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Laird's Story
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Finnish is considered a difficult language by most native English speakers. Difficult, but most wouldn’t claim it is life threatening – it nearly was for me.  I was sitting in the regular Saturday morning Finnish class I had attended for several years when it happened.


I broke out in a sweat, my head buzzed, I couldn’t focus, there was a pain between my shoulder blades, and then I got cold and clammy. I noticed nobody else appeared to be having any kind of problems with temperature or focus. Something was wrong but I had no idea what. My class had just reached break time so I excused myself made the 10 minute drive home. I should add ‘impaired judgement’ to my symptoms. At home I decided to get in bed and ‘sleep off’ whatever the problem was. “Those could be heart attack symptoms,” my wife said. “There is no history of heart attack in my family,” was my response. She printed out a list of heart attack symptoms and gave it to me.  When I could answer in the affirmative for half of them, I knew it was time for a visit to the urgent care center.


Paramedics hooked me up to monitors that made me feel like an astronaut and, at age 53, got launched to the local hospital in my first ever ambulance ride. Yes, I had a heart attack - a myocardial infarction. The episode had subsided and I was scheduled to angioplasty the following day. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3 AM with chest pains. I had been given morphine earlier so I knew if I was feeling pain it must really be painful. The angioplasty team was roused awake and I was wheeled into the OR around 5AM and watched on the black and white TV screen while a tiny balloon was snaked through a leg artery and into my heart to push aside the blockages (yes, plural) just like I had done to the snow in our driveway a week earlier.


Fast forward. Question: Does your family have history of heart disease? Answer: It does now.


I was not someone you would have picked out of a lineup as a potential for a heart attack. I wasn’t overweight and I hadn’t included red meat in my diet for over 30 years. For the next several months I was in the hospital’s cardio-rehab program. I ‘graduated’ from rehab after 3 months and continued with regular exercise program three or four times a week. I got a heart rate monitor watch to make sure I stayed within the prescribed range given in rehab. The dietician gave me an A+ for diet and eating habits.


When the first anniversary of my ‘episode’ came around, I was convinced I would pass my stress test with honors. I failed and my cardiologist couldn’t explain why. After some discussion, I was back to the hospital for another round of angioplasty, where we discovered that my blockages were more numerous and worse than the first time. I was lucky to have not had another heart attack. But this time the cardiologist said “I think I may know what your problem is.” I was tested for elevated Lipoprotein(a). That was the culprit. Now, in addition to my diet and regular exercise, I was put on a regimen of high doses of niacin. I am one of the lucky people for whom this seems to work. Apparently, this is one bit of genetics where I was lucky. Not everyone’s Lp(a) can be held in check this way.


So a year and a half after my second round of angioplasty, I was taken off of the most potent of my blood thinners. As a celebration I decided to see if running could be part of my regular exercise again. That was the one activity that seemed to send my heart rate soaring. On my first run I did two laps – about a ¼ mile before my heart rate exceeded my prescribed level. Two days later I ran again - three laps. After about a month, I had run my first mile. Thanksgiving was approaching. By New Year’s I made a resolution to run a 5K in the coming year. I met that goal in April and in November, I ran my first official 10K. A year later I ran in the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in Washington DC. And now, on the first Sunday of June, I ran my first Half-Marathon through Acadia National Park in Maine.


Back to Finnish. One of the first words I learned in Finnish has no true English equivalent: ‘sisu’. ‘Guts’ is the most common attempt to explain ‘sisu’. Also ‘stamina’, ‘resolve’, ‘stubbornness’, ‘inner strength’, ‘perseverance’, and even ‘bull-headedness’. So, even without a drop of Finnish blood in my Lp(a) laced veins, I like to think I have some sisu in me. Sisu, dogged determination, even against tall odds, got me from shuffling down a hospital corridor to running 13+ miles at age 60 through the hills of Acadia National Park.

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