This is a story I wasn’t going to tell, at least not here.

To be honest, it strains the limits of the business section for me to use this space for what may appear, at first, to be a personal health story. Yet the dozen or so people I’ve shared this news with have told me it’s important to share this because it’s a message many over-stretched, over-stressed business leaders may need to hear. This is also a story of how the situation got managed, the support of our leadership and staff, and a reminder that even if they’re small, the signs are there.

During my last paternity leave in April, not long after Benji was born, he was lying on my chest, snoring and drooling. My wife Beth picked him up off my chest, but even 10 or 15 minutes later, it still felt like he was on my chest. Very subtle — no pain, no tightening, no labored breathing, no anything other than I felt like he was still on my chest. It was actually less than his weight, probably nothing more than your hand on your heart when you do the Pledge of Allegiance; it was small, but it was there.

A week later, I’m making my weekly trip from the basement to the second floor to bring up clean laundry, and on the second trip, I was winded. No panting but more winded than I should be. Odd. I called my PCP and to chat about it; he saw me the next day and ordered a nuclear stress test.

I only had one other symptom in the five weeks between the initial symptom and the stress test. I went to the neighbor’s for a campfire and on the quarter-mile walk home, when I got to my front door, I was overly winded and just needed to compose myself for 30 seconds, then I felt fine. That was it. I chalked it up to breathing smoke for three hours and being overweight.

I went in for the stress test, and two weeks later, I had the follow-up with the greatest cardiologist ever, and he bluntly told me my stress test result was abnormal. That’s the word he used and, as a bit of a wordsmith myself, in the moment, I appreciated the use of that word, “abnormal.” It wasn’t judging, it wasn’t shaming, it was simply saying, “Your heart did not respond to the stress in the normal way it should — it was abnormal.”


Let’s fast forward: The following Wednesday, I go in for a cardiac catheterization (camera up the wrist) to see what’s going on (didn’t have to put me under, just sedation). At the end of the procedure, my incredible cardiologist says, “You’re getting a ride to MaineMed, you need a stent because one artery is over 99% blocked.” The next morning, they drop the stent in (again up the artery — never cut my chest), I’m walking the cardiac wing an hour after the procedure, and they keep me for evaluation for 24 hours. My mom comes to visit; we have our best conversation in years. AMC has a “Back to the Future” marathon on; I watch that and get discharged the next day, about 50 hours after my initial cardiac cath. I was probably a month or two away from a massive heart attack — and instead, I’m in and out in two days and back to work Monday.

Here’s why I tell you this.

First of all, it’s embarrassing. As a big guy, I felt a ton of shame that I was having heart issues at 44 years old. It wasn’t easy to confront that, however, I’m going to be here for a lot longer now and be there for my boys; that makes it worth it.

Secondly, my leadership team and staff were incredible. The staff took over some of my duties so I could get the testing I needed and stepped up during the procedure and recovery times. My board of directors gave me all the space and time I needed. They didn’t harp on project timelines or micromanage who would be taking over which tasks or ever question me taking the time off to get the care I needed. Would all employees say the same about their leadership teams? I think some business leaders are so concerned about the stress an absence can put on their organization that they forget the stress on their employee and don’t always act with the same virtue that my team did.

Finally, even if you’re not a big guy, listen to your body. In the hospital bed, I was thinking, “Would I have gotten checked out if I didn’t have health insurance?” Probably not. “Would I have gotten checked if I didn’t have my sons as motivation?” Maybe not. “Would I have taken time away from work if I didn’t have any staff to share the load with?” I can’t honestly say I would have.

That’s why this needs to be in the business section, because there’s some business leader out there right now who deep down knows they aren’t feeling right, but they say they’re too busy to go get checked or don’t have the staff coverage to leave or don’t have the PTO time or the insurance or the out-of-pocket, or they think they’re too young to be getting any of that. You may not want to put yourself first, but I guarantee there are many others in your life that wish you would.

Yes, this is a personal health story, but as 2023 is teaching us, businesses need to be dealing with issues affecting their employees now more than ever. That includes making sure your people get out of their own way and take care of themselves. Let them know they are supported. I hope by sharing my story, that it urges at least one person to go get checked out.

Cory King is executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.