Thursday, October 27, 2016
When Pat Saladin learned that he needed triple-bypass heart surgery, he feared he’d have to give up running.
When Saladin’s friends learned that their pal had the surgery, they wondered whether he’d retire from running.
“No,” says Saladin, who’s 61 and has been running for 32 years. “I’m feeling better than ever before.”
Part of the credit goes to his wife Kathy, who handed him a stack of Internet research about running after heart surgery.
“My outlook changed in an instant,” says Saladin, who admits he’d originally been discouraged.
Part of the credit goes to his surgeon, Dr. Alexander Roitstein of BayCare Clinic Cardiothoracic Surgery in Green Bay. Roitstein recognized that even though Saladin was fit, a family history of heart disease was working against him.
“You can’t outrun your genetic profile, but you can outrun your risks,” Roitstein said.
Part of the credit goes to Saladin himself, who acknowledges that “my prior lifestyle probably saved my life.”
Saladin started running all those years ago after being diagnosed with high cholesterol.
“I started watching my diet. I started running and I fell in love with it. I do all the runs, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons. I’ve even done a marathon. I never smoked. I watched what I ate.” says Saladin, who lives in Sturgeon Bay and is a branch manager at Viking Electric Supply.
But given Saladin’s family history, Roitstein says, “he could do all the right things and still have a problem.”
In January 2016, Saladin noticed that he was running slower despite having plenty of energy. There was one other thing.
“I was having chest pains,” he says. “It almost felt like a muscle ache.”
That, Roitstein says, was a warning.
“The most important thing is not to ignore pain, whether it’s the crushing pain, like an elephant sitting on your chest, to something more subtle,” he says.
Roitstein recommended surgery after seeing “electrical irregular activity” and blocked arteries in Saladin’s heart.
In lay terms, “it was a plumbing problem resulting in electrical issues,” Roitstein said.
That simple, direct explanation wasn’t comforting.
“I was scared,” Saladin said. “I was afraid I’d lose my active lifestyle, that I wouldn’t be able to run again.”
Roitstein performed the surgery on April 12. Saladin spent six days in the hospital.
“Three weeks later, I started to really feel good. I started walking, then slowly started to run,” Saladin says.
“I started walking, and when I got up to 2 miles, I said ‘Let’s try to run a little.’ I ran 20 feet the first day, then 100 feet the next day.”
Barely two months after surgery, on a steamy June 11, Saladin walked 3.1 miles in the Hog Wild Run in Sturgeon Bay. He was the last man to finish, doing so in 48 minutes, 33 seconds. But he did it.
A week later, he did another 3.1 miles in the Crossroads Trail Run in Sturgeon Bay. He walked half and ran half of that 5K, finishing in 40:39. He wasn’t last this time, finishing 58th among 69 men. In fact, he was just getting going.
“Within three months, I had a 5K I was planning on running,” Saladin says.
That was the Door County Triathlon, for which he hoped to be part of the Antiques Water and Road Show, a three-man relay team.
On July 17, three months after his surgery, Saladin ran the 5K portion of the sprint-distance course in 33:01. He proudly wore his medal while standing with teammates Tim Kroeff and Carl Morrison after the event.
“I’m so grateful for them to let me be a part of the team,” Saladin says.
Even though Saladin is back on track, his heart will be monitored for the rest of his life.
“We somewhat reset his timetable,” Roitstein says. “The most important thing is the mindset of the individual. Bypass surgery is a chance to get your life back.”
For Saladin, that means “more running, being active and being with my family and enjoying life.”
Dr. Alexander Roitstein sees patients at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay. For information, call 866-433-7953.
Door County Triathlon photo of Kroeff, Saladin and Morrison courtesy of John M Cooper Photography.