Sunday, May 29, 2011

Heart Attack, Triple Bypass

I had a heart attack on 3/12/2011, undiagnosed until 5/3/2011. I went in for an angiogram the next day. They woke me long enough from the angiogram to tell me that I needed a triple bypass and get my consent, then they put me back to sleep. I woke up in the ICU, gagging on a breathing tube. They took that out a little after I started breathing on my own. I spent a little less than 2 days in the ICU followed by 2 days in the Direct Observation Unit (DOU) and then got to go home. I've been recuperating at home since then and plan to go back to work next Wednesday, 4 weeks after my operation. I started walking once I got out of the ICU and didn't have cables attached. I had a couple of days where I got up to 8 miles of walking. However that seemed to have taxed me somewhat. So right now, I am walking 2 miles per day and getting on the stationary bike for 20 minutes. Otherwise, I am pretty useless around the house since I can't pick up anything heavier than 5 to 10 pounds and can't drive a car.

My cardiologist told me repeatedly that I don't know how lucky I am. He finally explained this by saying most people drop dead who run after having a heart attack (and with 2 coronary arteries 100% blocked and one 95% blocked). After having the heart attack I eventually ran the same workout where I got the attack. I ran 8 miles on Harding Truck Trail. I rode 24 miles home from work on my bike - twice. My last workout before the cardiologist appointment was 4x400 meters. However, we suspect that my running history helped me survive possibly by developing a somewhat redundant set of capillaries from other coronary arteries. Also my running history made it easier to operate on me (less than 4 hours where they sometimes take 6 hours) and helped my recovery. As to "Why me?", my cardiologist blames heredity (my father had a heart attack at 62 - but after decades of smoking) and I blame at least partially my affinity for stress.

I'm told that i have no other blockages other than those they fixed (bypassed). My ejection fraction was measured at 65% (normal) the day after my surgery. I never got an answer as to whether this (advanced atherosclerosis) could be detected without first having a heart attack.

My symptoms prior to the heart attack were
  • Decreasing running abilities over the last 3.5 to 5 years.
  • The general feeling that eating cheese strains my heart.
  • Pale at the end of runs (at least when I end at the house).
  • Angina (now I know what it is) 2 days prior to the heart attack.

Symptoms of my heart attack

  • Tightness across chest
  • Sense that it would be a really bad idea to keep running.
  • Immediate drop in cardiovascular capacity. I had to walk slowly back to the car with several stops to sit down.
  • General feeling of discomfort. The drive home was really a challenge.
  • Flu-like symptoms the next few days.

Symptoms after my heart attack.

  • Continued diminished cardiovascular capacity.
  • Wierd EKG - dips instead of peaks - once I had it taken (on 4/4).
  • Angina when jogging on flat ground. Oddly enough, I had light to no symptoms when riding a bike, running trails, running sprints up to 400 meters.
  • I definitely improved over time. A 10 mile bike ride early on was tiring whereas 18 and 24 mile bike rides later on were not a problem. I ran the same route that I had run when I had the heart attack without a problem.

Expectations and Hopes

  • Given my ejection fraction of 65% post-op and the fact that I could actually do something prior to my bypass, I expect my capabilities to return to what they were a few years ago.
  • I expect to have little anomalies with my chest like popping ribs (due to the operation) for at least a year.
  • I hope to be able to run by 8 weeks after the operation (end of June). I hope to be able to run hard 4 weeks after that.

Moral: Running does not prevent heart attacks but it did help me survive and recover faster.