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Blakemore Sets the Pace for the Race Ahead After Heart Attack

Robert Blakemore, 62, recently experienced just how much even a few seconds matter when he had a heart attack — and how having advanced cardiac care close to home makes all the difference.

In August, Blakemore had just finished running a mile on a treadmill at City Station Fitness in Carrollton when he began feeling unusually tired. Just moments after hopping down from the machine, he collapsed.

Within seconds, Blakemore’s trainer, Chase Cooper, rushed to his side. Cooper, finding that Blakemore wasn’t responding, called over to other staff members in the area for assistance. They called 911 and began performing CPR.

While performing compressions, they retrieved the gym’s automated external defibrillator (AED), a machine that assesses cardiac irregularities and administers an electric surge in order to start the heart beating again.

They connected Blakemore to the AED. He received a shock from the paddles and he started to respond. Seconds later, emergency services arrived and rushed him to Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.

Blakemore had gone into cardiac arrest from a blockage in a coronary artery, a condition that required a catheterization and stenting procedure to restore blood flow — services he was able to receive close by at his community hospital.

Heart attacks occur when a coronary artery — the arteries around the heart that supply it with oxygen-rich blood — become blocked. Without oxygen, the heart can’t function, leading to the pain, pressure, nausea and other symptoms that often accompany a heart attack and sometimes, as in Blakemore’s case, cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating altogether.

And when a heart attack happens, getting to a hospital that can effectively treat it — fast — makes all the difference in the world.

Until several years ago, however, that meant a long ambulance ride to Atlanta. Fortunately for Blakemore, the heart care he needed was right down the street.

“For patients and their families living in this area, they no longer have to travel far to get quality cardiac care — especially when they need it most — because many of those same advanced services are also available here at home,” said Shazib Khawaja, MD, a board-certified interventional cardiologist with Tanner Heart & Vascular Specialists and medical operations leader for Tanner Heart Care who treated Blakemore when he arrived at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.

The Carrollton hospital, along with Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica, serves as an accredited chest pain center.

At Tanner, Dr. Khawaja used angioplasty and stenting — also called percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI — to restore the flow of blood to Blakemore’s heart. With PCI, an interventional cardiologist threads a long, thin tube called a catheter through a patient’s blood vessels to the site of a blockage in the coronary artery, then inflates a small balloon at the end of the catheter to press against the walls of the artery and clear the blockage. Often, a small tube of wire mesh, called a stent, is then placed at the site to prevent future blockages.

The service was first made available at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton in 2006. Tanner extended the service to Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica in 2015. In that time, it’s been performed about 5,000 times in west Georgia.

One of those times helped save Blakemore’s life.

Today, Blakemore is doing much better, but he says that he doesn’t believe that he would be here if it weren’t for the quick actions taken by the staff at City Station, the emergency medical responders and the medical staff at Tanner.

“After reading the reports and talking about it with my wife, my family and the people who jumped in to help, I was so amazed at how fast it happened and at the level of care and expertise that everyone involved showed,” said Blakemore, who lives in Carrollton with his wife, Becky. “I thank God for them. From the moment it happened, there was no hesitation from anybody, and I know that helped save my life.”

“One of the things we’ve been blessed with in this community is having such a great heart care center at Tanner,” Blakemore said. “If this had happened to me 15 or so years ago, I probably would have been in a helicopter going to Atlanta, but now we have that level of care available here in Carrollton. I am just so thankful to everyone who was there that day. I want them to know that they helped saved a life. I got to walk out of the hospital. I got to see my family again. I have four children and 10 grandchildren, and I’m going to be around for them. I’m going to be around for the graduations, the marriages, the family gatherings and for a lot more.”

Just a few months after the heart attack, Blakemore’s heart is getting stronger and he’s well on his way back to running again.

He’s been making strides in recovery while in cardiac rehabilitation at the John and Barbara Tanner Cardiac Rehab Center at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton, where he’s in a comprehensive program that’s helping strengthen his heart to get him ready for the trails again.

“In cardiac rehab, the nurse was with me on one of the machines and she told me she knows that when I finish with rehab that I’m going to run again, but she needs to know how my heart is going to do now so we’ll know how strong it’ll be when I’m running out there,” Blakemore said. “They’re really committed to my recovery. That’s where it’s about the level of care and expertise again. From the get-go, it’s really been a team effort. My nurses and doctors have all done a lot of work to make sure that I have the support I need and that I’m progressing at the right pace and getting stronger.”

For Blakemore, finding support and encouragement has been a large part of his recovery.

Blackmore walkingHe is training again, although he’s only walking for now, but it’s something that he thought he’d never be able to do again. He recently completed Move It Mondays — a free eight-week walk-to-jog training program offered by Tanner’s Get Healthy, Live Well and the West Georgia Track Club — and he even earned a medal in a race. Of course, he couldn’t run it and had to walk, but nonetheless, it was a momentous achievement.

And he hopes healing hearts won’t stop with his own: Blakemore wants to become a volunteer at Tanner’s cardiac rehabilitation center to help encourage other people who are working to get their heart stronger and back on track.

“I want to be there to help support other people who are going through it,” he said. “It’s like what that first race did for me. Being an encouragement can help, because it is kind of frightening to wonder what’s going to happen in your life now that you’ve had a heart attack. You ask yourself, ‘what happens now? Will my life move back to normal? Will I be able to do all the things that I want or used to do?’ All those questions form in your mind, so I think being an encouragement to people going through that is important. I had to tell myself that this is just a step, that I’m going to get through this, and that I know that I’m in the right place.”

As he looks to the road ahead, soon enough he’ll be running again, too.

“I’m looking forward to spring to actually run in my first race since the heart attack — that is, once I’m cleared to start running again,” Blakemore said. “My goal is to start training for my first half marathon soon. I think that would be a very good accomplishment, considering where I was and where I am now.”

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