Community Learn the Signs of a Heart Attack…it can save your life

    Learn the Signs of a Heart Attack…it can save your life

    Richard at Marathon du P'tit Train du Nord in 2018 - Photo credit Jim Rawling

    Unlike depictions in the movies, a person having a heart attack, clutches their chest then proceeds to collapse, Richard Bailey, 71, retiree, and a runner of over 40 years had a very different experience while he was out for his weekly run with fellow club members almost one years ago.

    Here is his story…

    I started out at my usual easy post thrombosis pace expecting the thrombotic pain in my left leg to cause me to walk at some point – it didn’t and Claire and I made it to 5K in 36 min. We turned and within 500m met up with a few more friends. With Michael setting the pace we headed back at a brisk pace of 5:30-5:45 the fastest I have run since my PE/DVT (Pulmonary Embolism/Deep Vein Thrombosis) and I am feeling GREAT with no leg pain – I’m flying!!

    At 1k into this pickup (6K) I notice a feeling in my upper chest (neck to shoulder) as if they are being compressed not unlike a hard workout but strangely different. We keep going and by 7K the compression is still with me and now my left arm is getting heavy; I decided to ease up and jog the rest of the 3K back to University Settlement. I tell Coby and Michael to go ahead and I will jog back as Tory and Clair are somewhere behind us. At the top of Dan Leckie Way, Michael and Coby are already heading over the yellow bridge, Tory catches up to me and we turn right and run along beside the railway tracks. By Spadina Avenue, I tell Tory to go ahead as I don’t feel so good and I will walk back. Fortunately, Tory stays with me and we jog/walk to Blue Jay Way and Front during which time I am debating whether I am having a heart attack.

    Richard returns to the scene of his heart attack 2 weeks later.
    Photo credit: YYZ Events, Steve Blackburn

    At Front Street after weighing my options of going back to University Settlement to get my health card, going straight to the hospital, or calling 911. I ask Tory to make the call to 911. By this point I am breathing very hard and becoming anxious which has me walking in circles then bending over and finally kneeling to avoid falling over. Meanwhile I hear Tory on his phone say, “I’ve been put on hold” – Suddenly I get a feeling of DOOM. Taken off hold, Tory is answering inane administrative questions when I finally blurt out “tell them to get an ambulance here before I croak!” Tory relays the message! We wait, not sure if the paramedics are on the way. Several people offer to drive us to the hospital but having read over the weekend about shooting victims dying in cars taking them to the hospital I wait. Finally, a siren – a Fire engine arrives – not quite what I was looking for! Another 30 sec later the paramedic’s show up and claim me. They lay me down in the ambulance and have me chewing aspirin, taking my information as a sharp pain in the middle of my breast bone starts up, they spray nitroglycerine into my mouth. I looked at the paramedic who looked familiar so asked if he knows fellow club member Michael Moran – “my long term partner” says Rob Kovacsi, 80lb lighter than the last time I saw him!

    The paramedics have arranged to take me to Toronto General Hospital (TGH) Peter Munk Cardiac clinic; I give Tory my lock combination and ask him to get my things to TGH.

    Off to TGH we go 35 min after my symptoms first started and I get there in about 10 min. I was met by a team of about 3 people who along with the paramedics took me into a catheter procedure room; I said goodbye to Rob around 8:00pm and the team who prepped me took off my Garmin but did not turn it off. By 8:15pm (75 min after my first symptoms started) Dr. Horlick, who is supervising the angioplasty and stenting of my arteries asks how the pain was: “Gone” says I. Another hour or so later they have inserted 4 stents and I am on my way to ICU.

    Not long after I get to ICU Rob drops by to see how I am and we chat for 15-20 min. The nurse tells me some of my friends had been waiting a while to see me and around 10:00pm they let Jimmy in who tells me Bert, Coby, Tory left after bringing my bag and waiting for over an hour with no information on how long I would be.

    It turns out I had a major heart attack (Anterior STEMI ie 100% blocked artery), something I didn’t realise until several days later because it was nowhere as painful as my thrombosis. This diagnosis is still a surprise as my family has no history of heart disease, my cholesterol was in the range where taking statin treatment could be more problematic than not, and the only other applicable risk factor was age – really!! The major concern, apart from dying, with a heart attack is how much of the heart muscle dies and that is very dependent upon how long the blood supply was cut off which in my case was a maximum of 75 min and probably less as I am not certain the first symptoms meant my artery at that time was fully blocked.

    I had an appointment with a specialist mid-December and was been told no running, skiing, hang gliding etc. until I got the ok – So it was back to walking!!

    Post-heart attack and a return to racing.

    I was not allowed to run until I went into rehabilitation in January 2020, and was subject to a stress test on a treadmill on January 7, 2020.  I was allowed to walk, and started walking everyday, 5-12K per day, 7 days after my heart attack. In hindsight, this might have been more than the doctors were saying was ok but they weren’t very specific and I wasn’t going to ask “how much?”  I was also advised during any physical activity, to keep my heart below the maximum. 

    The return to running started with a 2 minute run and 5 minute walk for a total of 35 minutes, 5 days a week. This routine reached 42 minutes before I started to run continuously in August, with 7-10K runs, 5 days a week. On the non-running days, I would walk or cycle.  By September 9th, I was racing in my run club’s annual cross-country 5K, next was the club’s 8K in October and in November, I was 1st (out of 4) in the M70-74 age category at the annual OMA’s cross-country 5K. 

    Based on my experience, my advice to anyone who thinks they may be having a heart attack is don’t delay just call 911; paramedics are trained to stabilize you and get you to a hospital that is ready to treat you: time is so important. It’s no use showing up at a hospital that can’t treat you and then has to ship you to one that can!!

    Photo credit: YYZ Events, Steve Blackburn

    Post script: 2020, Richard Bailey is still plodding along with fellow members of Longboat Roadrunners


    1. Thanks for telling your story. I too am a long time distance runner who had a heart attack. Mine happened in my sleep. Like you there is no family history of heart disease and like you my cholesterol was excellent. My recovery was also quick. I was 59 when it happened. All the best!

    2. I appreciate reading Richard’s story as a 77 year old runner and occasional competitor of his when there are 10 year age groups. Very thankful that colleagues, EMS and TGH were all able to help and respond as needed.

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