John Harrity of Centreville, Virginia is a pretty laid back guy. At least on the surface. But he also pushes himself both professionally and while playing sports. A successful patent attorney he was playing a pick-up basketball game back in May of 2016 when he didn't feel like his normal self.
"I'm typically the guy on the court who is in the best shape. I'm not the guy who stops the game," said John.
On that night, after defending a basket shot, everything changed.
"I'm starting to get some shortness of breath. I felt very warm and I told my friends I have to go outside and get some cold air."
"So he kind of did this slow walk around the court, said Rocky Berndsen, who was playing ball with John that night and is also a co-worker. "Now he's getting wobbily."
"And then I felt some chest pains," said John. "And I told them to call 911. And then that's the last thing I remember."
As John lay unconscious under the lights of the basketball court and not breathing, Rocky called for help, while another friend and co-worker, James Bennin, followed directions from the 911 call taker on how to do CPR.
"I put the 911 operator on speaker phone. James was like what should I do? She said just find the center part of the chest and she kind of called out the cadence. One. Two," said Berndsen.
John didn' wake up for 3 weeks. He had the most deadly heart attack you can have. Something called a Widow Maker. It's triggered by a blockage to the main coronary artery. This artery supplies the largest amount of blood flow to the heart.
John has no history of cardiovascular disease in his family. He has always taken care of himself.
"I was doing everything we were supposed to do. I mean, for many decades I've worked out 7 days a week. I followed a very strict diet. At the time of my heart attack my body fat was at 11-percent. I literally felt I was in the best shape of my life."
However it's that great physical shape, his friends and doctors too, that saved John. Not only from the heart attack, but the complications that followed. Blood thinners caused bleeding into his lungs. He also suffered multiple organ failure.
While John feels like he's almost 100-percent physically today, he is still coping with the mental part of recovering from such a serious health event. Which is perfectly normal.
"Unfortunately it's always in the back of my mind, said John as he worked out with WUSA9's Bruce Johnson in his home gym. "I come down here and I work out at 5am. And I think to myself, watch for warning signs. I used to go run the circle at 5am and there's no one around. If I have a heart attack out there I'm done. So I'm more cautious today."
Never far from John, or his wife Eileen's conscious, is also the day Eileen told their children about John's heart attack.
"My daughter knew. She said 'Did he have a heart attack?' And I said, he did. My son it was a little harder," said Eileen tearing up. "He didn't want to talk about it at all. It was too hard for him to talk about it."
As for the lesson learned from all of this, John said, "The way I look at it is, if I was doing everything we are told to do to prevent heart disease, and if it can happen to me. I truly believe it can happen to anyone. So the only lesson learned that I got out of this I don't know how to prevent it from happening again. But the lesson learned is get yourself in great shape. That's going to increase your odds of surviving."