Do you have the heart for cycling?

By Gary Boulanger, US editor | Tuesday, September 18, 2007 10.21pm

I experienced a nasty curveball on August 27: a quick trip to the emergency room for what felt like a heart attack. After an emergency angioplasty, multiple blood tests, ongoing electrocardiogram (EKG) tests, an ultrasound, chest x-rays, CT scan, blood pressure checks, morphine drip and a nytroglycerine pill under the tongue, I was back home, ready to face another day, but with a little trepidation.

What on earth happened?

I'm a very healthy, bicycle-riding, 41-year-old former soccer player and lifelong athlete. I'm the only dad in my kids' schools who's paid to play with and ride bicycles. But, this was the second time in 30 months I've experienced what felt like someone trying to pry my sternum away from my chest with an ice pick. This time, I turned gray and couldn't catch a breath without severe chest pain. Thankfully, El Camino Hospital is less than two miles away, and I was able to get the attention I needed.

Powerbar founder Brian Maxwell wasn't so fortunate. The 51-year-old former world class marathon runner sold his company to Nestle for US$375 million in 2000, and collapsed on the steps of a Marin County post office in March of 2004. He died of an apparent heart attack, which, according to the cardiologist who took care of me at El Camino, could have been averted if Maxwell would have been tested. The doctor thought Maxwell's heart condition was hereditary, so despite his apparent excellent health and wealth, it was just a matter of time.

The cardiologist put me through the battery of aformentioned tests to eliminate what it wasn't: a heart attack, blood clot or stroke. According to tests and a follow-up EKG a week later, I experienced a sudden shock to my pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart. He described it as a force field of sorts, designed to protect the heart.

One major benefit of having the angioplasty was finding out I have clear arteries and a clean bill of health from the inside out. My bout of pericarditis was the body's way of telling me something was wrong, and according to my family physician, there's a bit of stress lingering in my life, and should be addressed with more exercise.

Looks like a legitimate prescription to ride more, eh?

Realizing my mortality, I've decided to balance my time more wisely, pay better attention to my aging body, and do what most men aren't fond of: visit the doctor for preventative maintenance. It's the smart thing to do with our bicycles, so why not our bodies? Please do the same.

See you on the road!


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