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Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge reflects on surviving heart attack

ptrRidge1050313
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
'We’re naive to think that everybody within our borders embraces and loves this country,' said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge said after a ceremony in his honor at St. Barnabas Charities Founders’ Day celebration in Richland on Thursday, May 2, 2013.
ptrRidge1050313
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
'We’re naive to think that everybody within our borders embraces and loves this country,' said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge said after a ceremony in his honor at St. Barnabas Charities Founders’ Day celebration in Richland on Thursday, May 2, 2013.

A heart attack and near death experience has given former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge a new perspective on life.

“The first day I walked outside, I don’t know how blue the sky was, but it was the darkest blue I’d ever seen ever,” he told the Washington Post in an interview published Monday. “How fragile and precious life is, that we take so much for granted.”

Ridge 72, Pennsylvania’s Republican governor from 1995 to 2001, was attending the Republican Governors Association conference in Austin, Texas when he suffered a heart attack Nov. 16 in his hotel room.

“I’m told I flatlined three times,” he told the Post.

Ridge said he woke that morning in his hotel room and didn’t feel well. He started researching heart attack symptoms on his phone and realized he was in the midst of one.

He struggled to get out of bed and make it to the hotel phone to call for help.

“By the time I got to the phone, I knew I was in big trouble,” he said. I woke up six days later.”

Ridge was the nation’s first Homeland Security secretary, serving under President George W. Bush until February 2005. He left the governorship after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to join the Bush administration.

He and his wife live in Bethesda, Md.

Since leaving government, Ridge has headed Ridge Global, a firm that advises on cyber security, international security and risk management.

He also spoke to the Post about the ongoing debate on whether the United States should have stricter gun regulations. The Post conducted the interview with Ridge on the day after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people dead and another 14 wounded.

“You’ve got the gun-rights advocates, the privacy advocates and the mental health advocates. That’s a trifecta that ought to start thinking about this in a much more serious tone than they’ve done before,” he said. “I wish I had the answer, but unless you get serious people in those three constituencies to say how can we work together — we won’t be able to eliminate it, but to minimize this risk to reduce the possibility that this happens in the future.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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