Heart attack survivor, Danny Chu, resets a new life course after his brush with “death”.

Ex-foreign exchange trader. Business development executive. Chef. Published author. Metaphysical practitioner and teacher. Heart attack survivor.

This 50-year-old, currently Taiwan-based Singaporean, ticked all the right boxes when it came to healthy living. “My friends used to call me a ‘poster boy of good health’,” he shares. He was a vegetarian, exercised regularly, didn’t drink or smoke and kept “pretty sane hours” even when he set up Enso Kitchen in 2006 and was working as a private chef. His life took a turn when a heart attack struck in 2009.

Heart attack? No way!

He recounts, “Three to four days before the heart attack episode, I was already experiencing discomfort around the chest area. I thought it was probably heartburn. I went to see a TCM [traditional Chinese medicine] doctor and he commented that my blood pressure seemed to be on the high side.” Danny was prescribed medicine to “help me clear my lungs and breathe better”.

On the day that his heart almost stopped beating, which was almost seven years ago, Danny had just returned home from meeting the media. “The pain around my chest area started getting worse,” he shares. Despite falling over and moving with much difficulty, Danny managed to get himself to lie on his bed. Even when he broke into a very intense cold sweat and was gasping for air, he says, “I still didn’t know I was having a heart attack then. I was more worried that I might have [been experiencing] a stroke!”

Danny was fortunate that the ambulance arrived promptly and he was rushed to the emergency ward for an immediate operation.

“The doctor said my arteries were 60-70 percent blocked. And I had 2 stents inserted in the one go,” he shares.

“Shortly after my discharge from the hospital, I attended various talks and rehabilitative exercise sessions arranged for heart attack outpatients. The talks were quite useful and gave me a sense that I had support while I was recovering.”

The road to recovery

Danny recovered quickly. “I went to work and served at the restaurant the very next day [after I was discharged] and no one noticed that I looked any worse for wear,” he quips.

He attributes his speedy recovery to his pre-heart attack lifestyle. “The rehab exercises were exactly the kind of exercises that I had been doing very regularly. In fact, the hospital was quite impressed with my progress but I was bored with them!” he says. While dietary habits remained largely unchanged, Danny slowly added to his exercise regime after the initial three to four months of rehab sessions (“I was extra careful when exercising”) and took up Bikram yoga at a friend’s suggestion and meditation became a daily practice.

He shares that his doctor could not trace the cause of his heart attack. “I have to admit my failure to recognise that genetics has a big part to play. And that the high BP (blood pressure) I was recording all this time was probably a big contributing factor to the heart attack.” On hindsight, says Danny, he should have taken a doctor’s advice – to start on blood pressure-lowering medication earlier.

He had discovered that he had high blood pressure while serving out National Service. Years later, a visit to the doctor’s clinic revealed that his BP reading was hovering on the high end of the acceptable range. As subsequent tests failed to reveal the cause of the high BP, the doctor then suggested medication to manage the high BP level. “But I declined, thinking then that I was still young and could manage it with my healthy lifestyle,” says Danny.

Life goes on

That heart attack was seven years ago. Today, Danny looks back and acknowledges that he’s fortunate to be alive. He shares these tips to getting his life back on track.

Keep a balanced and healthy lifestyle

“I quit my 10 sticks-a-day cigarette habit in 2000. I also gave up drinking. Eating healthily and exercise became a big part of my life,” shares Danny and is adamant that those changes probably saved his life.

Simplify your life

These days, Danny paces himself. His day-to-day routine is uncomplicated. “Daily meditation, cardio exercises (3-4 times a week), weight training (3-4 times a week), Bikram hot yoga (2-3 times a week) and spending time with Gobo my cat,” shares Danny.

Do what you love

His latest accomplishment – the award-winning Shojin Ryori: The Art of Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine cookbook published last year – is his pride and joy. It is a project that he can now tick it off his life’s wishlist. “Sometimes life is about just taking the plunge to achieve a dream. If you don’t succeed, at the very least, you’ve tried! But if you haven’t tried, how would you know that you can’t or won’t make that dream come true?”

Take nothing for granted

During the operation, Danny says he had a “near death experience”, which he shares, changed his perspective on life. “When I opened my eyes, I saw a group of people [standing over me] and one was holding electric paddles. I was subsequently pushed to the ICU. When I became more conscious, the nurse shared with me that my heart had indeed stopped during the operation.” Technically, he says, he has “died once”.

Thus, where his quarterly jaunts to Singapore – he used to prepare Japanese vegetarian cuisine in a friend’s Japanese restaurant – have taken a back seat for now, he’s busy with his metaphysical and healing practice. “[These activities] help me relax, manage my stress, help me understand myself better and I get to help others with these skills,” he says.

It’s not the end of the world

Understandably upset when he was told [at the hospital after his operation] that he could never go back to the same physical fitness level, he shares, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise [about getting better] or ‘condemn’ you just because you have had a heart attack! You can get back on your feet.”

Ref: N18