'I Almost Died of a Heart Attack At 48—This Is the First Symptom I Wish I'd Paid Attention To'

You may have heard that age is the biggest risk factor for a heart attack, and that's true in many cases—but not all.

Chris Prewitt, an Ohio native, husband and father, learned that the hard way when he had a heart attack at the age of 48. That's more than a decade before the average age of a first heart attack for men, which a 2018 Circulation report puts at 65.6 years old (and 72 years old for women).

Age isn't the only risk factor—diet, family history, weight and exercise also play a role. Prewitt checked all the low-risk boxes (or so he thought).

"I have always been concerned with my health," Prewitt says. "I have run marathons and hundreds of 5K races and did CrossFit for a long period of my life. My family has some gluten and dairy allergies, so we are always monitoring what we eat...I sleep very well and do everything a healthy person would be doing."

However, even with all of these low-risk factors, Prewitt later learned he had a family history of heart disease, and that heart attacks can happen to people at any age and health status. Here's the one symptom he wishes he flagged sooner, and what he wants other people to know about their heart disease risk.

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<p>Image courtesy of Prewitt family</p>

Image courtesy of Prewitt family

The No. 1 Red Flag One Man Wish He Knew Before He Had a Heart Attack

Hindsight is 20-20, but Prewitt wants to speak out to help others. He wishes he had flagged fatigue. "I was incredibly tired in 2023, which was very uncharacteristic," Prewitt says. Research published in Circulation in 2022 found that fatigue was a common early sign of heart failure. Of course, it's easy to brush off fatigue—raising a family and simply living in the always-on society we live in is tiring.

"I had also noticed a bit of yellowing of my eyes—just not as bright or white," Prewitt says. "Weeks ahead of the heart attack, I had the flu, and my upper body muscles ached and hurt. During the event, I had the same kind of muscle pain. The pain was a hurt like I’ve never felt before."

A Life-Saving Wrong Turn

It wasn't Prewitt who made the call when it was time to go to the emergency room. It all started at the gym a few days after Christmas 2023. Prewitt started noticing pain, and the gym staff suggested he call his wife to get checked out.

"I called her, and I do not remember anything after that," Prewitt says. "She was trying to drive me to urgent care to get checked, but she missed the exit and accidentally ended up right in front of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital. She ran three red lights to get there because, by this time, I had slumped over in the seat and was gray and cold to the touch."

The wrong turn wound up being a twist of fate that saved Prewitt's life.

"The ER team pulled me out of my wife’s car and brought me into Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital," Prewitt says. "They performed CPR on me along with defibrillation. They had used a Lucas machine to perform both CPR and defibrillation, which lasted 20 minutes until my heart was able to hold a beat on its own. I was in the hospital for about four days total."

When he came to in the hospital, Prewitt learned he had a heart attack. He also learned something else: he had a family history of heart attacks, something he didn't know previously because neither of his parents, now deceased, had heart issues.

"I knew about my maternal grandfather who had a couple of bypasses in his 60s," Prewitt says. "My aunt, who was in the room with us, told us that my paternal grandfather had died at age 49 from cardiac arrest—same artery. I did not know that until then."

Research shows that family history is a risk factor for heart disease. Unfortunately, it's something we cannot control.

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Recovering From a Heart Attack: 'A Whirlwind'

Thankfully, Prewitt survived the heart attack. Heart attacks have been the leading cause of death in the U.S. for a century, according to the American Heart Association. However, he calls the months that followed a "whirlwind."

"It was suggested that I attend Cardiac Rehab to help my heart recover and get stronger," Prewitt says. "It was a 12-week program through Cleveland Clinic. There, I learned a lot more about cardiac health, the Mediterranean diet and cardiac disease."

Research shows that the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes fruits, veggies, plant-based and lean proteins and de-emphasizes high-sugar, processed foods, can benefit the heart. A 2023 study also showed it can specifically help women improve their heart health.

Yet, as Prewitt learned, not even a healthy diet can 100% prevent a heart attack.

"I think because I was living a healthy lifestyle, I was insulated from it, especially at an early age," Prewitt says. "I feel like there are a lot of people who would benefit from early testing and prevention, especially men my age."

According to the Cleveland Clinic, doctors can perform tests, such as bloodwork, to check for key risk factors like high cholesterol or hypertension and ask questions about lifestyle.

Related: Always Tired in the Afternoon? Here Are 13 Possible Reasons for Your Fatigue

Moving on and Raising Awareness About Heart Health

Prewitt will never know for sure why he had a heart attack.

"Every night for six weeks, I would ask myself at the end of the day if there was anything I should be changing, and there wasn’t, outside of adding routine cardiologist visits to my calendar," Prewitt says.

He doesn't regret exercising or following healthy diets, feeling they saved his life and sped up his recovery. He's back to working out regularly.

Ultimately, he is happy to be alive to tell his story. "I’m very blessed to be alive and have been fortunate to be able to spend time with my kids and wife. I’m back to doing all of the things I used to do," Prewitt says. "I’m back running, working out, coaching baseball, working and doing everything I enjoy doing."

Prewitt adds that he feels that living a healthy lifestyle before having a heart attack saved his life and sped up his recovery. However, perhaps the greatest lesson he learned—and what he hopes others see in the story he's alive to tell—is that it's important to put your health first. That includes taking time to stop living the active lifestyle that can lower the risk of heart disease and get uncharacteristic symptoms like extreme tiredness checked out.

"There are a lot of us who are too busy to focus on our health," Prewitt says. "We are focused on children, family, friends, relatives, work and everything else in life, but if we can’t take care of ourselves, we may not be there for others in the future. If someone has any cardiac history in their family, get checked out, take it seriously and do the work, not for you but for those around you."

Next up: The One Easy Stretch Physical Therapists Are Begging People Over 50 to Start Doing ASAP


  • Chris Prewitt, an Ohio native, husband and father

  • Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2018 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation.

  • State of the Science: The Relevance of Symptoms in Cardiovascular Disease and Research: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation.

  • Family history of cardiovascular disease and risk of premature coronary heart disease: A matched case-control study. Welcome Open Research.

  • Heart and Stroke Statistics. American Heart Association.

  • The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health: A Critical Review. Circulation.

  • Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in women with a Mediterranean diet: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Heart.

  • Cardiac Risk Calculator. Cleveland Clinic.