A Race for the Heart

By Sammy Rabin, Guest Blogger

Among my circle of friends and family, I was known as the poster boy for good health.  A healthful- eating vegetarian for 35 years, swimmer, gym rat, marathon runner, and meditator. You can imagine how my life was turned upside down in a nanosecond in October of 2013.

When training for a marathon in October of 2013 I began to get mild symptoms in my upper left chest that started a mile into my last few runs, and lasted about 10 minutes.  The next run it also came on after a mile, also lasting 10 minutes, but this this time the sensation radiated slightly down my left arm. I continued an 18 mile training run feeling great.  I called my Cardiologist to describe what was happening. (I had a Cardiologist out of an abundance of caution, as my father died of heart disease at 68, and my brother at 46, so I had regular testing).  A minute after describing my symptoms he cut me off and said “your symptoms are classic, I want you in here first thing tomorrow”.  Reluctantly, and in denial that it could be my heart, I went.

Sammy Rabin RunningHis instincts were right… it was soon discovered that I had severe heart disease in 4 of my arteries, and weeks later underwent triple bypass surgery. The emotions I went through were not unlike the four stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Acceptance. Only when I arrived at acceptance could I start to focus on re-building my physical and emotional life.  My surgeon said to me “you’ve done everything right with your lifestyle, nature dealt you a bad hand, and now it’s time for us to fix you”.  Had you not led the lifestyle that you did, you probably would have suffered the same fate as your brother.”

My first morning home after the hospital, I literally got out of breath brushing my teeth, and couldn’t imagine I would ever run another step.  Shortly after, I developed recurring Pericarditis as a complication of my surgery and flew out to the Cleveland Clinic to be diagnosed and treated. These were not fun times. My focus on getting back to running sustained me, and it was important for me to have something to strive for.

Last month, almost 2 years to the date of my surgery, I completed the 2015 New York City Marathon!  It was by far my slowest time, but it was also the most meaningful.  I needed to monitor my heart rate, keeping it under 145. The blessing of this was that it allowed me to slow down and experience the marathon in a way unlike my 11 others. Previously each marathon was about getting from point A to point B in the least amount of time. In doing that I missed what’s in between point A and point B. This time, I experienced every sensory overloaded minute of it, enjoying every neighborhood of New York City on its most glorious day of the year, adding new meaning to “Stop and Smell the Roses”. It was an amazing day, the lessons of which have stayed with me since.  These days, when I find myself yelling in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel, or losing sleep over a project at work that hasn’t even started yet, I reach back to November 1, 2015 and remind myself to slow down and appreciate both the present moment, and the gratitude to be in that moment at all.Sammy Rabin Finish Line

I was flattered when a local NY TV station found my story interesting enough to air prior to the start of the marathon.  Apparently it inspired more than a few people and this has been beyond gratifying to me. The experience of this reaction is what prompted me to share it with the American Heart Association. If nothing else, if one person is influenced to check out minor symptoms similar to mine, it’s worth sharing. Had I not checked it out and continued to train, I would not be here today writing this.

There is indeed life and hope after coronary bypass surgery. In fact, it’s a pretty darn good life with some great lessons to be learned.

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