Published on November 04, 2015

A Race to Recovery

Genesis heart patient builds strength to reach his goal

Glen Griffith poses with race packet

Crossing the Bix 7 finish line for his 10th time last summer was especially
sweet for Glen Griffith of East Moline. He had suffered a heart attack
and undergone emergency triple bypass surgery just 15 weeks
before the race.

When Glen Griffith reached the Bix 7 race turnaround last summer, he couldn’t help but shout out his personal triumph to the cheering crowd: “Fifteen weeks since triple bypass surgery!” he yelled.

Of course, those who heard him didn’t know the extent of the 56-year-old East Moline heart patient’s story. Those 15 weeks leading up to the 2015 Quad-City Times Bix 7 race had included a life-threatening heart attack at a campground; emergency triple bypass surgery; and then, the painstakingly slow but steady physical training needed for the veteran racer to cross the Bix 7 finish line for his 10th time.

He’d come a long way since the Intensive Care Unit;  the initial pain of bending over to tie his shoes; and those first weeks of recuperation after the hospital – first one trip down the front porch stairs with the help of family, then the walk to the end of the driveway, and finally his victorious lap around the block.  A month after his heart attack and ready for the next step, he enrolled in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Genesis Medical Center, Silvis.

“Stay positive. Do whatever you can to get stronger.  Stick to it until you cross the finish line,” he would tell fellow heart patients.

The starting line

This race of a lifetime really began on April 11, 2015.

Griffith suffered a heart attack while at a Colona, Ill. campsite with his wife, sister and brother-in-law. “I didn’t feel quite right that day,” he recalls. “My brother-in-law got me a chair, and I sat down a while. Later, I jumped up and walked to the clubhouse nearby.  I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t make it back down the hill to the camper. My brother-in-law saw me struggling and shouted: ‘Drop everything! It’s Glen.’” 

Looking back on that day, Glen Griffith sees that his health crisis unfolded with a few lucky turns of events. “Everything…from the time the heart attack happened…just fell into place,” he says.

His family got him in the truck. With one sharp turn through a cornfield, they found a volunteer fire station filled with emergency responders undergoing a training class. “My family barged in and said, ‘Help! Someone is having a heart attack!’ I remember saying over and over ‘My chest…it hurts!’”

Griffith was treated in the field and rushed to the Genesis Medical Center, Silvis Emergency Dept.  In another stroke of luck, his cardiologist, Dr. Sanjeev Puri, who had seen him five days prior for a routine appointment, was on call.

“I was taken to the Cardiac Cath Lab, where it was determined I had a large blood clot in the main artery of my heart,” Griffith says. “Dr. Puri encouraged my family to pray for me.”

In need of emergency open heart surgery, Griffith was transported to Genesis Medical Center, Davenport where the Midwest’s most experienced heart surgeon, Dr. Dale Geiss, performed a triple bypass. “Dr. Geiss is the greatest. He saved my life.  Again, I was lucky that day to have a surgeon with his experience available to do the surgery.”

History of heart disease

Griffith exercises with his therapist

Exercise specialist Mike Haverback checks vitals on heart patient
Glen Griffith during Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation
at Genesis Medical Center, Silvis.

It was Griffith’s second heart attack. At 36, he had suffered a mild heart attack and had balloon angioplasty.  “After the first heart attack, I tried to eat better and exercise. I took up running,” he says.

Over the next two decades, a total of nine stents were placed in his heart. Despite that, he achieved seven half-marathons and nine Bix 7 races before he was sidelined by knee pain.

After his second heart attack, however, he enrolled in Phase 2 Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Genesis Medical Center, Silvis.

“I had tried Cardiac Rehab years before and thought ‘This isn’t for me. I don’t need this.’ I was so scared after my second heart attack I stuck with it. The people were nice, and it felt good to exercise in a safe way,” Griffith says. “I wanted to get stronger every day. I told everyone ‘I love living, so I’m going to keep doing this.’”

Genesis exercise specialist Mike Haverback recalls how laid-back Glen Griffith was on his first day. As the sessions progressed, however, he talked to staff more about his years of racing and soon became an inspiration and mentor to his fellow heart patients. “Glen made tremendous progress,” he says. “He had a goal to do the Bix again but he kept it to himself until a week before the race.”

Nearly four months after his heart attack, his “love for living” motivated Griffith to walk the Bix 7 and cross the finish line in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 27 seconds. Today, he continues to walk and hopes to build back his stamina to run again. Meanwhile, he keeps a positive perspective on life.

“Someone was looking out for me that day of the heart attack,” he says. “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but I’m thankful every day to be alive.”

---By Linda Barlow, Genesis

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