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Mike's Blog: The Heart of a Runner, Part 08

The country of the heart

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 17

Today I started thinking more about a transplant and what it means. Walking into the cardiac transplant unit at a hospital is quite an experience. There are lots of people with masks. The reality of replacing a human heart is a bit overwhelming. Finding out that my heart is just as fragile as ever -- even though I feel better -- is a little frightening.

When I ran marathons, I remember how in touch with my body I felt during a race or a really long training run. After a couple hours of running, every part of my body seemed to be checking in: "Left foot here -- no pain so far." "Right foot here -- no pain here, either." "Uh, right shin here. I'm feeling a little sharp pain running up and down." And so on.

Now every pain and pressure in my chest registers a lot higher on my radar and has to be considered carefully. When should I take nitro? Call 911? When should I just let it ride? This is probably normal for everyone who has a heart attack and is looking at a heart transplant. But it is hard to get used to.

I spent part of the morning putting all my medications in order and sorting out all the medical bills that are piling up. Boy, that's enough to get some chest pains cranking!

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