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Does your doctor know you're doing this?

by Steven A. Roberts, MD, FACC

I first met John Kolker after he died in December of 2011.  An employee of a local business utilized their AED to shock John’s heart out of its lethal arrhythmia.  He was then brought to my care, where state of the art medical devices were used to diagnose, salvage, and repair John’s body.

My name is Steven Roberts, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University.  I am an interventionalist, and cardiac device specialist.  We diagnosed an anterior wall STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) as the cause of sudden death.  Coronary angiography and two vessel coronary stenting was performed to interrupt the infarction and stabilize his hemodynamics.  Therapeutic hypothermia with a cooling catheter was performed to preserve cerebral function.  John quickly recovered with normal brain function, and normal myocardial function.

If the story ended there, it would be gratifying enough, however, an entirely new chapter was to unfold.  Early in John’s recovery, he had an epiphany of sorts.  He had been granted a second chance at life, and he was going to live this one very differently from the first.  He adopted healthy eating habits, lost weight, didn’t smoke, took his medications, and began to exercise.  And exercise more.  He worked out in the gym, ran longer and longer distances, swam countless laps in the pool, and bicycled hundreds of miles.  As a heart attack and sudden death survivor, he now participates in and conquers triathlons, something he could never do in his first life.

He is now planning an ambitious thru-hike of the 2,180 mile length of the Appalachian Trail.  This will require even more rigorous training and discipline to conquer, but I have no doubt that John has it in him.  The hike will be a literal, figurative, and spiritual journey, which will carry him through the varied terrain of the American wilderness, as well as his own mind. 

John has been racing and fundraising for the Ironheart Foundation since his recovery.  Recently he founded hearthike.org as a platform for his hike which benefits the Ironheart Foundation.  The primary goals of the hike are  to encourage “first chancers” to live their lives with healthy purpose and to challenge other cardiac event survivors to follow his lead and make more of their lives now that they have a second chance.  He is leading by example, and pursuing the lifestyle of health and vigor. He has dedicated all his energy and time to getting the word out, fundraising, and helping others to change their lives as well, and live life to the fullest.

John continues to push beyond the conventional recommendations usually meted out to sudden death survivors.  He is driven to continue, and to succeed.  He is an inspiration to all of us who have cared for him during this life.

Steven A. Roberts, MD, FACC

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Thomas Jefferson University

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