Running after coronary quadruple bypass
On Friday, March 4th, 2017, I received the blessing in disguise.
After spending time with my ailing parents in Clearwater, my wife and I took a short vacation in the Florida Keys. I was excited about getting away from the daily rat race and running on the beach.
On Saturday when I got up, I told my wife I was going for a run while she slept. I drank a Gatorade, ate an orange and grabbed a bottled water. It was about 73 degrees when I started and extra windy. I ran six miles and started my 6-mile loop back, no problems. I was within half a block of our hotel. And then it happened. I felt myself go down on my knees and watched darkness cross my vision. I was blacked out from 9:42 to 10:09 a.m., according to the health data collected by my iPhone. The ambulance came and resuscitated me at 10:03.
When I came to, they were putting me in the ambulance, cutting my shirt off. I was dizzy and I vomited. In the emergency room, they performed a blood test and an EKG, which showed no abnormalities. They thought I was dehydrated.
I was perplexed. I am used to hot, humid weather, and running in 90 degrees in Atlanta. But we enjoyed the rest of our time in the Keys. Back in Atlanta, I ran at least six miles.
Blessing in disguise
I’ve had borderline high blood pressure for my 10 years as a runner. My doctor always said to keep running unless I want to go on a low-dosage blood pressure medicine. I’d been back from the Keys for at least three weeks when I checked my blood pressure at the local drug store and it was 168/108, I was concerned.
My doctor’s office got me in and performed an EKG — it was NOT normal. I was referred to a cardiologist.
It turns out my heart was not receiving enough blood to pump to my brain. I was told that had I not been a runner, I probably would not have survived my blackout in the Florida Keys.
My echocardiogram showed that my heart was strong, but a nuclear stress test identified that I probably had multiple blocked arteries. I needed a cardiac catheterization procedure to confirm. I was awake during the procedure and the cardiologist showed me where the blocked arteries were. I needed a coronary quadruple bypass as soon as possible.
Blacking out while running was the blessing in disguise and a wakeup call.
Why is this happening?
I was taken aback. How did I get four blocked arteries? I’ve been an avid runner for years and I’ve run more than 12 marathons. I never ate fried foods or foods with much saturated fat or that were high in salt. But I’ve been a passive smoker since I was 16, no more than a pack a week. So I chalk it up to smoking, drinking, stress and something I’d never thought about — family history. My mother had a brother and sister who both died from massive heart attacks, so heredity was a factor.
Everyone was surprised because I was in good physical shape. Being in shape helps, but it doesn’t make you invulnerable to disease. Heart disease does not discriminate.
I arrived at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital with my family on May 16, 2017, at 6:30 a.m. The medical team started the extensive preparation for openheart surgery. Six hours was the total time for my open-heart, quadruple coronary bypass surgery from prep to closure. Equipment for monitoring critical information about my heart and lungs as well as tubes for draining fluids were set up. My legs, groin and chest were prepped to take a portion of the internal mammary artery in the chest and veins from my leg to create the “bypass” around the clogged arteries so blood could flow. This entailed hooking me up to a machine that takes over the function of your heart and lungs, permitting the surgeon to temporarily stop my heart. That’s right. The heart is stopped during the main procedure of grafting the veins to the arteries. I gained much more appreciation for, and education about, the intricacies of the heart and the progress we have made in openheart surgery.
Seven hours after I came out of surgery, they made me sit in a chair and eat ice chips. Imagine! I had multiple tubes in my arms, down my throat, and a chest that was cut open — and already they’d put me on the road to recovery.
I was up sitting in the chair first thing in the morning. By afternoon, I wanted to stand up and walk. I went to the lobby of the heart patient center and used its oval path for walking. My nurses called me an over-achiever! Four days after surgery, I went home.
I started walking a mile a day around the house the next morning. A few days later, one mile turned into two. My blood pressure and heart rate were up, but they were starting to come down. After I got up to 6 miles a day of walking, a little over a month after my surgery, I wanted to run again.
At my next cardio check-up, my heart was normal, even under the stress test. It functioned as if I had never had any blockage. In August 2017, my doctor gave me the green light to start running again. I was taken off the blood-thinning medicine. I only needed blood pressure and cholesterol medicine with vitamins and an aspirin a day. (I did try different blood pressure medicines because some made me dizzy and more tired than others.)
As of Jan. 30, 2018, I was able to run 6-7 miles without stopping. I was accepted into the Chicago Marathon lottery. I’d run it three times before but, given the surgery in May 2017, this one was special. I thought, “Only through God’s good grace am I able to run the race before me.”
On Oct. 7, 2018, I ran the race. I sent a message to my heart surgeon. He was quite surprised. I believed by faith that I could run that race, just like running the race of life.