George Banker graduated from George Washington University after eight years of working full time and taking one class a semester. He is also a member of the Marine Corp Hall of Fame and is a loving husband and the father of two sons and one daughter. At the age of 67, he is the epitome of determination and persistence. George has run in 110 marathons, he has participated in seven 50-mile races, and was averaging 85 miles per week preparing for his races. Nothing can stop George, not even heart disease.
In September of 2015, it had been 26 years since George’s last visit to a doctor’s office. During his runs he noticed his breathing was erratic and it felt like it took him more effort just to walk up a flight of stairs. However, being as driven as he is, George continued to fight through. He decided it was time to see a doctor when he experienced excruciating shoulder pain after trying to hit 10,000 strides on the elliptical. During that doctor visit at Andrews AFB, George found out that his blood pressure had reached an all-time high, and he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.
The following October, George visited Walter Reed National Medical Center where an echocardiogram revealed a leaky heart valve, commonly known as mitral valve prolapse. Despite all of the hurdles George faced with his heart, he still participated in his 32nd Marine Corps Marathon, bringing him to an incredibly impressive total of 103 marathons. George made sure to monitor his breathing and blood pressure during the race. A few days after the race, George noticed his heart rate was still a bit high. Another visit to WRNMC found an abnormality in the beating of his heart, also known as a heart flutter.
George underwent heart surgery in July to correct his mitral valve prolapse and irregular heartbeat, and what was supposed to be a four hour surgery, ended up being seven hours due to hemorrhaging. Nevertheless, George has been taking the right steps to recovery. He makes sure to record his blood pressure twice in the evening, he stays away from sodium, exercises, and eats a very heart healthy diet.
According to George, “it is very important to listen to your body, recognize the signs, and do something about it before the problem gets worse.” Three months following his surgery, George is running again and makes sure to always pay attention to the signals his body sends him.
LHH Executive Leadership Team Member: Anne Dailey, Partner, Troutman Sanders
The day Anne had her stroke, Sunday, January 12, 2014, she had gone into her office to catch up on some work. While working, she noticed her left hand couldn’t hit the shift key. As she tried to stand up, she fell to the floor and her entire left side was in paralysis. She was able to call 9-1-1 and she was taken to George Washington Hospital. There she received “stroke reversing” medication and worked on getting better. With the help and support from the GW hospital team, her friends and family, Anne was up and running an 8K race in downtown DC just eight weeks later.
Before her stroke, Anne had no previous heart condition, she had been mindful of what she ate, and she exercised regularly. “It was scary. Even though I’m mostly recovered, I know that it could happen again. I’m taking my medications, follow my doctors’ directions, eating well and getting exercise—I can’t do any more than that.” The embolic stroke she suffered at age 39 left her with some minor complications, such as continuing stiffness on her left side. Having already developed healthy habits before the stroke, such as regular exercise and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, since the stroke Anne is even more committed to her health. “I am thankful to all of the doctors who helped me get back to myself, and to all of our friends and family who supported me through recovery.”
Brooks Harlow had always been an avid exerciser throughout his life, and at age 59 even picked up running as a way to spend some more time outdoors. About one year later, around 7:30pm on a Friday night, Brooks was doing his usual workout in the basement gym of his office building. He took a quick break from his machine and walked across the room to get a cup of water. The next thing he knew, Brooks was waking up in a hospital bed, having virtually no idea why or how he had gotten there. Fortunately, there was another individual working out in the gym who recalls Brooks walking across the room before collapsing unexpectedly and hitting his head on the floor, causing a skull fracture.
Once Brooks had fully awakened, he frighteningly recalled having no symptoms, no warning signs, and no pain. Doctors at Inova Fairfax suspected a heart attack but were forced to wait six weeks before performing a catheterization due to the internal bleeding caused by Brooks’ skull fracture.
Eventually, doctors discovered a large blockage in Brooks’ left anterior descending coronary artery, which would require a stent. Brooks equates coming out of recovery with feeling like somebody had finally turned the light switch on. In fact, his first question when he woke up was none other than “when can I go running again?” Brooks often even tells people “I had to almost die in order to live.” 15% of individuals who experience a heart attack will die from it and as Brooks describes, “people don’t know what’s coming. One minute they’re on the exercise machine and the next minute they’re dead.” It just so happened that Brooks was one of the lucky ones in that scenario.
Brooks’ cardiologist, however, attributed his survival not to luck, but to his history of exercise and physical activity. As Brooks’ left anterior descending artery slowly closed up over time, his exercising forced other arteries to increase their blood flow, thus creating paths around the blockage and most likely saving his life.
Since the heart attack, Brooks’ enthusiasm for health and physical activity has only amplified. He has improved his diet, swapping red meat for fish, and last March participated in the DC Rock N Roll 5K race. His most recent endeavor is Lawyers Have Heart, where he is acting as a team captain and training for the 10K race (he is already up to 8K!). With his new stent and continued healthy lifestyle, Brooks’ risk for future heart problems is as good as the general population.
An important piece of advice Brooks has to offer to others is “keep raising the bar on yourself.” As he so accurately explains, there is a certain level that each individual holds themselves to when it comes to being physically active. However, you must not let yourself get too comfortable at this level and plateau. According to Brooks, it is necessary to add variety to workouts and to raise the bar for yourself every so often.
As a final take home message, Brooks also reminds us that not everyone can be a runner. There are endless types of physical activity and skill levels but “people who are doing something are doing the right thing.”
John Harrity, Managing Partner, Harrity & Harrity, LLP
John is a patent attorney who runs a successful law firm with his twin brother, Paul. On May 2, 2016, John suffered a severe heart attack. John’s episode was a shock to both his family and colleagues. Particularly, because John exercised every day, had a fairly strict diet, and at the time of his attack had maintained a mere 11% body fat.
Without his colleague’s performance of lifesaving CPR, doctors say the “Widow-Maker” would have taken John. John faced a fierce fight, surviving various blood clots, infections, and organ failures. In addition, John experienced paralysis, and had to relearn how to perform basic functions, like walking. Fortunately, John is now on the road to a full recovery.
Prior to his heart attack, John inspired a colleague, Sandy, to build a healthier life for herself. He shared with Sandy a wealth of information about how to make positive lifestyle changes. Sandy made the necessary changes to her life. Nearly a year later, Sandy has lost 80 pounds and is in the best shape of her adult life. In June, a month after John’s episode, Sandy completed her first 5K – The 26th Annual Lawyers Have Heart – and she did it for John.
2016 #DCHeartWalk Lifestyle Change Award Winner: Bruce Henry, Henry & O’Donnell, P.C.
Bruce Henry has improved his lifestyle by increasing his physical activity, managing his risk factors, and working every day to inspire others to change for the healthier. The morning of his heart attack, Bruce was lying there thinking “this must be what it feels like right before you die.” The surgeon didn’t even know if he would make it to surgery. He made it through surgery, but not without complications. After being discharged he had to go back to the hospital for another three days due to an MDR infection. On top of this, Bruce was still recovering from knee surgery performed prior to his heart attack. Going through all this made Bruce realize that he met many common risk factors such as smoking, feeling stressed, and being overweight. Once realizing this, he decided that he needed to make serious changes to his life. While riding in the ambulance, Bruce prayed, “I will never smoke another cigarette again if I could survive.” Bruce made it through, and kept his promise by quitting smoking cold turkey.
Realizing the rehab was not enough for him, he started going to the gym daily, and slowly built up to longer and more challenging workouts. Bruce participated in two 5K runs last year (including LHH) and lost 70 lbs. Prioritizing diet and exercise, isn’t always easy, but Bruce sets goals and sticks to them! He says, “I’m not trying to run the Boston Marathon, I’m just trying to stay alive.”
With the love and support of his family, Bruce has been able to make these significant changes. “My deciding to reform my ways has influenced others to take corrective action. I don’t want to preach to others – that didn’t work for me. But I tell people not to wait… Don’t wait to learn the hard way. I could’ve missed my son’s wedding, or my daughter’s engagement. My wife pleaded with me to change my ways but I didn’t listen. I must have thought I was invincible but I was wrong,” said Bruce. Family is why Bruce has committed to such drastic lifestyle changes. He also wants to credit his survival to the American Heart Association’s accomplishments of advancing cardiac technology and patient care.
Shortly after the halfway point of last year’s Monument 10K in Richmond, Virginia Bill Hughes grabbed his daughter’s arm and exclaimed “Oh my gosh!” before collapsing.
Hughes’ daughter, Bethany Gordon, with the help of other runners, immediately flipped him over and saw that he was unresponsive. Gordon said, “His chest isn’t moving, so I started chest compressions immediately because I knew it was important to do it right away.” After Bethany completed about 12 compressions, an EMT who was running the race as well saw what had happened and took control of the situation. He, along with other race participants who were all health professionals, took turns performing CPR. Within minutes a police officer arrived with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, a transportable machine that can shock the heart back to a normal rhythm. The EMT using this device got Hughes’ heart started once again, and within 15 minutes of his collapse he was on his way to the hospital which was only one mile away. Once Hughes regained partial consciousness in the ambulance he believed he was still running the 10K, and refused to wear an oxygen mask until he heard his daughter’s voice urging him to let the medical personnel help him. Hughes remembers thinking to , “Why is this happening?” He wanted to complete the race!
Once he arrived at the hospital Hughes had regained full consciousness and a battery of tests began. After about a day and a half his doctors determined that Hughes would require a triple bypass due to the three blockages in his heart. Two days later, doctors successfully performed the triple bypass. A full week after his cardiac arrest he was released from the hospital and gradually through cardiac rehabilitation Hughes recovered and returned to work part-time. He adopted a health-conscious diet and began exercising regularly. Fifty days after his cardiac arrest, he was strong enough to return to the race course to finished the race from the starting point of the horrific heart attack, accompanied by family, friends and rescuers. Although initially apprehensive to pick up from where he left off, Bill completed the race in 81 minutes, by both walking and jogging. He crossed the finish line with his family and some of his rescuers.
Experiencing a life-changing event such as cardiac arrest has given Hughes an appreciation for CPR training and how quickly those around responded when he collapsed. CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival, especially if performed within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest. Hughes knows that staying active and eating healthy is important at any age. Hughes has revamped his diet by adding fresh fruits and vegetables and significantly reduced his intake of foods high in saturated fat. He also urged others to know their family history and to be proactive about your heart health, as he lost his younger brother to a heart attack at the age of 54. “This really opened my eyes to the importance of your family history,” Hughes said. “I had all those warning signs from my family, but I didn’t really take it seriously.”
Nicole’s mother passed away of heart disease after a long battle with congestive heart failure. She made poor choices with her diet, lack of exercise, and she also smoked. All of these behaviors contributed to her mother’s death.
“I was exercising regularly, particularly after my mom passed away and shortly thereafter, I went to my doctor for a routine checkup only to find that my cholesterol was elevated. I had never had any problems with my health, so that sent me into a whirlwind, ” says Nicole.
Nicole practiced a healthy lifestyle but ultimately her genetics were not working in her favor. This was a hard time for her because she was not only grieving the loss of her mother but her grandmother passed away 17 days after her mom. She was an only child and only grandchild. Nicole was also pregnant with her third son at the time of their passing. With these stressful and life altering events occurring in Nicole’s life, she put her health on the backburner and stopped practicing her healthy habits as frequently as she used to. When she returned for another checkup with her doctor a few years later, she discovered that her cholesterol had worsened. This was a huge wake up call for Nicole, and she decided that she could no longer ignore her heart condition. She became more intentional about her health and started working with her doctor to improve her cholesterol and she is working diligently towards a healthy lifestyle.
After everything she endured with the passing of her mother, Nicole wanted to learn from not only her mother’s mistakes but her successes as well. She is using her mother’s story to make a difference in her own life and in the lives of others as well. She continues to focus on a healthy lifestyle and continues to take her medication and follows the recommendations of her doctor. She believes that heart health is a movement and wants to remind others to exercise, eat healthy, drink enough water and get enough sleep.
“We need to be very diligent about our health, really taking control of what’s going on with our bodies and participating in our own health and wellness journey,” says Nicole.
Nicole’s Update: During (Heart Month) February 2018, Nicole took her commitment to living a healthy lifestyle one step further by joining WUSA9’s weekly training program, Team #HeartLove. Nicole is losing weight, and with the permission of her doctor, will participate in the 28th Annual Lawyers Have Heart, her first 5K race.
On December 10, 2011, I had my first heart episode lasting 45 minutes at the age of 26. After blood work, EKGs and six hours of waiting in an emergency room, it was ruled a heart attack and I was airlifted to the Cardiac Care Unit of Washington Hospital Center where I remained for 3 days of extensive testing before being transferred to a regular hospital room for 3 more days.
The resulting tests showed a 70% blockage in my heart despite low cholesterol, active lifestyle (I was training for a half marathon when this happened!), and no indicators as to the origin of the blockage. Due to my age the doctors chose to take a medicinal route of treatment and I was sent home to recover my strength with regular cardiologist appointments in my future.
Then one month later on January 17, 2012—the day I had planned to start rehab—I had my second heart attack. Thankfully the medication I had been taking kept my heart rate from getting as out of control as it did for the first episode, so the MI itself wasn’t as painful as the first time. Nonetheless, I remained in the hospital for 4 days for more testing. The result: the blockage had worsened to nearly 90% and a stent had to be placed to keep the artery open and prevent further complications.
One year later, my cardiologist confirmed that all the damage to my heart from the two incidences had repaired itself. There is no physical evidence other than the stent. Today I remain on the same medications, which work progressively better over time, and am back to running and all of my previous activities.
Samantha Reid had “no clue” what a stroke was when she experienced her first one at age 28. So when she collapsed in the shower one morning before work, she attributed her symptoms—a strange numbness in her face, an inability to walk—to a case of the flu. Somehow, Samantha managed to crawl to her car and still attempted to make it to work, but nearly got into an accident on her way. Her coworkers called for an ambulance, and she was rushed off to the E.R. and later to Washington Hospital Center. Samantha was immediately diagnosed with a stroke after doctors recognized swelling in her brain. She stayed there for six weeks, a few of which she spent in a coma. The doctors didn’t expect her to live.
Samantha was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, having lost her ability to walk or talk upon emerging from her coma. She was there for about four months before she was able to speak again or even lift her own arms. Samantha refers to her experience re-learning to walk as “miraculous.” The therapists would help her up as she attempted to move her feet forward, and all of a sudden—one day—she started skipping! She realized that doing so was helping her maintain her balance. “That’s actually how I learned to walk again, by skipping first! The moment I slowed down, I fell,” she laughs.
Therapists told Samantha that her fitness level laid the foundation for her successful recovery. Prior to the stroke, Samantha was an athlete and avid body builder. Consequently, the endorphins in her brain protected her—and her physical condition helped sustain her return to mobility and control. Samantha’s recovery did not come without setbacks, however. Doctors said she’d likely continue to experience numbness, and that she wouldn’t be able to have children at that point. A few years later in 2009, fully recovered, Samantha experienced a second stroke. She went to Georgetown Hospital and spent one week in recovery. Since then, she has been stroke-free.
Although Samantha continues to experience numbness in her left foot, as well as on the right side of her face when her stress mounts, she has learned to monitor her salt intake and manage her stress levels. She enjoys influencing and encouraging other survivors of heart attack and stroke, and has become an advocate for stroke prevention and heart health. Samantha worked with a doctor at John Hopkins who studies cerebral malformations, and upon delving into her family history, they discovered that her stroke risk was hereditary on her father’s side. She was then able to alert members of her family, and since then a 34-year-old cousin found herself in the very same situation as Samantha. She sees this as a huge benefit of her experience—and remarks that every negative from her journey has always turned into a positive. “…I just think about where I was as opposed to where I am now,” she says. “It’s just a reminder that things can get better, but you have to have the right attitude. It definitely changed mine.”
I took a short walk one Sunday morning, preparing for a 15K the next weekend in Canada. Halfway through my walk, I went to drink water from my fuel belt. When I squeezed the bottle with my left hand, I had no grip strength. I switched hands, drank some water, and finished my walk. When I got home, I thought, “Oh it was the heat and humidity of the walk”, but also considered that something may be wrong.
I mentioned my experience to my husband when he got home, and he wanted to go to the emergency room. However, I told him I was fine and felt better. For the rest of that day, my ability to grip came and went, still only in my left hand.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt fine, but my husband persisted to tell me to go to the doctor. By 8:00am, I was in the doctor’s office. I didn’t seem to be showing many warning signs, and the doctor thought it might be carpal tunnel. He advised that I get a brace to see if that would help, and gave me a referral to a nerve specialist. After leaving the doctor’s office, I debated going to work or back home. Spur of the moment, I decided to look up where the nerve specialist’s office was located, and it was literally across the street from my office, so I went to work. I called for an appointment and they next available time was 2:00 PM the next day. On Tuesday, I went back to work Tuesday, and felt no tingling or numbness.
At the nerve specialist’s, I underwent some tests. Suddenly, after a couple of tests, the nurse left to find the doctor. The doctor returned with the nurse and conducted a couple of tests, finally instructing me to sit up. The doctor asked if I had intended on going to the emergency room when the tingling started, but I told him the sensation went away. He then said, “I don’t want to scare you but you are having a stroke.”
I proceeded to the ER and upon arrival, they began their tests. While my EKG came back normal, the MRI showed that I was having a stroke. I stayed in the hospital till that Thursday. It turns out, I had previous strokes that they assume I had in my sleep over the prior 12 months. The cause of the several strokes were determined to be the medication I was taking. I have since changed my medication and added a couple of new ones to prevent any additional problems. This June will be my 2-year anniversary stroke-free.
Last year, I walked in celebration of my anniversary, and I can’t wait to do the same this year!