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After a heart attack, healthcare network CFO advocates for better work-life balance

My heart attack helped put things in perspective, reevaluate my work-life balance and commitment to healthy eating and exercising regularly.

Gerry Blaney had a heart attack two years ago.
Gerry Blaney had a heart attack two years ago.Read moreHandout

I've worked for Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia for more than 30 years, which means I've had high quality medical care at my fingertips for most of my life. But working for a large healthcare network, and needing one are two very different things.  Two years ago, I suffered a heart attack, and found myself on the receiving end of the care that I have trusted for so long.

My family has a history of heart disease, so I've always been conscious of the importance of making healthy choices and taking care of myself. But in April 2016, I wasn't making the healthiest choices. It was budget season, and as Einstein's chief financial officer, that time of year always brings on extra stress. I wasn't taking the time to prepare healthy meals. I was working overtime. I tried to exercise in between meetings and deadlines but didn't keep a consistent schedule.

On April 8, 2016, I was feeling tired and sluggish. I had planned to go out to dinner with my wife and my daughter despite dealing with a splitting headache most of the day. I ignored it, thinking it had been brought on by stress or hunger. But as soon as we sat down to eat, I started to feel nauseous and broke out in a sweat. My daughter said I looked pale, like I was about to be sick.

I left the restaurant immediately and asked my wife to drive us home.

Lucky for me, my daughter insisted we drive to the hospital to have me checked out. Though I initially thought she was over-reacting, a few minutes into our drive, I started to consider that my sudden illness might be symptomatic of a heart attack.

Working at a hospital, I often hear stories from our cardiologists about patients who present with heart attack symptoms other than the typical crushing chest pain or tingling arm, such as nausea, indigestion, cold sweat, sudden dizziness or tightness in the neck and jaw. Yet I still couldn't imagine that this was happening to me.

Minutes after arriving at Einstein, doctors told me that I was having a heart attack and needed a catheterization to clear a blockage in my artery.

The initial catheterization was successful, but I needed additional bypass surgery to clear another blockage in my heart caused by a build-up of plaque in my arteries. Since I was able to get to the hospital early on in my heart attack, my surgery was minimally invasive, and my hospital stay was under a week. Then I had to undergo about 12 weeks of rehabilitation to strengthen my heart.

The irony that the CFO of a large healthcare network almost lost his life to a heart attack is not lost on me, and I'm fortunate to be alive today. My heart attack helped put things in perspective, reevaluate my work-life balance and commitment to healthy eating and exercising regularly. I want to spend many more years with my wife and our two daughters and keeping my heart healthy is a major factor in that.

It also gave me the opportunity to make a stronger commitment to our employees in encouraging them to lead healthier lives. We strive to make work-life balance a priority at Einstein, as well as making sure heart-healthy meal options are available in our hospitals and offices.

I'm also proud to say that my heart attack strengthened my commitment to giving back to the Philadelphia community through my partnership with the American Heart Association. As the Chair of the 2018 Philadelphia Heart Walk, I'll be walking alongside 16,000 Philadelphians on October 27 in memory of my family members who aren't able to join us, and in support of the thousands of Philadelphians who struggle with cardiovascular disease every day. I'll walk alongside hundreds of Einstein employees who took such amazing care of me and who take great care of our patients every day. I'm proud to be a survivor and an advocate in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

Gerry Blaney is the chief financial officer at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia

The 20th Annual Philadelphia Heart Walk will be held on Saturday, October 27 at Citizen's Bank Park.