Man who survived "widowmaker" heart attack recounts harrowing tale

- Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S., and a local man managed to survive one of the most deadly type of heart attack.

The type of heart attack Rob Steinberg suffered is called, ominously, a "Widowmaker". 

"Furthest thing from my mind was a heart attack," said Steinberg. "Heart attack, to me, was something you see in Hollywood, people grabbing their chest."

According to an article by University of Michigan, A "Widowmaker" is an informal term for a heart attack that involves 100% blockage in the left anterior descending artery.

"How could this happen? I ate clean, I was in the best shape of my life. I was running five-minute miles. I was winning the run races in my age group," said Steinberg.

In 2015, Steinberg, 45 at the time, had just completed his 3rd iron man competition. 

"Ironman is a 2.4 mile open water swim, followed by a 112-mile bike, followed by a full marathon 26.2-mile run," said Steinberg.

A month later, Steinberg was out for a 60-mile bike ride. 50 miles in, his throat got extremely dry, which Steinberg brushed off as allergies. It continued, however, every time he worked out which was everyday, and even when he wasn't working out for about a week.

Steinberg decided then to get it checked.

"The doctor wanted to do an EKG, and I declined," Steinberg recounted. "I said 'no, I don't think that's necessary, my heart is fine. I just completed a full ironman.'"

As the symptoms continued, Steinberg's wife forced him to get the EKG. A short time later, it was confirmed Steinberg had already suffered a heart attack, and had severe blockage in an artery.

It wasn't until surgery he found out his condition was far worse.  

"Came out of surgery, and they informed me I didn't have one blockage, but I had two. It wasn't 70 percent, it was 100 percent, and one was 90 percent," said Steinberg.

After having four stints put in to save his life, Steinberg was on the mend, but his life of competition, as he knew it, was over.

"The hardest part was hearing no more racing, no more running, keep my heart rate under 140 at all times," said Steinberg.

With the help of Banner University Medical Center Director for Cardiovascular Health, Dr. Todd Hurst, Steinberg was able to keep his competitive edge. 11 months after surgery, Steinberg was competing in his fourth iron man race.

"His first question to me was, 'is there a risk to me competing?' and I had to tell yes, there is some risk," said Dr. Hurst, who specializes in athletes with heart issues. "We know there is a number of people that will die during those high intensity athletic events. That risk is low though. These numbers are a couple per hundred thousand."

Dr. Hurst customizes a plan for athletes with heart issues, knowing their recovery and goals aren't typical. It was because of this that Steinberg can continue to do what he loves.

"We kept the intensity much lower then what I usually have done in the past," said Steinberg. "It was much slower then I've done in the past. It was much more enjoyable in a lot of ways, because I wasn't so focused on trying to do the best I could, it was more going out and enjoying the day."

Steinberg is hoping to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms.

"Surprising thing for me was it wasn't what I thought a heart attack would feel like. I was never in any pain. That was the biggest shock for me was it wasn't what you think it was, what you see in the movies," said Steinberg, who also wants to prove having a heart attack isn't the end, and after the fact, your perspective on life can be far greater.

"Before, what could I have done better, what can I improve upon, what can I do faster. How did the 20 guys in front of me out perform me that day, what can I train harder at? Where's my weakness? Afterwards, just happy to be out there participating with the competitors great support staff and supporting family," said Steinberg.

Doctors say symptoms of a "widowmaker" heart attack aren't much different than any other heart attack, such as escalating chest pain that can spread down either arm, Back or shoulders. It can also cause sudden shortness of breath. 


HeartStrong Foundation
http://heartstrongfoundation.org/

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