Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Reuters, the news company I work for, asked me to write a personal account of my experience this year concerning my heart attack and my return to the living. This piece ran globally on Sunday.

The "witness" stories are usually reserved for some Reuters correspondent who has witnessed first hand a battle in a war zone, a devastating tornado or a hurricane.

When I now think back on my embarassing "crash" in August and all of the commotion I brought to friends, family and co-workers I must admit that the powers that be at Reuters were correct in determining that I was now officially baptized and was qualified to write a much revered witness piece.

All of you became an even more important part of my life this year, especially my 10 year running buddy Tanya aka "Bambi". If she would not have immediately gone into action the outcome may have been much different. I can just see a group of sweaty well-meaning runners standing over me murmuring "gosh he seemed like a pretty good guy and a good runner, so sad":)

Welp, I'm still kicking along and trying to get back into shape for the 2008 running season.

I hope to see you on the trail or on the sidelines cheering next year and most of all I hope you'll hold all of your friends and loved ones a little closer to your heart this holiday season, I sure will!


14:00 16Dec07 -WITNESS-Cheating the grim reaper: a heart attack survived

By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The smile on her face was the first recollection I had of being alive, knowing something had happened and that whatever it was I had been at its centre.

She was one of the young runners I had been training with early that sunny Saturday morning. She always seemed able to laugh at anything, even death.

Humour may be an acquired trait of distance runners.

She told me I had suffered a heart attack. My heart had stopped, was shocked back into rhythm, and then stopped again in the hospital, and was shocked back into rhythm again.

Why me? A 63-year-old with six marathons under his belt? My running was great, but my heavy smoking habit wasn't. My heart attack took place on Aug. 4, 2007 on a lakeside trail in Chicago. I was incredibly lucky to survive it.

I was finishing an easy six-mile (9.5 km) run ahead of the Chicago Distance Classic, a half marathon the following weekend. I was having a good time, it was great to be alive and moving.

I remember a sudden rush of puzzling thoughts: "I'm getting sick? This isn't right. What did I eat last night? What did I eat this morning? I'm getting sick on such a short easy run? During speed training, maybe. Sometimes in the last mile of a race if I push it. But now?"

I told my running buddies I needed to veer off the path and be sick. "We'll wait for you," I heard Tanya say.

Those were the last words I remember. I'm told I fell flat on my face, didn't move a muscle or make a sound.

I had always imagined a heart attack as a painful struggle: tight chest muscles, shortness of breath, numbness in an arm, textbook warning signs. This one was quick and painless.

Great luck -- or some would say miracles -- kicked in.

Tanya had been reading about CPR the previous evening. She began blowing oxygen into my lungs and compressing my chest 10, 20, 30 times between breaths to try to keep my broken heart muscle and stifled brain cells on life support.

My other running buddy Jill helped. A lifeguard who ran by also stopped and helped with CPR. Someone called an ambulance. Another runner, a nurse, couldn't find a pulse. But my life savers wouldn't give up. They kept up the exhausting CPR for 12 minutes before paramedics jolted my heart back into a rhythm.

So I was dead for 12 minutes. My heart stopped again on Saturday night, requiring a second round of electric shock to jump-start my life again.

People later asked me: you were dead -- what was it like? Did you see a white light? An angelic face? I remember only waking up, coming back to life, seeing familiar faces.

It feels eerie to think of how many solo runs I had been on since late winter, without potential life-saving buddies.

One of the arteries feeding blood and oxygen to my heart had been 100 percent blocked and another was 95 percent blocked. I had chain smoked for 40 years. Now I have stopped.

Cardiologists and other doctors could find nothing other than smoking, along with years of stress including long days and short nights, as the causes for the artery blockages.

Two days later a surgeon opened my chest and carried out a double by-pass, installing new arteries taken from my left leg.

My first hobbling steps from bed the next day were a dramatic shift from the 30 miles (48 km) I had run the previous week and from my busy days of running around and reporting on the frantic grain markets of the Chicago Board of Trade.

The surgeon told me just one percent of people who have a massive heart attack survive.

I went home six days after the heart attack. Seven weeks of rest and slow, steady physical therapy followed. I returned to work as a reporter at Reuters Chicago news bureau on Oct. 1.

Now I've resumed running, initially three days a week at an easy pace for 30 minutes on a treadmill, and have tested the trails outdoors on two "easy" three mile (4.8-km) runs. I'm really out of shape. But I have a lot of good people in my life to be grateful for and that keep me moving.

(To more Reuters Witness stories click on: (Editing by Peter Bohan, Frances Kerry and Sean Maguire) (( +1 312 408 8720)) Keywords: WITNESS HEART/ATTACK
Sunday, 16 December 2007 14:00:24RTRS [nL14234978] {C}ENDS

Christine StebbinsCorrespondentReuters (t) 312-408-8576 (m) 312-371-3980 (f) 312-983-7351 christine.stebbins@reuters.comReuters Messaging: news and information reaches one billion people every day. Get the latest news at
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