The Biggest Loser‘s Bob Harper seemed to be the epitome of fitness, so he was shocked to wake up in a hospital bed this spring and learn he had suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Now the celebrity trainer, 52, details that ordeal — and his subsequent depression in his new book The Super Carb Diet, excerpted exclusively below:
February 12, 2017, is a day I don’t remember, at all, and a day I won’t ever forget. I died that day, a Sunday, in a gym in my Chelsea, New York, neighborhood. Sounds dramatic, but it’s very much a true story.
Sunday morning, I walked to the gym with my dog and met up with [my friend] Sean for our workout. Sean told me that I was complaining about being dizzy as soon as I arrived. A little backstory: About six weeks prior to this day I was in Los Angeles and I fainted in the middle of a workout. I felt incredibly dizzy, and the next thing I knew I was being awakened by a couple of friends in the group class. I figured I had worked out too hard that day, or maybe it was because I didn’t have anything to eat prior to the class. Whatever the case, I didn’t take it too seriously. In the weeks leading up to my heart attack, I was experiencing similar dizzy spells, although I didn’t faint. At the gym, I would reprogram workouts, adjusting the movements that would make me feel off. I would change to lighter weights to adapt as needed. Basically, I was just doing these things to try to avoid the dizzy spells instead of figuring out the root cause of my problem. I was breaking a cardinal rule I have been preaching for my whole career. I was NOT listening to my body. The dizzy spells were becoming more consistent and a growing concern of mine, so I went to a doctor, who suggested I get some further tests done. I put these tests off.
Okay, so now let’s get back to that Sunday morning. Sean told me I was already complaining about being dizzy. He said that he looked over at me and I stopped in the middle of the workout, which is odd because it is very unlike me to stop entirely. Then he saw me get down on the floor and lie on my side. Then I rolled on my back. Sean was smart enough to know that something wasn’t right. He came over to me and saw that I was completely unresponsive. He rushed to turn the music off, immediately told our coach, Sherry, that I had passed out, and then got someone to call 911. Sherry ran upstairs where the AED (Automated External Defibrillator) was located. An event was going on upstairs, so she asked if there was a doctor in the house—literally—and guess what? There was. A man named Hazem Shoirah, who wasn’t even a member of the gym. Dr. Shoirah ran downstairs and saw me on the floor where someone was performing CPR on me. He stepped in and took over CPR as Sherry got the AED attached to me. My heart had stopped and my lips turned blue, but he didn’t stop performing CPR. On the second attempt the AED delivered a shock, but I was still in cardiac arrest. The paramedics showed up at this point, very quickly from what I was told, and they took over. They pulled out their heavy-duty defibrillators and gave me a shock that was so intense, Sherry, the fitness coach, said that my whole body levitated off the floor. This still gives me chills. This was all happening to ME! How in the world was this fucking happening to ME?!
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The paramedics got my heart going, but I was still unconscious. They got me in the ambulance as fast as they could and rushed me to the emergency room at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. The doctors moved me to the cath lab where they put the first of two stents into my heart (the second one followed in the days after I woke up from the coma). After they were finished, they moved me to the cardiac intensive care unit. There they started the process of therapeutic hypothermia, a process where they literally put me on ice and in an induced coma to protect me from any brain damage that I might have experienced from the time (which is unclear to me, but estimated around seven to twelve minutes) that my brain was without oxygen.
For two whole days I was in a coma induced by my doctors. When I woke up, I was surrounded by my closest friends and family, but let me tell you, I was SUPER confused. Imagine losing two whole days of your life! They told me what had happened and I proceeded to get very emotional, but the crazy part is that I was experiencing short-term memory loss. About every ten minutes I would look around and get confused all over again. I would ask the same things over and over—what happened, why am I here, and why are you all here? I felt like Dory from Finding Nemo.
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For eight days and seven nights, the hospital was my home. Eight very long days. I have never wanted to leave a place so badly in my entire life. I wanted to go home to my bed in my cozy New York City apartment. The nurses took such great care of me at the hospital. I’m so thankful for them and everyone who helped me through my stay at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. They even turned a blind eye when my friends brought my dog, Karl, to the hospital to be with me.
When I finally did get to leave the hospital, all I could do was rest. The first time I left the house, I thought I would be able to go for a walk around the block to get some fresh air. I made it halfway before I had to turn back and get home. Me, the fitness guy who works out every day, could not walk around the block without getting winded or dizzy. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. Humbling and tough.
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The next couple of months after my heart attack, when I was home recovering, were very emotional. I battled depression, which won the fight on most days. “My heart gave up on me,” repeated in my head. Rationally, I knew this was crazy, but I couldn’t stop it. My heart had been pumping away in my chest without any problems for years. It kept me running around as a kid all the way through my adulthood. It beat perfectly as I worked on a farm all those long, hot summers of my youth. I spent endless nights dancing at concerts and dance clubs without any problems. My heart swelled as I fell in love, and survived brutal breakups throughout my fifty-one years. It even helped me through countless agonizing workouts. But on February 12, 2017, it just stopped.
I’ve cried a lot over my broken heart since that February day. Now that it’s recovered I am trying to trust it again. The cardiac rehab program I did helped me through all these feelings. The very first time I went to rehab, I was scared. I kept feeling like I would finish the workout they had planned for me, then go home and drop dead from another heart attack. Not only that, but I didn’t have the safety net of a hospital stay after that first session. I would go home to my apartment and be all alone. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t wait to get out, but when I was back home, I longed for professional supervision. It was terrifying. My heart and I are still building that trust. That is why I am doing everything I can possibly do to give my heart what it needs. That means proper nutrition daily. And rest. And smart and effective exercise and stress management. Yoga is really helping me with that. I said on the Today show when I shared my story that I was not going to stress over the little things or the big things anymore. I said I would focus on the things that really matter in life. Friends. Family. My dog. Love. Happiness. My goal now is practicing what I preach, and this time I am.
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Harper in The Super Carb Diet and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.
The Super Carb Diet is available for pre-order now.