Heart patient now runs trails, not from heart screens

Runner Bob Greenfield nearly skipped a screening that ended up saving his life

To the naked eye, Bob Greenfield is healthier than most.

He eats healthy and runs anywhere from two to five miles with his dog nearly every day, even at 61 years old.

But in 2016, every time he got out to pound the pavement, he noticed something wasn’t right.

“I can’t really explain what happened, other than I had a tingling sensation between my shoulder blades whenever I’d go run,” he said.

That sensation would quickly fade during his runs, so Greenfield brushed it off.

“Perhaps it’s a muscle issue or something,” said Greenfield. However, each time he ran the tingling feeling would return, and linger just a bit longer.

As the sensation grew with each run, so did his concern. Out of what he thought was an overabundance of caution, Greenfield decided to schedule a heart screen at Sanford Health.

It was a decision that inevitably saved his life.

‘Who’s your cardiologist? You need one’

Greenfield does have a family history of heart issues, with both of his grandfathers passing away from heart attacks. But given his diet, activity level, and how he felt on a daily basis, he didn’t think his heart was the source of the tingling feeling, but still wasn’t ruling it out.

It was a Monday morning that Greenfield scheduled his heart screening. By Friday, he had a quadruple bypass surgery.

Schedule now: Heart screenings at Sanford Health

“A normal calcium score is less than 100. Mine was 2,300,” he said. “I’ll never forget; I came out of the scan and the gentleman said, ‘Who’s your cardiologist?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t have one.’ He says, ‘You need one. Your calcium score is off the map.'”

A buildup of calcium in the coronary arteries is a tell-tale sign of heart disease. Greenfield’s calcium levels were 23 times higher than what’s considered normal, which shocked Greenfield’s friend and eventual cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Verlyn Nykamp.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I can only think of one patient that I was more surprised as far as lifestyle, and what they’re able to do from an activity level that comes in with really significant coronary artery disease. That was a physician I operated on many years ago who was a vegetarian marathon runner who needed bypass surgery.

“Greenfield’s right in that category where he had really been doing everything correct, and still ended up with a bunch of coronary artery disease,” said Dr. Nykamp.

Nearly cancelled 

Greenfield only experienced the tingling sensation between his shoulders. He didn’t display any typical, indicative signs of heart disease like chest pain, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. Because of this, he had no idea how dire his situation was, and how critically he needed care.

“On Thursday, I scheduled the screening for that following Monday. Over the weekend the pain somewhat dissipated when I was active. I told my wife, ‘I think I’m going to cancel that screening. Whatever I had has gone away.’

“But she persisted and said, ‘No, with your family history, and you’ve already scheduled it, what’s it going to hurt you?'” said Greenfield.

Related: Coronary calcium screening reveals hidden heart problems

What Greenfield didn’t know is the disease was located in a critical part of his heart. If he hadn’t done anything about it, it could’ve been fatal in a short period.

“I look back on it sometimes, and it’s just really too much to think about. 30 days from that point I could have died,” he said.

After surgery

Dr. Nykamp conducted Greenfield’s quadruple bypass. Post-surgery, there’s typically easy recommendations he and other cardiologists can offer to improve the patients health.

However, the issue with Greenfield was that he wasn’t a typical patient, meaning there weren’t many recommendations he could offer to improve Greenfield’s health.

“Some people it’s very easy. I’m discharging a gentleman this morning who smokes, he’s overweight, doesn’t take care of his diabetes, and doesn’t exercise. So, we have a whole variety of things we can talk to him about. I call it my ‘come to Jesus’ talk, where I tell these people it’s their chance to change their lives and go in a different direction.

“It’s more difficult with somebody like Bob. You can’t tell him to exercise more, you can’t tell him to lose weight, and you can’t tell him to stop smoking. You’ve got to tell him to kind of keep doing what he was already doing,” said Dr. Nykamp.

The good thing with Greenfield’s case? Because he’d already been eating healthy and exercising, he recovered quickly.

So quickly that not even six weeks later, he ran a 5K on the anniversary of his surgery.

Dr. Nykamp says it’s not typical for a patient to be that determined after a life-saving, quadruple bypass surgery. But, it is for his friend Greenfield.

“More than anything with Bob, he’s one of the more motivated people you’ll ever find. He’s unique from that standpoint where he has this built-in drive that the vast majority of my patients don’t have, quite honestly. So, I would expect somebody like him, who’s motivated, to return to a normal lifestyle,” said Dr. Nykamp.

‘It’s an easy thing, and it’ll save your life’

Greenfield still runs two to five miles a day with his personal trainer and health coach.

“My health coach is an Airedale terrier named Remi,” he said.

Greenfield says if his story encourages even one person to get a heart screening, “it’ll be a success.”

“Understand your history. Understand your past, and don’t be fearful. If you’re having symptoms, if you’re wondering if something’s up, take that screening. It’s an easy thing, and it’ll save your life.”

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Posted In Healthy Living, Heart, Running, Sioux Falls, Specialty Care