Lawyers Have Heart, and It’s Time We Get Serious About Keeping It Healthy
March 22, 2022
My experience with heart disease completely changed not just my outlook on life, but also the trajectory of the patent law firm I co-founded, Harrity & Harrity, LLP in Fairfax, Virginia. For the first 15 years of business, we were exclusively focused on success — hiring the best talent, attracting the best clients, doing the best work. While success is still important, it has moved further down the list. Now, the focus is first and foremost on giving back.
It all started on May 2, 2016, when I played in my regular Monday night basketball game. In a five-minute time span that night, I went from feeling fantastic, which I did almost every minute of every day, to feeling a kind of discomfort that I had never experienced before in my life. I told the guys I needed to go outside for some fresh air; when I got there the discomfort got even worse. That’s when I asked my friends to call 911 and I passed out. As I lay unconscious, my friend Rocky Berndsen called while another friend, James Bennin, started CPR. Their quick actions truly helped save my life.
That night on the basketball court, I experienced the worst type of heart attack you can have. It’s called the widow-maker (for a reason). It was triggered by a blockage of the left main coronary artery that runs down the front of the heart. Hours later, while I was at the hospital, my situation got gravely worse. I experienced bleeding into my lungs, which sent me into respiratory distress and eventually led to multiple organ failure. While I lay unconscious during those first few weeks in the hospital, my body fought off numerous blood clots and infections. My wife was told more than half a dozen times that the chances of me surviving were very slim and to say her goodbyes. In fact, my cardiologist said the odds of me making it through were a million to one.
But what the doctors didn’t realize, what they didn’t know about me, was that I had been training for this event my whole life. I’d been obsessive about exercising seven days a week and following a very strict diet. I was down to nearly 10 percent body fat nearing my 50th birthday. I was obsessed with my health, and this obsessiveness allowed me to survive.
I eventually woke up three weeks after my heart attack, unable to speak or move. But, from the second I opened my eyes and understood what had happened, I was laser focused on two things: getting back to 100 percent and ensuring that I didn’t waste the opportunity for a second chance. I wanted to do good with what time I had left; I wanted to leave the world better than I entered it.
I would be remiss if I didn't address the importance and ease of learning CPR. More than 350,000 Americans experience a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year, and only 1 in 10 survives. Even though 911 is frequently called, 60 percent of people do not receive bystander CPR. Hands-only CPR (pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest) has been shown to be as effective in the first few minutes as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work, or in public.
While I was in intensive care over the following weeks regaining my ability to speak and move, my twin brother and I had many conversations about giving back. It was in that hospital bed that Harrity 4 Charity, our firm’s philanthropic arm, was born.
To date, Harrity 4 Charity has donated more than $1.5 million, and each year our team devotes more than 1,400 hours to our diversity initiatives and charitable efforts. One of the organizations we support through Harrity 4 Charity is naturally the American Heart Association (AHA) and its Lawyers Have Heart 10K, 5K & Fun Walk, an annual event for the legal community that has evolved into a staple on Washington, D.C.’s running calendar. Launched in 1991, Lawyers Have Heart attracts more than 6,500 participants of all experience levels and from all walks of life. I love this event because of my love for fitness and exercising, and because it helps save lives. In fact, it was one of my first goals back in 2017, after all that I had been through, to cross the Lawyers Have Heart finish line.
To me, Lawyers Have Heart is more than just crossing the finish line. It's truly a movement for the health and well-being of us all. It's a way to support the AHA in reaching its mission to eradicate heart disease and stroke and promote cardiovascular education. And if my story can motivate one person to train for the race, live a heart-healthier life, or learn CPR, then it is worth sharing.
To date, Lawyers Have Heart has raised more than $17 million to benefit the AHA. And I am here today because of the more than $4.1 billion invested in research by the AHA. It’s my mission to share this event with as many people as possible — mainly because so many lives depend on it.
Due to the pandemic, the race went virtual — and global — the last two years, with runners and walkers participating from around the world, including England, Croatia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Turkey, Chile, and more. Lawyers Have Heart will return as an in-person event on June 11, but you can also run or walk with us from wherever you are. Sign up as a team or individual at LawyersHaveHeartDC.org, or learn how you can support AHA and its mission by emailing [email protected].
John Harrity, co-founder of Harrity & Harrity, has been involved in the patent field for 20 years. His practice consists primarily of client counseling and preparing and prosecuting patent applications.