A sea of red made its way down State Street Friday night marching in honor of “National Go Red Day,” as a group of nearly three dozen local residents did their part to raise awareness and support good heart and brain health.
Among the group were heart attack survivors with their stories of personal hardships, as well as heart health advocates looking to try and make a life-saving difference.
Oct. 14, 2016, is a day that will stick with Jon Hyde for the rest of his life. The avid cyclist spent the prior day following through with his typical routine, biking 30 to 40 miles, but awoke at 3 a.m. that Friday morning with what felt like an elephant on his chest.
By the time he sat up the pain had subsided only to return about an hour later, this time even more prolonged and excruciating. As a former pharmacist who worked in a cardiac trauma center, Mr. Hyde suspected he was suffering from Pericarditis –- also known as a heart infection. By the time morning came, Mr. Hyde phoned a friend who was a cardiologist in Ventura and arranged an appointment that same day. As he and his wife traveled down Highway 101, Mr. Hyde suffered what is considered a “Widowmaker,” a severe heart attack that has a 90% fatality rate. Those who survive are typically left with heart damage.
Twenty minutes later, Mr. Hyde was at the hospital. Seventeen minutes after arriving, he was in surgery.
“Because of all the cycling and all of the exercise and the stuff that I had done right over the years, I had grown a collateral artery,” Mr. Hyde told the News-Press. “My heart was getting blood even though I had a 100% blockage of my left coronary artery. I did everything right. Because of my training and because I worked in a cardiac hospital, I knew not to panic. I did everything right and I survived, and I walked away with zero heart damage.”
Mr. Hyde wound up spending six days in the hospital after surgery. He spent the next month letting his heart heal and when he went back to an echocardiogram and recalled his doctor viewing the results with a perturbed look on his face. The doctor was unable to tell he suffered a heart attack. He even underwent a nuclear stress test some 18 months after his heart attack and was told his heart was flawless.
This came as a surprise to the then 46-year-old who doesn’t smoke and has never consumed alcohol. He figured he had a healthy heart, but with family history of heart disease he knew at some point he would have to see a cardiologist. Eventually, his surgeon told him “you didn’t dodge a bullet, you dodged a missile while running through a minefield.”
One year after becoming a Widowmaker survivor, Mr. Hyde cycled to the summit of Mt. Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii, which is the longest continual uphill cycling course in the world.
“That’s ocean level to 10,023 feet, 35.5 miles,” he said. “That’s the one that you go up, up, up and up. There’s no level and there’s no back down, you just go straight.”
For perspective, Gibraltar Road is 50th in the world, while Mt. Haleakala is number one.
“I wanted to tackle the big boy,” he said with a laugh.
As he prepares to turn 50, Mr. Hyde will try his luck with Mauna Kea, which gains 13,800 feet over 43 miles. The final seven miles of the trip, the road surface turns to powdered volcanic rock.
With his newfound appreciation for the little things in life, Mr. Hyde has started a nonprofit called “Summit4CAD, Cyclists Against Coronary Artery Disease,” where he focuses on cycling as a main physical activity and started sharing posts on social media on the benefits of cycling. Mr. Hyde has biked 20,000 miles in each of the last two years, and Jan. 31 he crossed 50,000 miles since his massive heart attack.
He was fortunate to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, but knows that isn’t always the case for others.
“I’m lucky and the vast majority of people that experienced what I experienced, won’t be,” he said. “The math is not good, so even if they survive, they’re looking at a diminished quality of life. If I can stop one person from experiencing that by thinking about the things that I never consider, then everything I’ve been through is worth it.
“I survived for a reason, there has to be a reason, so I’m going to try to do something good with it.”
As the group made their way downtown, participants shouted “Go Red,” which led motorists to honk their horns and caused onlookers to take notice. Father Larry Gosselin, of the Santa Barbara Mission, who had emergency heart surgery over the summer while in Italy, drove by and thanked the group for their contributions to increasing heart health awareness.
“We’re just walking to make people aware of the organization and what it’s all about,” said Denise Sanford, chair of the Go Red for Women luncheon scheduled next week, as well as the chair elect for the American Heart Association Central Coast Chapter.
Ms. Sanford was joined by Stephanie Petlow, who has worked in cardiology for over 25 years and has come to know many heart attack survivors. She thanked all the donors who give to the American Heart Association annually and said she has personally witnessed what the association does to prolong lives through advancements in medicine, technology and treatment.
Austin Miller, 25, was born with a hole in his heart and has lived his life with a heart murmur. He gets tested annually and is hoping he can go at least 20 years before he has to get open heart surgery. He was strolling downtown with his son and his mother, Angela, who now works for AHA.
Mr. Miller does his best to keep his mind off his heart condition and said it doesn’t have much of an affect on his everyday life. He was grateful for the community support.
“I love having everyone come out and support not just me, but thousands of people that are going through the same deal that I go through everyday,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Starting in the 1200 block of State Street, the group made their way to Paseo Nuevo for a free heart health fair. Attendees were able to sample goods from local shops, receive information about heart health and learn how to perform hands-free CPR.
The Go Red for Women luncheon will kick off at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd.