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The Heart of the Matter

April 6, 2009

My dad is the lifelong runner in my family. Since I’ve started running, we’ve had more to talk about, though he’s somewhat amused by my zeal for speed and distance.

Dad runs for fun and fitness. For years he’s pounded out kilometers with a steady cadence that’s almost maddening for those of us with a twinge of restlessness: my dad just beats out the same rhythm, tirelessly. He has great stride, no pronation, and can beat a pair weightless New Balances into submission for months. For years, he measured distance by carrying ten pebbles in his hand: since he knew each stride measured exactly one meter, he’d pass one pebble to the other hand every ten steps. When all ten stones are in the other hand, you’ve covered one kilometer.

It’s running as it’s meant to be, isn’t it?

Ten kilometers, a few times a week. Recipe for good health.

Until this week. He went out for a run and didn’t feel so hot when he got home. Well, he’s 71, we say. Understandable. But he’s been running all his life, and he knows how long it takes to recover. He asks to be taken to the hospital, where he’s treated as if he’s having a cardiac arrest and checked in for overnight observation.

The next day, what do you know? The doctor says, he did have a heart attack. Closer inspection of the films by a cardiologist later that day reveals he’s also got major blockage and needs surgery.

Lifelong runner had angioplasty around midnight Thursday night. Surgery was declared a success, and he’s home now. Surgeon tells him that, though Dad was initially frustrated, the running actually insured him against further damage by

  • creating more pathways for blood to flow to and from his heart. When the arteries became blocked, therefore, it took more time for the heart attack to happen than it would have in a sedentary person with a similar amount of blockage;
  • helping the heart muscle to be stronger and more resistant to damage. Though some heart muscle does die during a heart attack, Dad will have lost less muscle mass than a less active person would have;
  • helping him recover more quickly because his heart is used to the process of recovery.

Finally, he was also spared from further damage both by his own quick action in rushing to the hospital even though nothing in his symptoms (some faint pain in his wrist and a faint feeling of general malaise) indicated that he was suffering a heart attack, and by the level-headedness of the ER staff, who treated him as a heart-attack patient, giving him nitroglycerin and oxygen though the ECG showed no immediate symptoms of cardiac distress.

Needless to say, we’re all quite thankful he can look forward to another run. Be encouraged that even on the worst of days, even if you didn’t work on your 5k pace or beat out a great 18-miler, if you put in a good 2-mile run, you’re working out new pathways for your cardiovascular system.

Your heart will thank you one day.

*For more on how we spent the last part of our week (on our knees!), you can check out our family blog, Home, Sweet Circus.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. run4change permalink
    April 6, 2009 2:23 pm

    Wow, what an amazing story. I have heard that running doesn’t cure heart problems but never really read about a personal experience. It is great to know that even though it is not a cure all, that running is certainly a safeguard.

    Thanks for this post. I read it on the edge of my seat actually. 🙂

  2. April 6, 2009 3:37 pm

    I am so glad he’s going to be ok. I’m sure you’ve been worried to say the least.

  3. the Ringmaster permalink*
    April 7, 2009 7:09 am

    Thanks, Laura and Jason.

    Yes, we were all very worried, and being so far away, though always difficult, was absolutely maddening those days–always receiving news relayed by phone, though my sister (the eldest lives there with her family) was extremely good about getting to one of us right away, and then that person called the next sister, etc. We did not get pissy about who got called first, just got back to the praying.

    This keeps me committed, not only to my own cardiac health, but to the Boss’s. His father had his first heart attack in his 40s, so I know it’s critical we keep our hearts in optimal ticking condition.

    Mile by mile . . .

  4. April 7, 2009 12:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing your dad’s story. I’m glad he’s all right. As I was reading, my first thought was to wonder if he would be able/allowed to run again. I’m thankful he can look forward to what is obviously a passion for him.

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