A Racing Heart

Linda Shaw shares her story when she races

Linda Shaw is an avid runner, and she always dresses in costume when she races so she can spark conversations to encourage others to seek trusted medical care. Here, she shares her story.

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I am the one at the road races dressed in costume. I travel the country to run 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons. And I always wear something that gets other runners’ attention. Then, that gives me an opening to share some important information with them about staying healthy, trusting your body and getting the best medical care possible if you believe something is wrong. I learned those lessons the hard way, but thankfully I am alive to tell my story.

“No one knows your
body better than you
do. Trust yourself.
And speak up for
your health.”

About me and my ticker

I’m 59 years old and I have heart arrhythmia that causes the ventricle, which is the bottom of the heart, to quiver uncontrollably. When this happens, I could die. But thanks to science, my heart condition is managed with a pacemaker/defibrillator device that “shocks” me back into a regular heart rhythm if my ticker speeds up too rapidly.

I have only been shocked once in five years, and it was during the last leg of a 5K race. I finished the race.

I never had symptoms that you might associate with a weak heart. I am an athlete, and the last person you’d expect to pass out and wake up in the back of an ambulance.

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One ambulance ride can change everything

About 15 years ago, I had my first episode where I passed out. That was the first time anything like that had ever happened. I knew something was wrong—I had worked as a cardiac nurse before. So, I went to our local hospital and underwent some testing, and they gave me the green light that everything was O.K. So I continued running and life went on as usual.

In 2007, I had a serious episode (my third). My legs became numb and felt like rubber, and my vision got very blurry. I told my granddaughter to call 911, and I eventually woke up in the emergency room. I called my cardiologist—the neighbor—and told him, ‘I’m dying.’ He said, ‘There’s nothing the matter with you. You’re an outstanding athlete. I see you every day out on the street running.’

Part of me wanted to believe that. But I knew better. When I went to him for a workup, he spent more time talking on the cell phone than talking to me. I was frustrated—and infuriated.

Linda Shaw

Linda Shaw

I trusted my heart to Cleveland Clinic

I was eventually referred to Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute, where I spent 10 days undergoing extensive testing. I walked out with a pacemaker and defibrillator—and a new lease on life. If I had not gone to Cleveland Clinic, I know I would be dead.

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Instead, I’m running again. In fact, I ran 52 races in 2012, and I was selected as one of Medtronic’s Global Heroes. They chose 25 people from around the world for this honor. I was flown to Minnesota for five days to participate in a 10-mile race. The recognition is given to those who exemplify a high quality of life, thanks to technology.

My cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, Patrick Tchou, MD, was supportive of me continuing an active lifestyle. Dr. Tchou told me: “My role is to adjust your therapy so that you can continue living the way you want to and running races. Mechanically, your heart function is good, so you can remain active in athletics at a fairly high level.” And I believe every word.        

My message to the world

I’m thankful that I can tell my story today, and I hope that others who read it learn this: No one knows your body better than you do. Trust yourself. And speak up for your health. Find a doctor who will serve as your advocate and make the best decisions for your situation.

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