doctor, who referred me to Community Hospital to get an EKG at the Tyler Heart Institute downstairs. The nurse quickly took the readout off the machine and ran to find a cardiologist.”

Although cardiologist Dr. Jayme Lynn Rock-Willoughby was hidden behind personal protective equipment, Soliven could see her eyes, which registered alarm.

“In her calmest voice,” says Soliven, “she said, ‘You need to go the Emergency Department, now.’ There, they gave me blood thinner, did an echocardiogram, and confirmed that I had experienced a heart attack.” That, says Soliven, was when reality set in. The heart attack took place on Sunday. It was confirmed on Tuesday morning.

“Dr. Rock-Willoughby’s words were, ‘It must have been divine intervention that you didn’t have more damage.’ She put a stent into my heart to keep my arteries open. Then another team came in, led by cardiac surgeon Dr. Gregory Spowart, who performed a quadruple arterial bypass.”

Ben Soliven’s dad died from a massive heart attack at 73. His mother suffered a stroke and a heart attack, yet lived to 94. Soliven figures he just got a jump on his heredity, which his cardiologists said was bound to present, sooner or later. Whether he could have done anything differently to avoid a heart event, he can do things, going forward, to preserve and promote his health.

Proactive, Preventive, Promotive Health

Six months after surviving a major heart attack, Ben Soliven is focusing on his health, with no intentions of looking back, only forward to the “extended pass” he’s been given in life.

I’m not old enough to qualify for Medicare...which made me realize it’s too soon to retire. This struck a chord with me. I had to do the work to get well. My prayers were answered on how to do that when I qualified for the cardiac rehab and Medical Fitness programs through Montage Health. —Ben Soliven

Cardiac rehabilitation is not an open gym, says Soliven, where one climbs onto a stationary bike, pedals for a moment, and goes home. While wearing a heart monitor, he worked through an individualized exercise program, which included using a series of cardio machines, among them a treadmill, stationary bike, stair stepper, and arm bike. Each week, Soliven and the staff measured his progress and increased the intensity of his workout.

At the end of each session, Soliven went into a classroom to receive instruction on lifestyle changes to help ensure, not only a successful recovery, but longevity.

“I asked question after question,” says Soliven, “and not one went unanswered. Exercise physiologist Joe Yeary knows so much. When I asked him about triglycerides, he brought in my blood work and talked from my own numbers. He’s very intuitive. I also visited with a nutritionist and was reminded to eat to live, not live to eat.”

Following cardiac rehab, Soliven embarked on his medical fitness program, under the guidance of cardiopulmonary clinic specialist and certified personal trainer Avery Ortiz, a case manager for Montage Health.

Ben Soliven, heart attack survivor“Ben was a very hardworking individual, very focused on getting back to his job as a mechanic. Until his heart attack,” says Ortiz, “he didn’t realize the stress he was putting on his body through his work, as well as not exercising routinely or following a well-rounded dietary plan. Our program provides risk reduction and risk management.”

Ortiz acknowledges that Soliven began his rehab and fitness programs, feeling very timid and scared, unsure of his capabilities after such significant surgery. Throughout the program, he remained by his side, to ensure he felt as comfortable as possible while making progress.

“The cardiac rehab program runs for two months,” he says. “Ben progressed by leaps and bounds in his physical capabilities, which helped him build confidence, while realizing how important it is for him to make regular exercise part of his lifestyle.”

Upon completion of cardiac rehab, Ortiz escorted Soliven through the Medical Fitness program, helping him create a bridge to his own, at-home exercise routine, which would promote the confidence to maintain an independent lifestyle changes.

Yet upon completion of the program, Soliven joined the Montage Wellness Center.

“Because of the humanitarians at Montage health, I changed my diet, lowered my stress, and I work out a lot. I’m back to work now. They were going to put me on light duty, but there’s no need; I’m in better shape than I was before I got sick. There’s a reason my life was spared. I need to make the most of it, so I can take care of my family.”

Now 64, Ben Soliven is hoisting engines, lifting tires, and racing up the hill to the water tower, with all the confidence of man who takes care of himself. “Don’t pass up the opportunity to go through the cardiac programs at Montage Health,” he says, “so you can live your best life.”

About the Author

Lisa Crawford

A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education, and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa also is a freelance writer, who specializes in the genres of art, architecture & automobiles, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published several books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.

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