When genetics get in the way
Larry Reynolds’ lungs were burning one September day after walking his dog, and he knew something was wrong.
“I’m a runner,” he says, “and I usually only feel that burn when it’s 10 degrees outside.”
When Larry’s wife, Patricia, arrived home from work, he greeted her with unexpected words.
“I told her, ‘I think I need to go to the hospital,’” says Larry, who was 72 at the time.
Patricia drove to Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center and signed in.
“She told them ‘my husband is having chest pains,’” Larry recalls. “Even though I wasn’t in pain then, I was positive that I was having a heart attack. I had done everything possible to avoid having one for 30 years, but genetics caught up with me.”
Larry’s father had a massive heart attack at age 56, and at 64 he passed away from heart failure. Both of his grandparents passed away from heart attacks in their early 70s.
“About the time I turned 40, I wanted to be healthier,” Larry says. “I started exercising and eating well. I watched my fat intake, cutting back to only 10 grams a day. It still wasn’t enough, and I had to go on cholesterol medicine. For a short time, I was on high blood pressure medicine, too, but then I didn’t need it.”
Over the last few years, Larry continued to be active but traded running regularly for working on his home. He and Patricia built a carriage house and a house, and Larry was working long, 12- to 14-hour days, every day.
“They said I caused my own heart attack,” he says.
Larry learned from Dr. Surjya Das, a cardiologist, that he had two blockages in his arteries – one 50 percent, and another 90 percent. Dr. Das inserted a stent in the 90 percent blocked artery.
In a month, Dr. Das gave Larry a clean bill of health. Less than five months later, Larry was running. Having his own home gym with a treadmill supported his dedication. A nearby winery was hosting a 5K race and a 10K race. Larry secretly asked Dr. Das if he was OK to participate in the longer race, and surprised his wife. The patient-doctor team had to be especially sneaky: Patricia, a physician assistant, works in Dr. Das’s office.
“She found out when I went to pick up the race packet before the race, and I said ‘10k’ when asked the distance I’d run,” Larry says. “I knew I would be OK. It was colder than we expected, and I was more worried about getting leg cramps than having a heart attack.”
The next month, Larry ran another 10K in Richmond and shaved one minute and five seconds from his time.
He continues to run and to work on his house, all without any pain.
“Right now, I’m repainting the carriage house,” Larry says. “I’m working outside, every day, from 10 to 3.”