Friday, June 23, 2006

Olympian, The (WA)

May 11, 2004

Heart still in the race

Reeves runs on despite heart attack



Herb Reeves never thought about having a heart attack - until he had one the week before Christmas 2002. Reeves, a distance runner for 20 years, was playing tennis, and he couldn't catch his breath between points. "I thought I must have asthma," Reeves, 50, recalled. Reeves' wife Barbara Sandahl, urged him to see the doctor, and he went to the emergency room a couple of days later - and found out he'd had a heart attack. The next nine months brought a series of heart procedures - including coronary bypass surgery last September. Reeves, 50, plans to run in the Capital City Marathon on Sunday morning, less than eight months after the surgery. "Herb is a most impressive patient and an inspiration to the rest of us," said Dr. Robert Wark, his cardiologist. Reeves said running a marathon seems like a good way to celebrate his recovery. "I first thought running a half-marathon was a reasonable goal after surgery," Reeves said. "I started training with the South Sound Running group, which I've done before, and each run went better and better. "I thought, heck, I might as well do the whole marathon." Reeves said his wife, Barbara Sandahl, and Dr. Wark gave him the green light. "Herb was the last person you'd expect to have this happen to," Sandahl said. "He's so fit." "The fact that he was a really fit guy saved his life." Reeves, who has the trim build of a hardcore runner, said he ignored some warning signs, such as shortness of breath, while running the hills before his heart attack. Reeves' road to recovery has been fast - but it took nine months - and five different procedures - to put him on that road. At first, doctors put a stent - a tiny wire cage that keeps an artery open - in an artery soon after his heart attack. But about 10 percent of stent patients have clotting problems, and Reeves was one of them. Doctors tried medicated stents to keep the clots away, and Reeves did well on treadmill tests. But he still couldn't run. Dr. Wark called for an ultrasound of Reeves' heart, and the problem soon showed up: a narrowing of the left main artery. That artery supplies 2/3 of the blood to the heart muscle, so Reeves had to have bypass surgery, Wark said. "I was kind of like, `What?'," Reeves said. "I felt good - I just couldn't run. "I didn't feel bad, and, all of a sudden, I had to have open- heart surgery. I had just turned 50, and I wondered what it was all about." Reeves said he was lucky that Providence St. Peter Hospital has a top cardiac program. On Sept. 18, 2003, surgeons cut open Reeves' chest and installed the bypass. Reeves walked out of his intensive care room - and got a special T-shirt for the journey. "Usually, you spend three or four days in the hospital, but I was doing really well, so I got out in a couple of days," Reeves said. Reeves, who was in good shape to begin with, was back at work managing Thurston County's building permit center about a week after surgery, Wark said. Reeves joined the Providence St. Peter heart recovery program, which includes monitored treadmill workouts and light weight lifting.

All that went great, and Reeves gradually started to run again, with Wark's permission.

Reeves said he followed his medical guidelines and kept track of his heart rate with a monitor. "It's just a matter of figuring out how much you can do and when," Reeves said.

Reeves said he used to chase down other runners in races, but he now runs with an eye on his wrist monitor. "Now I run by a heart rate monitor," Reeves said. "Instead of speeding up a small hill, I slow down." It seems unfair that Reeves, a long-time runner, would get heart disease, but it can happen to anybody, Dr. Wark said. "! Our bodies are a lot more complicated than simple answers," Wark said. Heart disease strikes for different reasons, and even the most fit athletes should not ignore warning signs, Dr. Wark said. Reeves is back to a regular life, but he does have to watch his heart rate -and his diet, Wark said.

Not many people run marathons, and even fewer of them are recovered heart patients, Wark said. However, it's not unknown at all to see former heart patients on the course, Wark said. Sandahl said she's not worried that her husband is running a marathon.

"He knows how to listen to his body," she said. Reeves said he enjoys life even more now. "I was a real patient person before, and I'm even more now," he said. "This does give you a different perspective." And, for Reeves, that perspective includes tying on a pair of running shoes and hitting the road, and eventually, mountain trails. "I'd like to be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon and do that," Reeves said. "And I'd like to be! able to get back up in the mountains."