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Smart Heart Profile: Heart attack in Afghanistan

Lee Manning

Lt. Col. Lee Manning (Ret.) had a heart attack while working in Afghanistan as a defense contractor. (February 15, 2011 / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, February 15, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Suffering a heart attack is hard enough, but imagine having one in a war zone.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Lee Manning says he thought he was as healthy as a horse, until he had a heart attack while working in Afghanistan.

Lee retired about two years ago, but took a job as a defense contractor and went back to Afghanistan.

"I spent 35 years in the Army. It's kind of a part of me. I enjoy being an engineer and there's a need for people to go back over and to teach and I enjoy teaching," describes Lee.

This past fall, Lee passed a routine physical but days later had the shock of his life.

"Believe it or not, I turned 60 years old on the 9th of October, celebrated my birthday in Afghanistan, two days later on the 11th while walking back up to my office after lunch I had a heart attack," says Lee. "The next thing I knew I was down on the ground on my knees going 'call the medics now, call the medics now.'"

At first, Lee wasn't quite sure what he was feeling.

"We've all been taught radiating pain in your arm or your jaw. I didn't have any of that. I had a pain right here in my chest and it was like someone just reached out and squeezed and I couldn't breathe," explains Lee.

It took about 18 hours to get Lee to a doctor that could treat him.

"They air-vaced me from Camp Blackhorse to the international hospital at Kabul and they stabilized me. Then they air-vaced me from Kabul to Bagram. I spent about 5 or 6 hours at Bagram and then I was on an airplane. They air-vaced me to Landstuhl, Germany," Lee describes the trip.

With one blockage, Lee was one of the lucky ones. "I call my wife, I went hey...don't get upset but I've had a heart attack. I really didn't understand how dire my situation was, until we got to Landstuhl and the cardiologist said, 'you're a lucky man,' said 'the survival rate's about 20 percent,'" says Lee.

Four months after having a stint put in and Lee is recovering. It was a wake up call that gave him a new outlook on life.

"It was an interesting experience and I keep telling people, it's not one I want to repeat anytime soon," adds Lee.

Lee believes 80 is the new 60, so he wants to make sure he lives for another 20 or 30 years and he is lucky to have that chance.

Lee is in Augusta now and when he's medically cleared, he says he'll head back to Afghanistan to continue his job as a defense contractor. He's helping people there make buildings that are built to last, kind of like his heart.

We have some ways you can keep your heart healthy too at this year's Smart Heart Expo. News 12 is teaming up with University Hospital for the event on Saturday the 19th.

The expo goes from 9 until 2 at The Savannah Rapids Pavilion. There will be blood sugar testing, body fat BMI testing and other heart healthy info and all of it is free.

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