Detroit Man Survives Heart Failure After Doctor Tells Him “If You Had Waited One More Week You Would Have Been Dead”

James Young heart failure survivor

Heart failure survivor James Young II spoke at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions last fall in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of James Young)

Protecting his health never entered the mind of James Young II during his 20s and 30s.

Exercise ended with his school years, and his diet largely consisted of fast food and microwaveable meals. He was also a heavy smoker and frequently met friends for a beer after work.

By 2006, he was progressively gaining weight, but blamed it on his beer consumption and poor eating habits. His legs were also swollen. Young didn’t realize it, but he was a retaining fluid, a symptom of heart failure.

Young also found himself out of breath after climbing stairs, but he just assumed he was out of shape. By late 2010, Young’s breathlessness during exertion had worsened. At one point, he coughed up phlegm mixed with blood, and the skin on his legs was unusually pale, a result of inadequate circulation.

He still didn’t go to the doctor.

“I thought it would just go away,” said the graphic designer from Detroit who didn’t have health insurance at the time. “Deep down, I think I was afraid of learning the truth.”

By summer 2011, Young had persistent coughing convulsions and difficulty climbing stairs. He felt like he couldn’t breathe when lying down.

“I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up,” Young said.