“I had what they call a widowmaker,” the Biggest Loser trainer told Savannah Guthrie — referencing the medical term given to massive heart attacks that often lead to sudden death. “It was a 6 percent survival rate.”
“I was in full cardiac arrest,” he added. “My heart stopped. Not to be dramatic, but I was dead. I was on that ground dead.”
Harper, whose mother died of a heart attack, explained that he has no memory of the attack.
“I don’t remember that day at all,” he said. “I was told I went to the gym as I always do. It was Sunday morning, I was working out with some friends of mine at the end of the workout I went down to the ground.”
As a CrossFit member, the incident wasn’t atypical. “If you’ve ever done CrossFit, you know that sometimes people go down to the ground,” he said. “It wasn’t until a minute or so later that people realized that something was going on.”
Lucky for Harper, doctors were close to help.
“The coach went into full damage control,” he revealed. “There was an event going on at the gym and found two doctors that were there. I was so lucky. Thank God. They started performing CPR on me, they pulled out the AEDs and used that on my twice before the paramedics got there super quick and they jolting me one more time.”
“The fact that there were doctors in the gym when I had the heart attack saved my life,” Harper added. “I will never ever walk into a gym again that doesn’t have CPR, people that know their CPR, and there’s an AED somewhere in that gym.”
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Two days later, Harper woke up from his coma, scared and confused about what happened.
“I was like Dory from Finding Nemo because I had this short-term memory loss. I was reliving the heart attack over and over again,” he said — adding that his friends and family were there to answer his questions. “’Wait, why am I here? What happened to me?’ Then 10 minutes later, I was like, ‘Wait, what happened to me?’ It was really so sad but kind of funny too.”
He’s feeling stronger now. “I feel good,” Harper said. “I’ve been doing my cardiac rehab, Monday Wednesday and Friday. It’s been hugely beneficial for me. They’ve taken such good care of me. I’m feeling good, I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m doing exactly what the doctors tell me.”
But while he may be feeling good physically, dealing with it emotionally has been a different story. “It’s been hard,” Harper said. “I am going through some depression. You really face your mortality. And I’m really understanding what’s not important and what’s really important in life.”
That’s allowed Harper to adjust his priorities in life. “I’m not sweating the small things anymore and I’m not sweating the big things anymore,” he said, tearing up. “I care about my friends, I care about my family, I care about my dog. I’m going to appreciate every singly day that is here. I get so emotional talking about it because I haven’t talked about it.”
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And for those questioning how someone who appears to be the very picture of health suffers a heart attack, you’re not alone. Harper was surprised too.
“It was hugely shocking to me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned a lot about the fact that genetics does play a part in this. It is so important to know your health.”
Ultimately, Harper said he wishes he listened more to his body.
“I’m a guy that lives a very healthy lifestyle, very regimented — I work out all the time. But there were things that were going on in my body that I needed to be more aware of,” he said, admitting he had pushed himself too hard. “Before the heart attack I was having dizzy spells, and maybe I should have taken that more seriously. It’s been a huge wake-up call for me.”
“I strongly encourage anyone that’s listening right now to go to the doctor, get your cholesterol checked, see what’s going on in the inside so it doesn’t happen to you what happened to me,” he continued.”
Today airs weekdays (beginning at 7 a.m. ET) on NBC. Harper will be back on the show tomorrow to chat with Dr. Oz about tips to help save someone having a heart attack.