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Getting into the vault wasn’t so bad, it was the getting out I was worried about. I had been under for surgery before, but not an emergency like this. It was all so sudden and unexpected. Just a few weeks ago, I had been a healthy 56 year-old man, on the 53rd day of his mini run streak. Now, I was about to go on an operating table for emergency coronary bypass surgery.

Dr. Boyce had told me this was major surgery, but reassured me that he did this a couple times a day, and it would be successful. I had kissed my youngest son and wife goodbye, and just in case things went sideways, I told her I loved her forever. The anesthesiologist told me to count backwards, and I wondered. What was I stepping into?

And how did this happen?

On July 2nd, everything was fine. I ran about 2.5 easy miles and went about the rest of my day.

July 3rd was one of my fitness test days. Once a month, I challenged myself to run 3 miles while keeping my heart rate below 130 beats per minute. In theory, I these runs were supposed to get faster every month while keeping my heart rate level. I wouldn’t say I had a bad run on July 3rd, but my results were slightly worse than my June test. I noticed that I was breathing harder than I should have been. It didn’t set off any alarms, but I took note.

Over the next two weeks this breathing trouble got worse. Then, on July 18th I went on an easy run with a group of friends and had to walk 3 miles back to my car when I could not finish or catch my breath.

I knew something was wrong but really had no clue what the problem could be.

Fast forward a few weeks through checkups with my primary care doctor, a pulmonologist, and a cardiologist. So many tests, so few answers. Yet, I couldn’t let that derail the family trip to Atlantis to celebrate our son’s high school graduation. In retrospect, snorkeling might not have been my best idea.

Then, Tuesday August 4th, I went for a short walk around the neighborhood.  I had run these roads hundreds of times. But today I had to stop and catch my breath. At the next corner, I had to stop again. I was sweating much more than I should have been. When I got home, I woke up my wife and told her something was seriously wrong, and we needed to call 911. She said I felt clammy, and immediately grabbed her phone and called for help. By the time the EMTs arrived, I was feeling better and didn’t want to go to the hospital. Fortunately, my wife insisted that I get in the ambulance.

The EMTs took me into the Emergency Room for more tests, and the doctors were now completely focused on heart issues. Wednesday morning I had an angiogram. When I came out of that I could tell by the look on the doctor’s face that it was not good. They were transferring me to another hospital to have coronary bypass surgery as quickly as I could be scheduled. I was slated for the doctor’s very first surgery on Thursday. This was serious and urgent. But Dr. Boyce told me not to worry. I would be knocked out and wouldn’t remember much until Friday. He reassured me again that I would recover and be fine.

The next 36 hours were a blur for me. I remember seeing my wife and youngest son before surgery. I remember seeing all the doctors and nurses before I was out. I hallucinated in the recovery area. I pushed the morphine button as often as possible. When I could finally concentrate, the nurse told me it was Friday, and then I saw my wife come into the room.

I had made it out of the vault.

Going into that dark place was scary. And even then, the journey was not entirely over. It took me over a year to “fully” recover and be able to run the way I wanted to run. It’s been seven years now since I escaped and I hope to never go back again. Know your numbers, see your doctors, and get answers if anything changes.

Kevin Shea

Love running and my family. Like beaches, food, most sports, and the Orioles. Retired and living in Hermosa Beach.

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