I’ll start this story by giving a little background. I am a runner, first and foremost; my life is based around my running (or was). I started running aged 30 when I realised I could no longer depend on my metabolism to keep middle-aged spread at bay. I was hitting the scales at just over 13 stone and was not happy, so I started running, firstly on the treadmill, then on the roads, and on to cross country (XC). I joined my local club after a year and started competing, at a high level. Pretty soon it was consuming me; I just had to run.
All was going well, my weight was 11.5 stone – perfect. And I was always the first on the start line. Maybe I was stagnating a bit when I met coaching team Ian and Teresa Wilson of Nuparc Wellness, an ultra-professional set-up. It was destiny I think.
They took me and many others under their wing and things improved, leading to provincial and national medals. I was now running faster times than ever – 6 months ago I ran a best time for the 5km distance, 16.31, and plenty other distances too.
So I am not your average heart attack case.
James in action at the top of his game, a week before his SCAD
On 15 December 2015 we were at the track, about 50 miles south of our home town, and we had run a hard session, 400m reps, with one-minute recovery. It was intense and I felt tired my times were poor (everything is run to specific times, which are carefully worked out beforehand, and are within our capabilities).
However, I was getting slow as the session progressed. I completed it and headed to the changing rooms, feeling just wrecked, and I was unhappy with my session. I made my way back to the track for the warmdown, but I felt nauseous and collapsed on the track.
The next 12 hours were a complete blur. My coach and another runner are nurses. My pulse was fading and my coach administered CPR, I came to and the ambulance arrived and took me to the hospital. An angiogram two days later showed a dissection in the LAD (left anterior descending) artery, and another after five days showed good healing, I was released from the hospital with medication after a week, my ejection fraction was 50%, which was very good. My strong heart and quick-thinking nurse saved my life for sure.
I am now seven weeks post-SCAD and cannot exert myself above 90bpm, my weight is increasing and my cardiologist will see me on 30 March. I am in limbo for now. I would love to have someone assess me sooner, plot a path for me, I want to run, even jog, it’s my life’s work, I think, and I have so much that I need to achieve, however I am a realist so I will see.
As for the impact on my life, I live alone, so I have not the usual family worries, so I can sleep lots, which I do, I need eight hours per night now and am still tired lots. I have a constant ache in my heart, like a muscular ache, I do hope this will disappear eventually, I walk a little; it’s not the same but it’s OK.
The biggest hindrance now is I am afraid to head out alone, I used run a lot alone but this is gone for now too. I need to stay where there are people as it might happen again. I have no other health issues and I am grateful for that.
I got involved with the SCAD community out of necessity, I looked online and found the Facebook pages. I am hoping maybe that someone in Leicester or even the Mayo Clinic will have a look at my case and give me a once-over. I’m prepared to be a guinea pig to help others. For now reading others’ stories is solace in itself.
Thanks for reading my story.
James sent us an update to his story in the hope that it will encourage others. He has made great strides in the past few months, returning to the sport he loves and always staying positive and driven.
“I am more than six months post-SCAD. After 14 weeks I went out with my coach and jogged (struggled) one mile in a nearby forest. It took us 14 minutes. Fast forward to now and I am doing 45 miles a week in a group at a moderate pace. It’s not competitive, for sure, but I am now in a much better place than when I wasn’t running. I hope to become a beacon for all those who are suffering from SCAD, to show them the light,” he said.
“I would love to return to competitive running but I am told this is not feasible,” James added. “I just wish that someone would take me and hook me up [to monitors] and try me out – push me to see how far I can go. In a controlled environment I am sure I could do it! But for now, 45 miles a week and a healthy lifestyle is good. SCAD is there in the background but that is where I aim to leave it, for now anyway.”
James with his other love – rescue dogs