The seat of Kim Craft’s red Yamaha Roadstar carried him back home to Gainesville from the Ozark Mountains on Oct. 15, 2016, just like it had for the past six years. But the days following that trip in 2016 were nothing like the years before. On Oct. 18, Craft had an unexpected heart attack while at work.
Because of his story, he was invited to New York City with four other survivors to learn from Bob Harper, television’s “The Biggest Loser” trainer, how to best share his story and help other heart attack victims and their caretakers through the program, Survivors Have Heart.
“It’s kind of an educational group where we tell our stories and kind of let people know what to expect,” said Craft, 56, who submitted an essay about his heart attack to AstraZeneca PLC. The company makes the drug Brilinta that Craft was prescribed after his heart attack. “And they kind of combine the heart attack survivors with their caregivers, because they’re kind of two separate but equal parts.”
He’ll be partnering with Mended Hearts, a support group at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, to share his experience with patients and let them know what they can expect on their road to recovery.
Craft takes a 1,200-mile motorcycle trip to the Ozarks at the beginning of October every year with his brother, Rodger Bowen, and his cousin, Tony Mitchum. They got back on Oct. 15 and Craft was able to relax until he had to go back to work at the Apple store at the Mall of Georgia.
His wife, Karen, had been saying he was acting a little more tired than usual, but Craft didn’t pay much attention to it. Even though he usually works in Buford, he was transferred to the store at Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody on Oct. 18, to help out, which ended up being just one of the many things that worked in Craft’s favor that day.
“I woke up and had shoulder pain and I thought I had maybe slept on my shoulder wrong and it was just kind of out of whack,” Craft said. “So I go on into work down to Atlanta and about an hour after I got to work, the pain started getting worse and started going up my neck.”
That’s when he knew something was wrong. He said he started to get a little dizzy and nauseous, so he had to sit down. Some people were standing around to help, offering to call an ambulance, but Craft didn’t want the embarrassment, so he went outside to call his wife.
A teacher at East Hall Middle, she normally doesn’t answer her phone during the day, but she was on her planning-period, so she picked up — the second thing to go in his favor that day.
“I thought to myself ‘I’m going to get back in my car and drive to Gainesville, because if I’m having a heart attack, the Ronnie Green Heart Center is where I want to be,’” Craft said. “I called my wife and she said ‘No, you need to go to Northside Hospital.’”
It was less than 2 miles away, so he headed there.
If Craft hadn’t been in Atlanta that day, a hospital wouldn’t have been so close. When he got to
Northside, doctors said he was about 10 minutes away from full cardiac arrest. If his wife hadn’t answered, he would have driven to Gainesville.
“I‘m glad I went there instead of driving up (interstate) 85,” Craft said. “I tell people all the time that I chose to leave a store full of people that could help me, to get in my car alone and drive to a hospital. That was stupid. But it worked out for me, but it very well could have not.”
He was treated at Northside for a 100 percent blockage, which meant the left ventricle of his heart wasn’t getting any blood. The doctors put in a stint and got blood flowing again. Even though the cause was hereditary, Craft knew he had to make some changes.
He said he takes a handful of medication in the morning and night. He also drastically changed his diet. He eats a lot less sodium now. And, of course, he tries to be more active than he was before his heart attack. His little beagle, Bella, helps with that.
“I wasn’t necessarily in the best shape, but I wasn’t out of shape,” Craft said. “The thing that kind of hit home for me was you don’t have to be out of shape, have diabetes and be a smoker to have a heart attack.”
That’s the story he wants to tell. Having a heart attack can happen to anyone at any time. Through the Survivors Have Heart program, he has learned how to share that story and help others who may have already had a heart attack, be at risk for a heart attack or truthfully, he said, anyone that will listen.
“It was a great honor for me to be chosen,” Craft said. “So it kind of affirms in me that I need to be telling my story.”