Rob says, “I don’t smoke, eat clean, and exercise vigorously. How can I have heart disease?”
My story begins in 2012. I began participating in triathlons and immediately fell in love with the sport. Over the next couple of years, I matured from sprint distance up to full Ironman distance. My goal was to qualify for the Kona World Championships. In 2014, I was finishing in the top 10% in my age group and was a USAT All American. Kona was within sight. By mid year 2015, I had completed several Ironman events including three full distance and eight half Ironman competitions.
Late in August 2015 everything changed. I was out for a normal training ride and about 60 miles in something felt “off.” My throat got very dry. I assumed it was something in the air or allergies. The next day I went out for a run and about 1 mile in the same symptom arose. Over the course of the next few days, this continued to occur. After about a week of this and just ignoring the symptom, I decided it was time to got get a chest x-ray. The x-ray came back clean, however, the doctor recommended an EKG. I declined the EKG. After all, I was an accomplished triathlete and had just completed Ironman CDA seven weeks prior.
The symptoms continued and began occurring even when I wasn’t working out. The Friday before Labor Day, it happened while swimming and the palms of my hands became numb. I quit the workout and decided to take a day off from training. The Sunday before Labor Day in early afternoon while at home with my wife, it happened again. With my wife screaming at me to go to Urgent Care to get an EKG, I reluctantly agreed.
The Urgent Care doctor looked at the EKG and got very nervous. She explained to me that something was very wrong and that she was calling an ambulance to rush me to a local Emergency Room. In total disbelief, I proceeded to walk out and drove myself to the Mayo Clinic.
Mayo Clinic performed another EKG and blood test and immediately confirmed that I had suffered at least one heart attack. Based on the symptoms that had occurred for over a week, I probably had experienced several heart attacks. I was admitted to the hospital and placed into intensive care to my total disbelief. I was thinking “I’m in the best shape of my life. I don’t smoke. I’m very thin. I eat clean. I exercise vigorously for 15-20 hours a week. How can this be?”
An ultra-sound of my heart was performed where the cardiologist informed me they that I had a blockage of about 70% of the LAD (widow maker). The plan was to perform an angioplasty and have a stent put in. Since it was the day before Labor Day, I was scheduled for surgery the following afternoon.
At 3 am in the morning the cardiologist burst into my hospital room explaining my blood test from just an hour ago showed an extremely elevated protein level, and that surgery could not wait until the afternoon. Fifteen minutes later, I was in surgery. Once in the surgeon discovered that my blockage was actually two blockages, and they were much much worse than they expected. LAD was 95% blocked and the distal RCA was 100% blocked. The anticipated one stent became four stents.
Post surgery, I recovered very quickly but had a difficult time hearing the stats – massive tissue damage, ejection fraction down to 32%, etc…. Nurses and the cardiologist informed me that I would never race again, and that I would be prudent to keep my heart rate under 140.
About halfway through the cardiac rehab, my cardiologist suggested that I have a follow up visit with their sports cardiologist, Dr. Todd Hurst, that specializes in athletes. Dr. Hurst was and is exactly what I needed. Fast forward, ejection fraction has improved drastically. I passed the latest stress test with flying colors, and Dr. Hurst has cleared me to participate in another Ironman.
I am currently training again only 8 months after my heart attack. I will be racing in Ironman Coeur d’alene 2016 and will proudly be wearing Ironheart race gear.
– Rob Steinberg, Scottsdale, AZ