Mike's Blog: The Heart of a Runner, Part 09

A surprise visit to the ER

Editor's note: Mike Ashland loved running. But after he moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Oregon, and began working on a home renovation with his partner, he found himself more and more exhausted. Medical tests revealed that without his knowledge, he had suffered a massive heart attack that destroyed nearly half of his heart muscle. Within a month, Ashland went from being a marathon runner to a critically ill heart patient. With no job and no health insurance, he found himself facing the most serious crisis of his life. Ashland chronicles his perilous journey in this blog.

February 22

For a few days it seemed like the medications were kicking in. I went to the coast and did a little shopping with my daughter and her fiance. It felt good to feel good -- to be able to breathe and have enough energy to walk a few blocks.

Monday morning at 4 a.m. the feeling good stopped. As I lay in bed my chest suddenly felt like a large farm animal was sitting on it. I had pain in my chest and it got tough to breath. Even though this definitely felt like "it," I took nitro and monitored my blood pressure. After the third nitro we left for the hospital.

At the hospital, with nurses and doctors flying around me, I suddenly had IVs everywhere, tons of drugs going into my body, and I was hooked up to monitoring devices -- including an EKG. Evidently the results of the EKG alarmed the attending doctor and there was a rush to reduce my pain enough that they could rush me to OHSU. Unfortunately they couldn't get there and brought in my first cardiologist, who wanted to do an angiogram. The doctors had been avoiding an angiogram believing my heart couldn't take it. But, with a plan to do a less risky "low contrast" angiogram, I found myself in the catheterization room.

I was scared. But it went well and we confirmed what the doctors had thought -- I have no blocked arteries. So there is no magic bullet like a stent or a bypass. I'm going to need a whole new heart.

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