Fitness Saved My Life - Dan Giancola
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When lockdown began last March and the  Covid Pandemic hit, we were one of the first businesses to close. It was not only devastating for me but also for my 380 plus clients. They didn’t know what to do and how to handle it. I remember thinking I always wanted to try online training so I thought why not let’s do this “LIVE ON FACEBOOK A FREE 30 MINUTE WORKOUT” for all ages and all levels of all bodyweight training. It was an immediate hit, the word spread like a wildfire. I started with just morning classes at 10:30 am and before you knew it, we added evening classes at 6 pm also. I literally had people from around the world going LIVE with me on Facebook for my workouts for free in hopes to keep everyone’s mental health in check. Thousands of people at a time training with their families. Husbands and wives, then their kids and amazingly some grandparents.

On May 20th, this all came to an abrupt halt. I drove into my studio as I did for 2 and a half months, I had my coffee ready to go, I fired up my stereo and away we went. I started my class as I always did, at 10:30 am I gave everyone their warm-up and by 10:35 we started crushing our class. Everything was absolutely perfect, class was going great right up until 10:50 am, I remember looking down at the clock I had set on the floor, I used that to keep my time in check for class. Immediately, I felt like I was getting the flu it came on fast and strong, I remember thinking wow I feel sick like I gotta throw up. My mindset was God just get me through these last 10 minutes, I have to finish this class for these amazing people.
I got through the last 10 minutes somehow and now I needed to stretch everyone as I always did. I remember as soon as I logged off, I felt like I needed to get up and step outside for some fresh air. It was then that one of my clients rolled up on her bike to say hello to me, we talked for about 20 minutes and at that point, I became more nauseous. I went back into the studio and out of nowhere, I felt like I needed to throw up, I ran to the toilet and was dry heaving for over 10 minutes. It was then that a sharp pain shot through my back as I’ve never felt before I honestly thought that I may be having a gallbladder attack as sometimes I have. The pain was excruciating, I immediately thought to myself I’m going to grab my medicine ball and roll out my back in hopes to decrease the pain in my back. I tell everyone that was the worst and best decision I’ve ever made. The worst decision because soon as I rolled out on the ball immediately the pain shot through to my chest, the pain was unbearable, I truly have no words for it. It was also the best decision because, at that moment, I knew I was having a heart attack.
I remember calmly shutting down my stereo and locking my doors and then walking into my car. I could barely sit, the pain was brutal. I remember thinking my wife is going to be off work in 20 minutes, I’ll go home wait for her and see what I should do. I started driving home when the pain intensified it was then I called my wife at work and told her I think I’m having a heart attack. She immediately said to me get to the hospital now!!! I turned around and headed to the hospital. How I made it was truly a miracle, was it the wrong decision to drive-in instead of calling an ambulance? Absolutely, but I was terrified. I parked in the hospital parking lot, parked my car and calmly started walking toward emerge, it was then I ran into a few nurses, a few of my former clients. I remember them asking Dan how are you? With a smile on my face, I said I think I’m having a heart attack. Immediately, they told me to head into emerge. I waited in emerge for 20 minutes and finally, a nurse called me in to take my blood pressure and ECG. I remember her asking me “so you think you’re having a heart attack?” I said, “yes mam the pain is excruciating”. It was then she threw on a blood pressure cuff my blood pressure was 170/110 resting was 110. She didn’t seem too concerned said it could be anxiety so it was then we attached the ECG to me. I remember her calmly saying to me just relax here we go. I remember her tearing off the paper where my results were and she calmly looked at me and said I will be right back. That’s when all hell broke loose, I remember 6 nurses walking in immediately putting an IV in my hands and arms. I was given 2 blue pills (aspirin) and then nitro under my tongue. At this point, 2 doctors came in and told me, Mr Giancola, it appears you are having an acute heart attack, we need to get you to Hamilton, time is of the essence we have about a 2-hour window.
At this point, my wife and my daughter walked into the room right there and then I knew I was in huge trouble because this was Covid time they weren’t allowing visitors so I knew this was bad. At this point, we were in the ambulance racing to Hamilton. I remember lying there thinking “omg is this really happening right now” just as I had that thought, the nurse said we need to put this defibrillator on you Mr Giancola just in case, at this point, I was numb.

When we arrived at Hamilton General Hospital, they immediately rushed me through emerge cutting my shirt off as we were flying into surgery. 4 doctors and 4 nurses were ready to go waiting for me I was terrified. One doctor said to me Mr Giancola try to relax please stay still and try not to ask any questions right now. I remember saying no problem doctor and thank you for helping me. After about 45 minutes, the doctor looked at me and said Mr Giancola we got it and we are now working on the other one. I asked one doctor, “May I ask you a question doctor?” he said, “yes absolutely”. I asked, “what did I get?” He said, “you had what we call a widow maker we just got it on time your extremely lucky”. After the procedure, they told me I would be in Hamilton for 3 days then transfer me back to St.Catharines General to recover. Amazingly, that night 3 doctors came into my room 1 doctor every 3 hours and all said the same thing, “Mr Giancola you are a very lucky man, you have an amazing strong heart, we got this thing in 10 minutes to spare”. I asked, “what do you mean by 10 minutes?”. He said, “Mr Giancola if we didn’t get it when we did you would have had a massive heart attack and died”. He said, “your physical fitness and the strength of your heart saved your life”.

Photographer: Phil Cheever – Taken 6 months after the heart attack

Incredibly, that morning the doctors made the decision instead of staying in Hamilton, they sent me back to St.Catharines I was recovering remarkably. On the last day at the St.Catharines Hospital, we had to do an ultrasound on my heart and the news that I got back was nothing short of a miracle. I remember my cardiologist looking at me saying, “Mr Giancola it looks like you have no damage whatsoever to your heart and we expect a full recovery”. I was speechless I just cried. Fast forward 1 year later and finally, my check-up with my cardiologist and what a follow up it was. My heart has fully recovered absolutely no damage at all. My meds are all reduced and some meds discontinued. How do you go from almost dying to a full recovery? I believe with all my heart that my fitness conditioning over my lifetime is what saved my life. My biggest honour is when I was in the hospital and the radio stations were asking everyone to pray for me I was so touched. They even started #doitfordan t-shirts I’ve never been more moved like I was at this moment. I’m a truly blessed man although I suffer right now with anxiety and PTSD from all I have been through I am determined to get my training going and coming back better than ever my heart is stronger than ever and I’ve gotten a second chance in life and I will continue to inspire and motivate people to achieve their utmost potential through fitness.

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Photos By: Phil Cheevers 

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Owner of Bto Performance Fitness Studio, Motivational Speaker, Owner of ”Be That One", Fitness Apparel, Professional Football Player (Place Kicker).

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