If you run 1,000 miles a year you'd think you were healthy and "cardiac safe". If you have run seven marathons you'd know you're fit and healthy. Except for that one time. It was the eighth marathon, and Tony never got past the 2 mile mark.
"It was just like any other day, for a marathon. Everything was pretty much the same as every run I'd trained for... We were all lined up at the starting line, discussing who was going to be the last one in," Tony said. "We took off and started running, everything was fine, after the first mile and a half I remember making the turn [onto a street] and from there it's a blank."
He woke up in the hospital and was being told it was the luckiest day of his life.
"Maybe, but right now I don't feel too lucky!" Tony replied. "I'm thinking to myself, 'I was running a race and [am] lying in the hospital now and in pain. I have no idea what's happened to me'."
Now we should back up a little here, to understand what did happen. There were 10,000 runners that day, and two of them were nurses. Both were next to Tony at the 2 mile mark.
"The one nurse said to herself, 'Ah, he just tripped.' She took another step and thought, 'that wasn't a trip'. She came back and felt for a pulse, and started CPR," Tony recalled.*
The ambulance was called by the police assigned to the race, but it took some time for them to arrive on the scene.
"Heather and Lynne [the two nurses] say it was probably 12 minutes before the paramedics arrived. They shocked me the one time and I came-to right away," Tony explained.
After a battery of tests including a catheterization, there was no indication of why Tony had arrested. The doctors were deliberating whether another catheterization was warranted, as they felt they had missed something.
"They went inside my heart, checked my valves and everything and then said, 'Hey, we can't find anything. You just had something go wrong with your heart.' I'm lying in bed saying, 'There's more to it, you guys gotta tell me something!' " Tony exclaimed. "They said, 'There's a small category of people where this happens and you can't explain it. And, unfortunately, you're going to be in this category.' And to this day it's something I struggle to accept." Tony said.
Of course there was a ramification to this "category," Tony would need to have an ICD implanted to protect him. And, there would be consequences to his active lifestyle. Coincidentally the FDA had just approved a new device, a subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator (S-ICD) that is less invasive to implant and less likely to prevent Tony from his physical activities.
Tony is back running again, although it did take several months and he doesn't EVER go out alone or without identification like he used to.
* Both nurses completed their run after the ambulance took Tony away. And even achieved a respectable time!