Local man’s journey through open heart surgery.
He sits undisturbed on his loveseat, splitting his attention between his fantasy football teams on his laptop and a Monday Night Football broadcast. The silence that surrounds him gives the perception of peacefulness to a man many might not know how to analyze. A man of few words, Jeff Hardisty, 51, breaks his silence and reflects on a time that redefined his life.
“I was in the process of training for the Portland and Seattle marathons. I did a nine-mile-run on a Saturday and a week later, I went for a normal run, and felt like my windpipe was cold,” says Hardisty, loving husband, father of two, and author. “It happened a couple times. The second time I had some tingling in my forearms. I rested a few days and then when I went to run a few days later, my forearms were really swollen and clenched down, and my windpipe was really cold,” Hardisty continues.
A troubled glaze toward the window shows the reflection of a man looking back on a moment that could have taken his life. Look into his eyes, and you see the struggle, the worry, and the relief.
“I talked to Carol [Hardisty’s wife, a Respiratory Therapist] and she said to go to the doctor, and he performed an EKG [electrocardiogram test]. Then he scheduled a stress test with nuclear dye, and the results showed that I had a blocked coronary artery,” says Hardisty, looking uneasy as he mentally relives the moment. He continues, “I was in a state of disbelief. Partially because I had tried to take good care of myself because that’s what my father died of. To find that I had the same thing that he did, I was in disbelief and in shock.”
Hardisty’s family was taken aback as well. Thinking back to the horrific day, his daughter, Mandy, says, “I was at play rehearsal at North Eugene High School, and I knew that my dad was going in for a stress test, but I thought he’d be in and out. A couple hours before the play, I got a call from my mom that the doctor found the blockage in my dad’s heart.” Tears well up in her eyes as Mandy remembers the emotional roller-coaster her family was on that day, nearly seven years ago. “I was immediately terrified. To think that, you know, a stress test isn’t a really common test, he’d take it and come out just fine. But learning that he was going to have an angiogram, it made it that much more real. And I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t leave the play, but I wanted to just be with my mom and my dad.”
An avid athlete since his late teens, Hardisty took preventative measures to not succumb to the same fate as his father, who passed away when Hardisty was 6-years-old.
“My experience with heart disease is that it kills you. It was the reason why I took care of myself as best I could from when I was 18, because someday I’d be married, have kids, and
I didn’t want to abandon them like my father did, even though it wasn’t his choice. But I was afraid it was going to happen anyway,” Hardisty says. “I found out on a Friday. They did an angiogram on Saturday, thinking they could give me a stent, but the blockage was at the split of the artery, so they couldn’t do anything except surgery, and the soonest that could happen was on Monday.” Not knowing his fate, Hardisty recalls what he felt as he was wheeled away and prepped for surgery.
“I just wanted to wake up. They came in and got me and shot me full of drugs to prep for the surgery, and I was pretty much willing to do anything, but I just wanted to wake up.” At that point, his life was in his surgeon’s hands.
Mandy remembers the day all too well. “After dad was taken off to surgery, we were all very quiet. You know, people die on this table every day, and you never know how strong your heart is,” Mandy says. “When they were giving him his first set of relaxants, he started to lighten up and make jokes, you know, be the guy he always was.”
Recalling the moments after Hardisty was taken into surgery, Mandy says her entire family was, “Terrified. Scared. I mean, technically, when they perform an open heart surgery, the person is dead. The machine is pumping their blood for them. I can remember my uncle trying to distract us, offering to take us all to breakfast.” While their minds were distracted momentarily, the family was brought back to reality.
“Literally, right after my dad was wheeled away, there was a ‘code blue,’ meaning cardiac arrest. [My mom] was already scared and not really present, and she immediately broke down and started crying. We had to tell her that he wasn’t even in surgery yet and they were still prepping him. It was the longest day ever.”
“I just remember opening my eyes and looking up toward the ceiling and seeing Carol and my sister, Jerri, and them talking to me. Even though I was in a sedated stupor, I was happy that I was awake,” Hardisty says with a sense of relief in his tone.
But he wouldn’t stay down and out for the count for long. He recalls, “I got out of the hospital on Saturday, and on Monday, I reported to cardiac rehab, and they had me walking.” Despite the diagnosis, Hardisty’s goals never altered. He had set out to run the Seattle Marathon, and Hardisty was as determined as ever to train and complete the grueling 26.2-mile race.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish the marathon. At some point in my training, I went from walking to running, so the fact that I could just run was a good thing.” says Hardisty. “I just had to keep following my training program.” Day after day, Hardisty trained, attempting to be healthier than ever.
“I just didn’t know how long or how far I could go. I didn’t have as long to train as I usually would, so I was hoping I could make it. It took me four hours and twenty-three minutes to complete the Seattle Marathon,” Hardisty says. He smiles, chuckling, “And I haven’t been able to match that time again, and I’ve tried.”
Completing his personal best time in the marathon seven months after his open heart surgery, Hardisty took his passion for health to new levels. Since that time, the self-proclaimed member of the “zipper club” has completed three Ironman competitions, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon, while setting a personal best of 15 hours, 13 minutes, 38 seconds at the Coeur d’Alene Ironman competition on June 22, 2008. Hardisty’s passion for fitness has lead to his personal training company, My Trainer Jeff, where Hardisty focuses on being “Fit for life.” For more information, follow Hardisty on Facebook or visit his website, jumpstartmyheart.org, where you can learn more about his story through his book, Make Mine a Triple…Bypass, That Is.