Minor Heart Attack Doesn’t Slow this Cyclist

Ingalls ultrasonographer Dave Stokoski is the picture of health. As founder of the Crown Point Wednesday Night Ride bicycling club, he pedals 125 miles or more a week, and he’s got perfect cholesterol and blood pressure.

The health-conscious 63-year-old fuels his lean, athletic frame with fish, chicken, salad, fruits and vegetables, having sworn off fast foods, lunchmeats and soda long ago. He hasn’t had a bite of red meat in 25 years.

So when he felt an uncomfortable twinge in his chest bicycling last year, he wasn’t alarmed initially.

“I blasted right through it,” the unflappable father of two explains. “A couple times I stopped and rested, and it would go away.”

When the discomfort persisted, Dave knew he should make an appointment to see his primary care physician.

Two days before his appointment, Dave had another episode while he was getting ready for work.

“I experienced chest pain like I never had before,” he explains. “But like a fool, I drove 45 minutes to the hospital. Having worked at Ingalls for over 10 years, I had complete confidence in the ER staff.”

heart patient with bicycle

He managed to get himself to the Ingalls Emergency Department where, within minutes, he had an entire crew of caregivers around him.

“The ER staff were like lightning,” he adds. “There were so many people on me.”

Though his chest pain was gone, an EKG and a blood test confirmed a mild heart attack; ER staff immediately contacted the cardiologist on call, Dr. Francis Almeda. “Dr. Almeda’s young and athletic,” he said, “And would understand how important bicycling is to me.”

Dr. Almeda examined Dave and scheduled him for an angiogram, which revealed two blocked coronary arteries, one at 95%, the other at 70%.

“Even though I’m healthy, I have a family history,” Dave adds. “At 56, my dad had a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery. Dr. Almeda told me my healthy lifestyle saved me from a massive heart attack.”

Dr. Almeda opened Dave’s blocked arteries with two stents. Within three to four days, he was back home and in two weeks on the bike again – this time in Ingalls Cardiac Rehabilitation.

He completed rehab in six weeks and has been unstoppable ever since, racking up 3,000 miles on his bike in the last year, 500 more than he did the year before his heart attack.

“If you have a heart attack, and you’re a super athlete like Dave, it doesn’t mean your life is over,” Dr. Almeda explains. “With good care, super athletes can get back to where they were before – or even better.”

The most important thing, Dr. Almeda adds, is to pay attention to symptoms when you’re training and get them checked out right away.

Individuals planning to embark on a rigorous training program for a marathon or triathlon should see their doctor for a complete physical beforehand, especially if they’re over the age of 35 and have one or more risk factors for heart disease. “Physical activity has many health benefits,” Dr. Almeda added. “When done regularly, moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise strengthens your heart muscle and lowers your risk for heart disease.”

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