The Broad Street Run always brings up emotional memories for me. Although I’ve never run it, I came close in 2012. I was just 25 years old at the time, in excellent physical shape and as far as I could tell, in excellent health.
Six years ago, I was crossing the finish line after a strong six-mile training race before the Broad Street Run when I suffered a massive heart attack.
Wellness has always been very important to me. As a young kid, I started to experience inexplicable fainting spells. Doctors ran all kinds of tests, including tests on my heart, to figure out why, but they all came back inconclusive. I concluded that I was just out of shape or over-exerting myself.
Consequently, in years to come, I paid very close attention to my health, developed a vigorous fitness routine, adopted a clean diet, and the fainting stopped around age 18. I believed I had taken control of this mysterious condition.
Until that training run in 2012.
I was feeling good. But a few miles in, things started to get challenging. I encouraged myself to push on. It’s not supposed to be easy, right? I pushed through the fatigue and eventually saw the finish line within reach.
As I crossed the finish line, I had that old familiar feeling that I might faint. I hadn’t fainted in more than seven years, but it’s a feeling you don’t forget. All I could bring myself to do was get down on the ground before it was “lights out.” I remember thinking “someone will find me.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having a massive heart attack.
Luckily, a nurse who had crossed the finish line moments before me saw me go down and sprang into action and started performing CPR.
I woke up three days later in the hospital. My first thought was that I must have been really dehydrated from the race. I wanted to take out my saline drip get back to my Broad Street training routine. But then my doctor explained to me that I had just woken up from a coma and that I had had congestive heart failure.
I needed to have open surgery to repair the pre-existing condition — called anomalous left coronary artery — that wasn’t allowing my heart to function properly.
During the race, the strenuous activity had pinched the artery closed, causing my heart attack – it was the same cause for all of those fainting spells I’d brushed off my entire life.
After I learned that my condition — as called “misplaced left coronary artery” — was due to a genetic defect, I encouraged my family to be tested so they could be protected from the same condition. As this science and technology continues to advance, I am grateful to the doctors, nurses, and medical researchers that made my survival and recovery possible.
Although my recovery wasn’t an easy road, it was made lighter by the fact that I was already in excellent physical health. Because I had taken good care of my body through diet and exercise, I was able to recover sooner after heart surgery than expected.
Research by the American Heart Association shows that 30 minutes of walking a day can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which are all major contributors to heart disease.
Six years after my heart attack, I am in better shape than ever before. In addition to my career as a therapist, I make time to be a cycling instructor, and am still an avid runner.
I still haven’t crossed that Broad Street finish line, but maybe next year.
Alanna Gardner practices individual and relationship therapy at Philadelphia MFT and teaches fitness classes at Flywheel Sports and SLT. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband.
Note from the American Heart Association: Only about 22 percent of American adults meet the federal physical activity recommendation for aerobic activity. Without regular activity, your risk of heart attack and stroke increases. April is Move More Month. Learn more at heart.org/MoveMoreMonth