I’m 52-year-old fit and healthy male but in the last 6 months my world has turned on its head.
Last year I was training to run a marathon and during training runs I started to get stomach cramps, specially during the long runs. Its common for runners to get stomach cramps but being a seasoned runner and knowing my body, it felt as though that something was not quite right.
I went to see the GP and initially I was told that it’s a dehydration issue, specially the cramps were occurring during long (13 to 20 mile) runs so I was advised to hydrate myself better. I explained to my GP that I am a seasoned runner and do understand the hydration/cramp issue but these cramps are not normal, I was hydrating well and taking electrolytes during my runs.
My GP reluctantly referred me to the gastroenterology and the visit proved inconclusive as gastroenterologist could not find anything abnormal. I arranged to see my GP again as my marathon was approaching fast and I was still suffering from cramps. I explained to the GP that during my last run I felt little light headed and could not run afterwards, had to walk back home. Fortunately, this time around the GP asked for an ECG done, did not hear from the surgery so I thought it was all clear. Around 10 days later got a call from the GP explaining that they saw something in the ECG report which may be nothing but as I was running the marathon soon they thought it was best to have further investigation hence they will be referring me to specialist/cardiologist.
A few weeks later visited the cardiologist, he also performed an ECG and strangely nothing flagged on the ECG so he informed me that my ECG was normal. I was baffled by his response, told him that ECG done at the surgery showed some abnormality. Anyway, cardiologist said as you are running marathon soon so its best to get angiography done. I guess you can understand what I went through when he suggested angiography. At that time, I was at peak of my marathon training, averaging 50 Miles per week, so it felt strange to have angiography done, beside I had not experienced any typical angina symptom whatsoever.
Long story short, angiography detected a severe narrowing of my LAD, I was asked to forget about the forthcoming marathon and was booked for the angioplasty. I guess you can suspect the frustration felt, I had done 200 miles that month, including two 20Mile runs and the angiography revealed the severe narrowing of my LAD, how comes this was possible?
I really struggled to accept the outcome, kind of went into the denial mode. I requested if the angioplasty could be performed after the marathon, which was only 4 weeks away. The cardiologist was not keen but perhaps seeing what I had been doing he threw me a lifeline. He suggested that he would be discussing my case during their forthcoming meeting and he would like me to go through a stress test and only then he could decide next course of action.
A week later I went to do the stress test (treadmill), completed the test with ease, achieved max HR180 and no sign of angina or any other symptom whatsoever. The HR and BP came to normal range within 5 minutes or so, I left the hospital feeling extremely optimistic.
Couple of days later got a call from the cardiologist. He explained that he reviewed my test results with his team and they came to the conclusion that its best that I cancel my trip/marathon, It was a devastating news for me.
I had no option but to accept the decision, after all it was for my betterment. I explained to cardiologist that I am booked to run my next marathon towards the end of the year, he assured me that the angioplasty will be carried out at the earliest possible slot.
A month later I got the angioplasty done (two arteries got DES) and the third was quite narrow and towards the end so it was just ballooned, stenting the third blockage was not a possibility.
Post process recovery was normal, started walking within couple of weeks and soon got invited to a cardio rehab classes. I guess I was looking forward to that as I was keen to bring some sort of sanity back to my life. During the initial rehab assessment, the nurse picked up that I was quite fit and she kind of prescribed a little bit challenging exercise programme for me.
I started to make some progress and I think around week 3 i started to have short walking session on the treadmill. I was comfortable with my progress and the rehab sessions were getting better and better, I started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. The sessions and recovery was so encouraging that I felt little ambitious and asked the rehab nurse that If I could set myself a small target, I would like to run 5k when I do my last rehab session. She was kind of astounded at first but reluctantly agreed that we review the target on session by session basis. Last day of my rehab session I completed the 5K treadmill run (nonstop) in 30 minutes, at relative ease and without any complication. Naturally I was delighted with the progress made thus far.
Post rehab session I attended the follow up appointment with the cardiologist. We went through the progression made thus far, told him about completing the 5K without any complication. He seemed satisfied with my progress and suggested that I can return to my running but gradually increasing the load. Being a seasoned runner I knew how gradually I need to build up my mileage.
Although I had made good progress I was little concerned about post stents impact and marathon training hence I asked the cardiologist that I would like to discuss my post process marathon training with a heart specialist so would be grateful if he could refer me to heart specialist. I was not expecting a point-blank refusal, his response was that ‘you have CHD, not a heart condition’ so there is no need to see a heart specialist.
Disheartened by his reluctant but concerned about the impact of marathon training I called my GP and explained the situation. Again, I sensed the reluctant but I was persistent. I guess my persistent paid off and a referral to a heart specialist was made.
While waiting for the appointment I started to build up my mileage as my next marathon was not too far away. Gradually my 5K became 5M and eventually I was regularly hitting 10-12mile zone. My weekly mileage gradually went up to 30 miles per week and the plan was to return to pre-process/stenting weekly mileage.
The eagerly awaited heart specialist appointment came along, I was excited to discuss my marathon training plans as well as discuss my long term running ambitions. On the appointment day, I was sent for an ECG, Echo as well as a stress test but this time stress test was done on stationary bike. The session with the heart specialist was intense he went through the completely history/lifestyle etc. At the end of the discussion he delivered the devastating news, i have to seriously consider giving up marathon running, I could not believe what I was hearing. I came to see him to work out a strategy how best to go forward with my marathon training and here I was listening to the worst possible news for me. I felt as though that whole world has toppled on me.
He explained reasons behind his decision, the Echo showed some signs of a heart attack I had suffered but to be certain he referred me to have a cardiac MRI done.
I guess you can understand what I went through, this was the second time I was dealing with stressful news. I came to see the specialist to discuss how best to work out my marathon training strategy and here he was telling me I had suffered a heart attack, when/where/how? The heart specialist went to on to say a few more things but my head was spinning so much that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, I just wanted to leave the room.
The day of the dreaded MRI came, I must admit I was going for MRI with bit of optimism, kind of hoping for a miracle but it was not meant to be. MRI results confirmed my worst possible fear, no time for miracles.
Fast forward, I am trying to comes to terms with last eight months or so, during this period my world has turned upside down, its challenging to get back to some sort of normality, you just fear that worst is not over yet. I am little bit apprehensive about the future but determined to do what it takes to live healthy.
I was on usual aspirin and anti-coagulants post process drugs but now statins and candesartan has been added to the cocktail of drugs, a constant reminder that I am a heart patient for life.
I must admit that to date I remained baffled by the whole palaver, usual questions, “why me”, I have been very active and healthy 52 year old with no family history of CHD. When/how/where I suffered that heart attack, was it a post process or was it pre-process event?
When I found this website and read some really lovely posts here, it really encouraged me to join the community and share my experience. I am not sure if I ever get the answers I was looking for but hoping that my experience might help others in some shape or format.
I have accepted that I will not be able to return to my marathon running ever again but that has not stopped me from running. I still run 3 sessions a week but not exceeding the run over 10 Mile mark. I am not even sure if this 10Mile run is making my heart stronger or weaker?
I would like to thank you for reading this long and probably exhaustive post, i hope I didn’t bore you. I just wanted to put as much detail as possible, happy to answer any question you may have.
Happy and healthy New Year to you all.