Jon Patrick Hyde’s love affair with bicycles and cycling started at age 5 when he learned to ride a training-wheel free bicycle on the streets around his house in the rolling hills of Nashville, TN. A year later his family would relocate to Savannah, Georgia, where he’d spend the next 30 years of his life. In Savannah, living on the last street in the last neighborhood on the outskirts of the city he had access to countless acres of woods and forest. His first cycling adventures involved BMX bicycles ridden on home-made BMX trails.
When he was 16 his family moved further into the urban center of Savannah and gone were the woods and trails. This opened his cycling experience up to road bikes. His father, a military veteran, had moved their family to a short distance from Hunter Army Airfield, a sizable military installation in the heart of Savannah. Seeing countless cyclists riding on the base’s perimeter road each day, Jon decided to use his military dependent I.D. card to ride his bicycle onto the base and ride with the soldiers he met there.
This opened his world up to the sport of cycling and the many top-shelf, hand made European bicycles of the day. Many of the cyclists he often rode with had spent time in Europe and had come back with bicycles not readily available in the USA. His love of these exotic hand-made bicycles and the camaraderie that is shared among cyclists set him on a life-long path. By the time he graduated high school he was often riding 60 miles a day.
Fast forward 20 years and Jon would find himself relocating to Southern California. He found that SoCal’s weather was conducive to year-round cycling and near his home he found miles and miles of dedicated cycling paths. His cycling habit was once again ignited and within a year of relocating to California he was a 7 day a week cyclist.
Jump forward another 10 years and that’s where the story of Summit4CAD really begins; on an average day where after a regular ride Jon experienced an unexpected life-threatening heart attack. Here is the story in his own words;
I had finished my daily (short) afternoon course when I felt light headed and exhausted. I was getting over a chest cold and I figured I’d overdone it. I had a normal evening and night and went to bed around 10pm.
At 3am I woke up with what I like to say was an “aircraft carrier” on my chest – elephant just didn’t seem to do the sort of pain I was experiencing justice. I sat up and it instantly went away. Odd. Heart attacks don’t normally do that but a condition called Pericarditis does. As I mentioned I had just gotten over a bad chest cold. I checked my heart rate with my phone and it was normal. I decided to lay back down and go back to sleep.
An hour later woke up with the same pain – I sat up and it went away. One bad thing about having a medical background is sometimes you overthink things. Other times you don’t think enough – Pericarditis is an infection of the sack your heart sits in and is usually caused by a bad chest infection. It mimics a heart attack when you are laying flat but when you sit up the pain goes away. In this case too much knowledge and my inability to believe I could possibly be having a heart attack (I don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol or soft drinks, don’t eat fried foods, don’t eat red meat or dairy, and I was cycling around 120-150 miles a week at the time) – all of this conspired to prevent me seeking immediate medical assistance.
I got up, went downstairs and turned on the TV. I made my morning coffee and a bowl of cereal and I sat on the couch feeling perfectly normal. At 8am I called a friend who is a cardiologist and told him my symptoms and we agreed to meet at his office at 10am. My friend’s office is in Ventura; normally a 45 minute drive from my house.
Half way to his office it hit me – no mistaking it – I was having a full-blown heart attack and it was a life-or-death situation. Every minute that passed decreased my chances for survival.
The pain was beyond intense. Crushing is the only word that can adequately explain what I was feeling. I lacked the “typical” warning signs that you often hear about – I had no pain in my arms, neck, jaw, or back… but both my wrists and hands were numb and I was sweating buckets and cold at the same time. In the car my training in medicine and my 3 years of working in a hospital that specialized in cardiovascular medicine paid off; I knew to stay calm.
I knew to NOT PANIC. When you panic you pour adrenaline into your bloodstream which makes your heart work harder. This is the last thing you want when you are having a heart attack. Heart attacks happen because your heart is compromised and is unable to function normally. Adding adrenaline to the situation is like throwing gasoline on a fire. I kept telling myself that I was going to be OK and I just needed to focus and stay calm.
I made it to the hospital in 20 minutes. It took 17 minutes to get me into the ER, determine with an EKG that I was having a heart attack, and then prepped and ready for a surgery in the Cardiac Cath Lab. This was a total of 37 minutes from onset until treatment. Statistics show that heart attack sufferers who are able to get treatment and into surgery in under 1 hour have a significantly greater chance for survival.
Above: These are the film’s from Jon’s Cardiac Cath procedure. On the left we see his heart during the heart attack. His LAD (Left Anterior Descending) coronary artery was 100% blocked. After breaking through the blockage and inserting a small platinum mesh cage called a “stent” to hold the artery open, the right image shows Jon’s heart with 100% of the blood flow restored to his LAD.
Once in the Cath Lab it was immediately clear what I was dealing with; a completely blocked LAD (Left Anterior Descending) Coronary Artery. AKA – “The Widowmaker“. 60% of Widowmaker sufferers die within the first 8 hours of the event — another 30% die sometime within the next month. Of the 10% who survive – they almost always have some sort of permanent heart damage that remains with them until the end of their life. It is not surprising that life expectancy for Widowmaker survivors is greatly diminished.
The real danger of the Widowmaker Heart Attack is that even if the patient survives the initial blockage and event they may not survive but a few hours or days after because so much damage has been caused to their heart it cannot recover. Moreover dead tissue is dead tissue and it cannot remain inside your body. If the tissue damage/death is significant enough the heart has to be removed from your body – meaning you will require a heart transplant. Some of this damage can improve with time, exercise, and diet – major lifestyle changes that are in the beginning very risky themselves for you have to be very careful when exercising with a damaged heart. The major risk is a deadly arrhythmia where the damaged heart muscle doesn’t beat in sync with the healthy heart muscle and the heart loses the ability to pump blood.
After about an hour in surgery I had a small piece of platinum placed in my LAD – a wire mesh called a Stent – designed to hold the area of my artery with the blockage open so it won’t close back off again. My surgeon came up to my room in CCU (Cardiac Critical Care) and he discussed something “odd” he noticed during my cath.
First he had immediately noticed that I didn’t “look like the typical heart attack patient”. I have 16% body fat and “Popeye legs”. The Castelli cycling socks were another obvious clue. I can’t tell you how happy those socks made me when after one hell of a bad morning I looked down at my feet and saw those comfy socks.
During my cath my surgeon, Thomas Q. Kong Jr., M.D., F.A.C.C., had noticed that I had an abnormally large right coronary artery and I had “collateral branches” from my right artery over to the left side of my heart. These remodeled branches (the term for when your heart grows additional vascular structures to support oxygen needs) kept enough blood flowing to my heart tissue that when my LAD (responsible for supplying 65% of the blood to your heart) blocked off 100% I didn’t die immediately as many Widowmaker sufferers do.
Studies have shown that stenosis (blockage of an artery) in most CAD patients starts during the childhood and teenage years; by the time most CAD patients are young adults much of the groundwork for their future heart issues has been laid.
My right coronary artery being so large with collateral branches made perfect sense; like most CAD sufferers I’d developed a narrowed LAD early in life and for the past 20 or more years my daily cycling habit had forced my heart to grow new artery pathways to handle the constant stress I put it under and high oxygen needs my exercise created. If I hadn’t been a fanatical cyclist I most likely wouldn’t have survived my heart attack and if I had I’d be living with a damaged heart.
I spent a 3 days in CCU (the cardiac intensive care unit) and another 3 days on the cardiac floor of the hospital before I was allowed to come home. On my last day in CCU I was given an echocardiogram test. It showed severe “bruising” of my heart tissue. My heart was functioning at a very low percentage – in the 30% range of where a normal heart would be functioning.
My doctor was very frank – I – like other Widowmaker survivors – would be dealing with heart damage. Only time and recovery would reveal how much damage I was looking at. It is an incredibly sobering thought – at age 46 my days of being active might be over.
Here’s a tricky question – your heart never stops beating so when does it have a chance to heal?
The answer is – between heart beats. I was given medications to slow my heart rate down significantly and I was given instructions to not get my heart rate up.
I spent the next month doing nothing. I’d get out of bed and walk downstairs to the couch. I played a lot of guitar. I read several books. I didn’t do anything but rest. And I stayed positive. I focused on the outcome I desired – regardless of how improbable it might be. I dug into research on the Widowmaker. I read article after article. I never accepted that my life was going to have to change in any significant way.
A month later I had a 2nd echocardiogram and my cardiologist was astounded. It showed a normal heart. He said there was no perceivable damage and my heart was operating in the range – actually a little better – than a normal heart in a male my age.
I hadn’t dodged a bullet – I’d dodged a missile while running through a field of land mines <- His words.
I was given the go ahead to start slowly getting back to my life. In January at my 3 month mark I was given the full clearance to get back to riding and training and I couldn’t wait to get back on my bicycles.
In the end I had done so many things right in regards to the lifestyle choices I’ve made – especially those in the past decade. It was after moving to SoCal in 2007 that I started riding my bike daily. I was attending college and I rode my bike to my classes. School was 15 miles away from my house so almost immediately I was riding 30 miles a day.
When I hurt my back in 2012 and needed surgery – it was in the 6 months of physical therapy that I discovered my back felt much better after 30 minutes on a stationary bike. Once I was cleared to ride I started riding 7 days a week – this is how I managed pain from a crushed L5-S1 disc and cracked vertebrae. I never needed pain medications.
And now – post Widowmaker – cycling is not a fitness choice for me. It’s a complete lifestyle.
I ride 7 days a week.
I have my life-long love affair of cycling to thank for being 1 in who knows how many – in surviving the notorious Widowmaker Heart Attack with no discernible heart damage. The reason I say “in who knows how many” – is that the instances of Widowmaker survivors doing so with minimal or zero heart damage are so rare that there are no statistics on it. I can’t find research which supports any EXPECTATION by medical professionals other than a Widowmaker survivor is going to have heart damage.
I am alive and I have zero residual heart damage because of my life-long dedication to cycling.
I’ve started “Summit4CAD” to bring awareness to CAD (Coronary Artery Disease) – the #1 killer of human beings world-wide. 31% of deaths world-wide are attributed to CAD; that’s approximately 9 million people each year.
In the USA, 1 in 4 deaths each day is related to CAD. CAD kills more people than cancer, car accidents, and gun deaths combined in the United States each year.
CAD is the leading cause of early permanent disability in adults in the USA and costs more than $160 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity.
The purpose of Summit4CAD is to bring prevention and treatment awareness to those who may be at risk for CAD and not even be aware… like myself.
I was the last person who thought they had to worry about having a potentially life ending, certainly life-changing heart attack at age 46.
It’s never too late to make changes to your lifestyle and be a healthier you; I am living proof that something as simple as riding a bicycle can save your life. I have no doubt that I survived what I have for a reason and I know that it is to share my experience in the hopes that I can spare someone else the trauma of what I’ve been through.