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Runner Is Model of Heart-attack Comeback

May 23, 2008
Runner is a model of heart-attack comeback By Susan Glairon Longmont Times-Call Whenever Skip Patience visits Boston, he stands on the finish line of the Boston Marathon and remembers. Sometimes he stands there and cries. Just talking about running the storied marathon — which is only for runners whose times qualify — brings tears to his eyes. “It was a thrill of a lifetime,” said Patience, 70, who ran the Boston Marathon in 1994 and hopes to run marathons until he’s 80. The Longmont resident golfs three days a week and, when he’s not training for a marathon, still runs 15 to 20 miles every week. But it wasn’t always that way. For the first half of his adult life, the father of two worked 60 to 70 hours a week as a vice president of a Denver distribution company. He smoked 21/2 packs of cigarettes a day. He was 25 pounds overweight. And he hadn’t done any “meaningful exercise” since his discharge from the U.S. Air Force in 1959. Despite his unhealthy lifestyle, “I never felt sick,” he said. “I had no premonition.” One minute, he was shoveling snow in his Denver driveway after a storm dropped 22 inches; the next minute, a heart attack knocked him to his knees. He was only 46 years old. An experimental drug administered in the emergency room of Lutheran Medical Center (now Exempla Hospital in Wheat Ridge) partially dissolved blood clots in three of his coronary arteries. After stabilizing him, his physician gave him three choices: keep doing what he’d been doing, have bypass surgery or enroll in the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program. Patience chose the third option and met with a nurse, dietitian and physical therapist. He quit smoking, changed his diet and left his high-pressure job. Though he had many offers for well-paying positions, he chose a job that would allow him to spend more time with his family, working for motivational training company Dale Carnegie for commission and no base salary. He worked his way up, became managing director in 1991 and retired in 2001. He’s now a keynote speaker for the company. Patience started his exercise program walking a block a day and gradually increased the distance. He also spent 11/2 hours twice a week in cardiac rehabilitation, working out on the treadmill, bike and rowing machine. “It hurt like heck at first,” he said. One day while walking slowly on the treadmill, his physical therapist increased the treadmill speed without asking. “You probably could run a race,” she said. Six months after his heart attack, Patience ran and walked the Bolder Boulder in one hour and 20 minutes. One year later, in 1986, he ran the Mayor’s Race marathon in Denver. He has since run 13 more marathons, the last one two years ago. To qualify for the Boston Marathon, he needed to finish a marathon in less than three hours and 40 minutes. He was ahead of his target time in Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. when he stopped to help a runner who had tripped and broken his foot. Because he stopped, his time was three hours and 43 minutes. He wrote Boston Marathon organizers and told them what happened; they qualified him for the race. About five years after Patience’s heart attack, Smithkline Beecham Pharmaceuticals ran a contest for Heart Patient of the Year, the cardiac patient who made the biggest lifestyle change. His physical therapist and nutritionist entered him into the contest. He won. Patience received $10,000, which he donated to the Lutheran Medical Center Foundation and to the scholarship fund for Dale Carnegie, and a trip to Washington, D.C. He also appeared on “The CBS Morning Show” with Paula Zahn and addressed the National Press Club, where he later dined with CNN talk show host Larry King. A year later, he was featured in an advertisement for Ecotrin aspirin therapy in Golf Digest and Reader’s Digest. “When you come face to face with your mortality, you start thinking about things,” Patience said. “I learned to live a better life. I learned to be a better father, a better husband and a better individual.” Susan Glairon can be contacted at 303-684-5224 or sglairon@times-call.com.