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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – It’s become the norm for many of us: harried, hurried, and just plain old stressed!

“We drive ourselves very heavily in our society,” says Mark Gross of Grapevine. “No doubt about it. But, there is a cost. There is a cost.”

Mark very nearly paid with his life. “I felt it. I felt the aortic dissection rip through my chest,” he recalled.

It was February of 2012 and Mark says he can remember the moment when he felt the largest artery in his body—battered by high blood pressure and chronic stress—tear. “I said, ‘it may be all over with, and I was preparing to lay back on the bed and die. Literally.”

Mark was eventually taken by air ambulance to Baylor’s Heart Hospital Plano where he spent five weeks in a coma. That was followed by 12 weeks of rehabilitation to re-learn how to walk. It was a stark contrast to the active lifestyle he’d previously led—white water rafting, zip-lining and enjoying the outdoors.

“I’m just a regular guy. [I] let my blood pressure get out of control with the stress and kerboom! Here it happened.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, high blood pressure affects one in three Americans. Add on chronic stress, and experts say there’s a reason that high blood pressure is called the silent killer.

“You can have it and have virtually no symptoms and not really know it—not recognize it,” says David Brown, MD, at cardiologist at the Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. “It’s a big deal.”

According to Dr. Brown, “it can cause heart disease, heart attacks. It causes disease in the brain that leads to stroke. It causes kidney disease that leads to kidney failure that leads to dialysis. The list goes on.”

But, not for Mark Gross. He says he walked away from the high stress job and is now more deliberate about managing his blood pressure- and his stress. He has learned the hard way to not take life for granted. “No,” he reiterates, “I don’t take it for granted at all.”

Mark says his story is also a cautionary tale for those tempted to take stress in stride…especially during the holidays.

Researchers, more than a decade ago, found that more fatal heart attacks occur on Christmas Day than any other day of the year. The 2nd busiest day is December 26th and the 3rd busiest is January 1st.

The pattern has continued for so long that health care workers coined the term “Christmas Coronary.”

Mark has decided to pass on the lethal package—gifting himself and his family with lifestyle choices that support heart health. “So the quality of life is a lot better.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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