Heart disease runs rampant my family.  So, it was no surprise that I’ve dealt with arteriosclerosis my entire adult life. I did my best to manage it, competing in multi-sports and long-distance backpacking, all fueled by a healthy diet. Nevertheless, I had a blockage repaired with a single stent in 2003.

Like all heart patients post-op, I found myself struggling in a lot of ways. Like all Ironheart patients, I considered leading an athletically active lifestyle as, not just essential to my general well-being, but essential to surviving.

My family and I were living near Philadelphia at the time. My search for people I could relate to led to my discovering the Baltimore-based “Active Survivors Network”. ASN was founded by Jay McCutcheon, an amateur soccer player, who had a serious stroke in his early thirties. Like me, Jay had a deep-seated need to spend time with and learn from other athletes who experienced similar fears and concerns. When he couldn’t find one, he started ASN, whose members fostered courage and determination in one another through loving fellowship and sharing their experience, strength and hope while staying athletically active. Sound familiar?

With the help of ASN, I bounced back quickly and remained healthy and strong until early January, 2022.  I experienced some chest pain while shoveling snow. Tests revealed an anomaly. Metoprolol was added to my steady diet of Colestipol, Rosuvastatin and aspirin.

After a couple of weeks, doctors considered my condition low risk enough to green light a 10- day hiking trip to Death Valley (No kidding.)  Two days before I was supposed to leave, I intuitively went to the ER and was released twelve days later.

This situation was far more serious than the first. It required the extensive repair of three arteries on Valentine’s Day, 2022 (Seriously.). Complications included an embolism causing unexpected damage to my LAD which had been bypassed. Surgeons performed an emergency Angioplasty. Pericardial Effusion, Pulmonary Edema, AFib, a liver enzyme count over 5,000 and an extended bout of postop delirium ensued.

As soon as I was able I began looking, once again, for a support group similar to ASN. I couldn’t find one in Bellingham, WA where my family and I had recently relocated. So, inspired by Jay McKutcheon, and encouraged by the staff in Cardiac Rehab, I started one.

“Wild Hearts” was based on the same model as ASN but was focused only on people whose lives were impacted by heart disease.  Bellingham is noted for being a very active, health-conscious community.  Its environs and climate offer an endless number of outdoor pursuits.  So, Wild Hearts grew quickly. Thankfully, on the verge of forming our own non-profit, I stumbled upon The Ironheart Foundation. Becoming part of the Ironheart Community was a no brainer.

– Jim Kosa