TAMPA, Fla. — Gene Gray won’t forget April 12, 2012. He got the unexpected phone call that his younger brother, David, died from a heart attack. David was just 39.
“It was absolutely stunning,” said Gene.
Perhaps just as shocking, Gene suffered a heart attack of his own almost seven years later. Both brothers lived healthy lifestyles and ate well. They were both long-distance runners.
Leading up to his heart attack, Gene was running seven miles a day, seven days a week.
“I did not expect to face this,” the 48-year-old said.
Gene was mowing the lawn on February 10, 2019. He was experiencing severe chest and arm pain. He’d been to the emergency room before but was told he showed no signs of a heart attack. He neglected to go to the cardiologist.
He was rushed to the hospital with his arteries almost completely blocked. He needed emergency quintuple bypass surgery.
“A few months later I had to have a sixth artery stented,” he said. “I was a pretty severe case.”
His Coronary Artery Disease was a family issue. Gene and David are part of a family of five children. The brothers were relatively healthy leading up to their respective attacks. The experience has changed Gene’s outlook on life.
“There are a lot of people like myself who don’t appear to be the stereotypical candidates for heart attacks, so I want to help people recognize those signs,” he said. “I had severe chest pain, severe heart pain. Don’t just go to the emergency room when there’s a problem. See your cardiologist. Those folks will help you rebuild yourself physically but also emotionally. You’re not going to be afraid to exercise again.”
He says he’s now a calmer and much happier person.
Dr. Ryan Mellor of AdventHealth Tampa says if Gene had not gone to the ER when he noticed the signs, there’s a possibility he wouldn’t be here today.
A quintuple bypass at his age is not common. Gene recently completed cardiac rehab on December 18 and feels great. He is back to running again, sometimes running up to five miles a day.
“When I’m running, I literally put my hand on my chest to feel my heart pounding,” he said. "Get a handle on the situation because it’s a very treatable disease. One of my nurses, her name was Joelle, she gave me some good advice when I was in the hospital. She said “don’t waste any of your life. Don’t put off doing anything that will make your life better. From that point, I was devoted to getting up not giving up. Getting out there, getting back to running.”
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