The curious case of how cardiologists at St. Joseph Medical Center saved the life of local triathlete
At 63 years old, Bob Love was in the best shape of his life. In fact, he was in better shape than his three grown children, as they would willingly attest.
This retired financial analyst could run 3 to 4 hours without stopping, bike for 6 hours with no break, and swim a mile with no problem. His body fat was 10-12 percent. He took zero medication, not even aspirin. He hasn’t touched fried food in 10 years. He never smoked, drank only an occasional beer, and never missed his annual physical in which his doctor joked that if all his patients were like Love, he would be out of business.
With seven triathlons, a 50-mile bike tour, and a half marathon under his belt just this year, Love was excited he had been accepted into the New York Marathon this November and was training like the champion he is – with his times improving steadily despite his age.
Until the unexpected happened this summer.
“By August, I had my training up to 16 miles,” Love explains. “One Friday, I ran 16 miles plus a 1 mile warm-up and cool down, and I felt fine. In fact, the 16th mile was my fastest.”
But the next day, he blacked out. Then he blacked out again. And again.
“I knew something was wrong,” Love says. “First thing on Monday, I went to see my regular doctor. He ordered blood work and a CT scan which all came back clear, so he got me into his heart specialist, Dr. Lundgren.”
Dr. Craig Lundgren, MD, FACC, is part of the Healient Physicians Group at St. Joseph Medical Center. (A well-known name in Kansas City, Healient will move back to the hospital campus this January in a multi-million dollar renovation project for cardiac treatment.)
“Dr. Lundgren ordered a stress test after Labor Day,” Love continues. “I went the full 21-minute distance on the treadmill with no problem, but Dr. Lundgren recognized some symptoms of QT prolongation syndrome – an electrical issue related to the heart – which concerned him. We’re waiting on results to see if I have a congenital disorder.”
Although Dr. Lundgren acknowledged that Love had a “runner’s heart” with a resting heart rate of 45-48 bpm, he was concerned about the abnormality. Using coronary angiography, Dr. Lundgren found that three of Love’s arteries were blocked, so he recommended bypass surgery and scheduled it the following week. During surgery, two more blocked arteries were discovered.
“Robert Love underwent a quintuple Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting Surgery (CABG) on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, and by noon the following Sunday he was released,” says Cardiothoracic Surgeon, John Forman, MD, FACS. “I remember telling him, ‘you’re in such great shape, let’s get you out of here.”
Love and his wife Cindy say they were impressed with the care they received, taking note that Dr. Forman checked on them morning and evening without fail.
A month ago, Love started cardiac rehabilitation at the hospital campus where he attends three times a week. On his off days, he exercises within the guidelines prescribed but admits that he’s having to hold himself back. “I’m being cautious to not lift weights or overextend, so I’ll heal properly. But my heart and lungs feel great, and I’m looking forward to doing races again.”
Love acknowledges that his journey has put a new perspective on life.
“This whole health scare took us completely by surprise, but I think the fact that I blacked out was a warning sign by the grace of God to get checked out,” Love says. “And if I do end up having the genetic syndrome, I can’t swim, but I can still race. I mean, there’s a lot of life left to live. I’m not going to sit around and be a couch potato. I’m going to stay active. We’re going to continue to travel the country in our motor home. We’re going to continue to enjoy life because life is too short not to.”