Highlighting our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own
perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us
yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.
he adventure began during the first week of
December 1990. I was out jogging around
the perimeter of the Air Force base where I
was stationed in Italy.
As I was running, I suddenly felt a pain.
No, not like the pain that is commonly associated with a
muscle pull or a bone pain, but a burning pain. The pain
was right around the sternum. I passed a friend who was
running and started to complain about how thick the air
was that day. My friend questioned my judgement with
one look. I did not understand his look then. I ran on, with
the burning pain in my chest.
The day after my “thick air” run, I was running and
again felt the burning sensation in my chest. This time,
it started moving to my right shoulder and then down
my right arm, finally stopping at the tips of my two outer
fingers. The pain was so weird and so sudden that I felt
at that point a very gloomy feeling of death. But I was a
healthy 35-year-old. For Pete’s sake, there was no way I
was REALLY sick. Right? I shook the pain off as if it were
a muscle sprain.
I told my wife, Kathy, I had a pain, described it as
probably a cold and took some more cold medicine.
Later I found out that high blood pressure was part of the
problem with my heart, and taking something that was
high in sodium was probably not smart at all. But, heck,
what did I know?
I ran again the next day and guess what happened?
Duh, I had the same pain, and this time I barely made it
a quarter mile before I could not feel my right arm. So,
I went back to the gym, took a shower and returned to
work. I thought I might have something more than just
a cold (probably not, but you never know), and thought
the doctor could cure my ills. I made the appointment
and hoped that it would be just a quick examination and I
could get back to eating what I wanted, and exercising.
The doctor took a look at me, saw that I was a healthy
weight, did not smoke, exercised, and then he listened to
my heart. At first, because of my healthy history and habits,
he ruled out anything having to do with the heart from the
standpoint of diseased heart tissue. Then I told him that I
had this foreboding of death. I said something like “funny,
no?” to him. This resulted in a stare and then jotting of
notes. He referred me to the Naval Hospital at Naples to
ensure that they could rule out the heart. I would drive up
within the next few days and undergo a stress test.
In the meantime, I was not allowed to run. That didn’t
stop me from running, but the pain was a little too much,
so I didn’t run as far. Really stupid, you say? Denial was
part of the plan that I executed again and again, using my
running skill to test the heart. The doctors would later say
that I used my own personal stress test to see how far
I could take the pain. Fortunately for me, as one doctor
said later, I have a strong heart and it never failed me.
Over the next several years I had a half-dozen heart
events that put me in the hospital. There were numerous
bouts of angina as my coronary arteries slowly failed. I visited
several catheterization labs in Europe and the United States
for angioplasties that would push the plaque aside for a few
months. After my fourth angina event — over the July 4th
with a Run
Excerpted and adapted from
Whole Heartedly — A Journal/Journey
By Chris Greco | Baltimore