Over the last few months, the American Heart Association in New York City has run a monthly feature on our blog titled the “Survivor of the Month.” The goal of this series is to highlight the individuals who embody our mission of being “a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.” In previous months, we wrote the story on behalf of the survivors. In honor of turning the page on a new year (and arguably a new decade), we are evolving the format to give survivors the opportunity to tell their story in their own words. We thank Linda Feingold for sharing her story.
My name is Linda Feingold, MEd, MS, RDN and during my twentieth year as a registered dietitian and personal trainer teaching others how to eat and exercise properly in order to prevent heart disease, I ended up becoming a cardiac patient myself.
Being in the health education business for so long, I literally forgot that in some people, a family history of heart disease can override healthy habits. So when I started developing back pain that would sometimes radiate into my chest during my long runs while training for the NYC Marathon in 2018, I didn’t assume I had a heart problem. Especially since only a few weeks prior I had my annual physical and was told my “ten year risk factor for heart disease was .5%”. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that my dad had a massive heart attack and went into cardiac arrest when he was around my age. So I asked my primary doctor if she could order me a stress test and she referred me to a cardiologist.
Nine days after my 18-mile training run I was in a cardiologist’s office learning for the first time that I had something very wrong with my heart. I underwent a slew of tests and exactly one month after that first appointment I learned I had coronary artery disease (CAD). One week later I was in the cath lab undergoing my first stent placement for my “widow maker” artery which was 99% blocked. I was too sick to undergo the second stent placement I needed for another significantly blocked artery and had to wait an additional five weeks for that procedure.
I could have let all this beat me up emotionally but I refused to do so. I was weak from four months of being completely inactive but I picked myself up, wiped the tears of fear and frustration, and powered through. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who has ever signed up for a half-marathon in the middle of a cardiac rehab class (If you don’t sign up immediately for the Brooklyn Half you’re not getting in!).
I ran that half-marathon six weeks after graduating from cardiac rehab only 41 seconds slower than I did the year before. And my dream of running the NYC Marathon finally came true on November 3rd, 2019 in 4:28:05 (my seventh NYC attempt and second marathon ever in 23 years!). In addition, in 2019 I earned a personal best in my 1M, 5K, 4M, 10K and marathon times. I guess it’s true what they say – the comeback is always greater than the setback.
In 2020 and beyond, I plan to continue to educate others in eating healthfully and exercising, with an additional emphasis on being in tune with the body and knowing when something isn’t right. I plan on being as active if not more so than before. Most importantly, I look forward to more sunrises and sunsets, and more time with friends and family.
Diego is the Communications Director for the American Heart Association in New York City. He loves sharing powerful stories that inspire people to take control of their health.