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David Pogue

A story about a heart attack

ElmerWhen David Pogue regained consciousness, he looked up to see a surprising sight: People calmly walking on treadmills to either side of him.

David had been working out at the URMC Cardiac Rehab Center. He was about to step onto one of those treadmills himself when he experienced a cardiac arrest.

It was a hot day, but David felt fine as he typed his weight into the machine.

“I was standing there, and then I was just gone,” David recalls.

David’s cardiac arrest stemmed from an unpleasant discovery made just the year before: Despite a relatively healthy lifestyle, David had coronary artery disease.

A visit to his cardiologist, Dr. Gerry Miller, had revealed that some of David’s arteries were 99% blocked. After consulting with several doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital, David chose to have his artery opened through an angioplasty and the placement of several stents.

Within months, though, the artery was nearly closed off again. (David’s stents were placed in 1997, before drug-eluting stents which help prevent this problem were widely available.) Another angioplasty was attempted, but David’s artery could not be reopened.

The best offense is an active lifestyle

Fortunately, there was some good news for David: His active lifestyle—he is an avid hiker and canoeist—had already built some smaller arteries around the blockage. His best hope was to remain active and build even more of these new blood vessels.

David embraced his new exercise program with vigor. He made steady progress for 7 months. Then, when stepping onto the treadmill at URMC Cardiac Rehab in August of 1998, his heart stopped. Nurses Laurie Kopin, Michael Vickner and Donna Brower acted quickly, using a defibrillator to reestablish David’s heart beat.

His doctors would later tell him that this episode may not have been caused by a heart attack at all, but by a sudden loss of blood to the heart called ischemia. Whatever the cause of his cardiac arrest, David is quick to admit that he couldn’t have been in a better place.

“Three URMC employees were around me in an instant,” David says. “The second jolt from the defibrillator brought me back. Only one in 20 people who have a cardiac arrest survive, and most have some sort of brain damage. I was definitely in the right place.”

David was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he would have a triple bypass the next day. When he awoke, his main concern was finding out whether he had lost any of his mental acuity.

“I wanted to look at figures for a real estate closing,” says David, an attorney and professor of criminal justice at Monroe Community College. “When I understood those figures, I knew I must be okay!”

Walking the treadmill to recovery

For David, the road to recovery was a familiar and welcome one. Six weeks later, he was back at URMC Cardiac Rehab—training with his friends, and thanking those who had saved his life.

“I’ve been there for 12 years now,” says David. “I go three times a week and rarely miss a day. My wife and my in-laws go, too. It’s become a family thing.”

But it’s more than the exercise and camaraderie that keeps David coming back.

“If I had been going to another type of facility or health club,” he says, “I would have been dead. Having medical professionals standing by saved my life.”

At 59 years old, David has more experience with heart disease than most people a decade older than him. While he is still extraordinarily busy—he teaches both traditional and online courses at MCC, publishes two textbooks on constitutional law and works with high school students—David says he is looking forward to slowing down.

“It changes your outlook,” he says of his cardiac arrest. “It makes you appreciate the here and now.”

David makes sure he does that each day—whether he is hiking near his cottage in Canada, or walking on the treadmill where his life was once saved.