On the Road with the rescue squad

EDITOR'S NOTE: Patti Hammerstein, one of the state's most readily recognized and popular distance runners, suffered heart distress Jan. 27 at the Grand Prix season-opening Hour Run in Danville. Roadrunners waiting for the later session helped her husband, Brice, keep her calm, and soon Nurse Jennifer Liles-Dorris stepped off the track in midrace to assist. Brice fills us in, with lessons for us all.

On the Road is your column. Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.

Arkansas Running Klub

Greetings to all of our friends in Batesville.

As many of you know, my adorable wife, Patti Hammerstein, had an emergency during the RRCA One Hour Championship in Danville on Jan. 27. We have always loved traveling up to Batesville to run your races and visit our many friends with the White River Roadrunners. Heck, if we weren't board members of ARK we'd probably be running for you guys.

Anyway, I'm sure many of you remember two years ago when a very fit runner from Wisconsin went down at the finish line at the Little Rock Marathon, and they weren't able to bring him back. Well, Patti has a congenital heart defect that has been consistently evaluated for years and she has been cleared to participate, yes compete, in endurance events. In Danville, though, after seven laps Patti stepped off the track with signs of a heart attack. Patti was awake and coherent during the entire episode but in obvious distress. (If any of you don't want the "ER experience story," you can skip to the bottom for the educational part of this.)

We had her sit and because she started feeling worse laid her on her back on the outer lanes of the track. We finally convinced Patti a trip to the ER was in order, even though we all knew from the start that's where this would end up. While at the track everyone was wonderful in working to make sure Patti was taken care of. Nurse Jennifer Liles-Dorris of the Roadrunners sacrificed her race to assist until we got Patti on the way to the ER.

Our visit to Chambers (Danville) Hospital ...

We get to the ER and they start checking to see if they can find out what is actually going on. The EKG was a blessing — it showed that she hadn't had a heart attack. They also did some blood work, and then when the old country doctor on call came in, he marveled: "Usually when I come in on heart-related calls the patient never looks this fit."

After explaining the "no heart attack" good news he followed up with the concerns: The liver enzymes were five or six times normal and the heart enzymes were way out of whack (he didn't assign a number for how far out of whack). Patti was not to be released and was to be transferred to Arkansas Heart Hospital.

Fun times ...

First they explained it would have to be by helicopter, because the ambulance would have to return after dark on Highway 10 and the EMT service had three after-dark deer strikes in recent years. I started the drive to Little Rock, but in Perryville I got a call that they wouldn't put the helicopter in the air because of unsettled weather. They made the trip using I-40. When I met Patti at the hospital she told me that the EMTs in the ambulance told her that they're not used to having room in the ambulance when transporting heart patients.

So Patti arrives at the heart hospital and they run more tests and we get to meet Dr. Henry. We're feeling much better, as we know we're in the right place for what Patti has going on. Dr. Henry goes through what they were able to figure out to this point and, thankfully, it doesn't appear to be a heart attack. Patti isn't released though, as there is more testing in the cards.

By Monday morning Patti's numbers are better and she gets an echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, and ultrasound of the liver and gallbladder. Things look good but she will have followup with a gastroenterologist. Dr. Henry wants Patti to take a stress echo but he doesn't think the equipment at the hospital will get an accurate reading for a marathoner. Patti is released but he sends her to the Heart Hospital Clinic where they have equipment that can get her working at the level he needs to see the heart's performance when stressed. She sets a record for that clinic and finally stops after they get her to 18% incline and her pulse hits 170. Her legs hurt. After consulting with several other specialists because of the readings — they have questions about some abnormalities associated with her congenital defect — there is a lot of disagreement, even among the specialists, and more followup is scheduled.

After all this, we're still getting things sorted out but Dr. Henry said Patti can work out "but not hard and no racing until we're sure." He also put her on a beta blocker routine (usually not recommended for someone with a low pulse) but he wants to echo stress her again with the beta blocker routine.

The lesson ...

OK, those who skipped to the end to avoid the details, the lesson here is that there are risks for even the very fit. We read about runners who die during races, and a lot of times the runner ignored warning signs. Patti is one of the toughest runners I know (I'm not saying that just because she's my spouse and I love her) and fortunately she recognized she was having issues. Even if this had turned out to be a false alarm, and according to the physicians involved it wasn't a false alarm, the message is that we need to listen to our bodies. Patti was hesitant to go to the ER initially but finally realized that is where she belonged.

A big part of her realization to go to the ER was the love and support of our friends who were able to look at the situation through clear eyes, to help observing her, and to help convince her to go to the ER. This is just sport and, hopefully for everyone reading this, fun.

We've always known we have wonderful friends in the running community in Batesville (actually all over the state). Our goal is to keep Patti healthy and to keep visiting you guys. It doesn't matter how fit we are, things don't always go as planned — so be careful so we remain part of the same community!