View Full Version : Recovering from angioplasty and competitive swimming

Jim Rowland
February 15th, 2002, 11:33 AM
I competed at the 2001 SCY nationals in Santa Clara and did my personal bests (since college anyway). A couple months later, I had my first bout with chest pain which was caused by a completely blocked coronary artery that was opened through angioplasty.

After taking some time off, I got into it again and in late January, swam my personal unshaved bests since starting masters swimming. That same day, chest pain returned and I ended up having a second angioplasty done a couple weeks ago.

The main cause is a horrible family history of heart disease, but I'm wondering if anyone else out there who swims competitively has had similar problems, and how you have gone about overcoming them. I'm only 41 years old and, in all honesty, this second "event" is harder psychologically than the first. Barring any further problems, I would still like to compete at nationals in Hawaii, and would welcome any advice you may have, especially from someone who has "been there". Thanks.

jim thornton
February 16th, 2002, 10:52 AM

It does sound like you are the victim of genetics here. I am not a cardiologist but have written about heart disease, atherosclerosis, etc. pretty extensively for Men's Journal, Modern Maturity, and GQ magazines. My best advice, and I suspect you are already heeding this, is to find a topnotch cardiologist with some background in sports medicine to guide you.

I know that the use of statin drugs can slash the likelihood of subsequent heart problems. Ditto for ACE inhibitors (if you are even mildly hypertensive) and baby aspirin therapy. I suspect if all this stuff were around in the day of Jim Fixx, he could well still be alive and running today.

I recently went on statins myself--you can read the article at:


There's a somewhat controversial test out called EBCT or ultrafast CT scanning. It looks at your heart arteries for the presence of calcium, which is an indicator of advanced plaques. The higher the calcium score, the more advanced the plaque you have. The good news is that some research centers have found that statin drugs and healthy diet can in some cases reverse this. If your calcium score remains steady, or actually goes down, over subsequent tests from year to year, this correlates with a very low chance of cardiac events.

I had and wrote about this procedure--the article will run in the May issue of GQ. Unfortunately, GQ doesn't post its contents on the web.

Two last notes: there's a ton of evidence that physical exercise can help compensate for a myriad other bad heart factors. The trick is to do this safely.

One man on our team here in PA, Ronald Gainsford, holds several top 10 times in the 70-74 age group. What's so remarkable about Ron is that for six years, he was living a "near nursing home quality of life"--unable even to walk the length of a 25 yard pool. Then he had a heart transplant and slowly built himself back up.

Even the worst case scenario doesn't have to be dire. Good luck, and keep fighting the good fight!

February 20th, 2002, 08:01 PM
Hi Jim,
As they say, "been there - done that". I had my heart attack in 1998. They put a stent in my artery. Has your Doctor talked with you about the possibility of a stent. I sure believe in them. The one caution they gave me as I started swimming again was to not "explode". I am trying to cut back on my sprinting, which is more explosive, and stick to distance which is more aerobic. I am taking the drugs mentioned in the previous post (Beta Blocker, Ace Inhibitor). With these drugs I have been told by my Doctor to not go over 140 heart beat. I am still loving the swimming, the friends and I feel good. Good luck with your swimming.