Head out for an evening run. Check.
Return a bit after dark. Check.
Get some sleep. Check.
Arrive at work. Check.
Prepare for an 11:30 a.m. appointment. Check.
For Gary Bowman, DPT, physical therapist at Sycamore Medical Center, a routine October night led into a routine October morning. Until it wasn’t.
Gary had been seeing patients that morning until half past 11 a.m. when he noticed he didn’t feel quite right. He put his head down on his desk, seeking relief from the feeling, until he realized he couldn’t lift it back up. His co-workers noticed and asked if he was OK, but by that point, he was non-responsive. They lowered him to the floor and called for the response team, who arrived with a stretcher and transported him to Sycamore’s Emergency Department. By then, it was clear: a typical morning quickly and unexpectedly turned into the morning Gary had a heart attack.
Though shocked, Gary was stable when he was transferred to the Cath Lab at Kettering Medical Center where Mohammed Ali, MD, performed an angioplasty and inserted a small stent. Gary couldn’t believe he had gone into cardiac arrest, let alone that there was a 100% occlusion, or blockage, in the right coronary artery. He had just run a 5K the night before.
“I ran about 1,200 miles the whole year. My numbers were good,” Gary said of his labs, which had given no indication he was at risk for a heart attack.
Still, Gary’s lifestyle played a big role in his recovery, as he was discharged the day after his procedure and attended his granddaughter’s dedication at church the day after that. Still feeling well, Gary decided to go in to work with his wife to finish up some paperwork, and it was then that he decided how he was going to thank his co-workers for being there for him.
Gary lay down on the floor in front of his desk, where his co-workers had put him during his heart attack just days before. He asked his wife to map his outline with masking tape on the floor, leaving a perfect silhouette of where he once lay. He completed the scene by adding eyes, a smile, and a pink heart cut-out that said “Love you all. Thanks for saving my life.”
“They walked all over me for three weeks,” Gary laughed, recalling how his co-workers had fun with his outline, evening putting a coffee cup in his tape-crafted hand.
“I can’t say enough about my co-workers. All of the staff gathered around and helped, from all of the people at Kettering and the Cath Lab to those at Cardiac Rehab,” Gary said.
During recovery, Gary took it easy for the recommended 10 days after his procedure, but as someone accustomed to an active lifestyle, he was eager to start running again. He gradually and methodically increased the time he spent walking outside. He began working out at the Cardiac Rehab Unit at Kettering Medical Center, where he could start jogging while attached to a heart monitor.
“It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that my heart was okay,” Gary said. “It’s a really comprehensive program and I recommend a lot of people go to them now.” On his last day, he increased his activity to an hour and a half of straight aerobic exercise using the treadmill, bike, and elliptical. Now, he’s ready to run another marathon in April.
Looking back on this experience, Gary sees God in it all.
“I know God’s hand was totally involved and protective,” Gary said. Between his run the night before and a mission trip planned to Belize the following Thursday, Gary felt lucky that his heart attack happened when he was already at the hospital.
“They helped me in time so that I didn’t have heart damage,” Gary said. “God definitely provided exactly what I needed. His grace is sufficient and it’s given me more urgency. Now I can hug a little bit longer and spend a little more time with every relationship.”
That sentiment includes the relationships he builds with his patients, which is a change he says he’s seen since recovering.
“I have even more knowledge and empathy for people and what they’ve gone through,” Gary said. “It allows me that further connection so hopefully I can be that inspirational story to them.”