Friday, January 30, 2015

Our Miracle Runner

When we say that we prioritize the safety of our runners - that we feel investing to provide professionally trained medical support for our athletes is critical - people often brush it off, nobody thinks it will apply to them.  This crucial behind-the-scenes coordination, and expense, is not one we will compromise to lower registration fees.  It is just too important.

Just how important is it?  I’d like to let Sharon Reiner tell you in her words about her experience at the O’Niantic 5K finish line last year.  Sharon, who’s been running for a decade and was well trained and working on speed for the March 15 event, had a typical pre-race morning – “nothing unusual”…
“The race started and I was running according to my plan; hit 8:30 at the mile 1 marker; hit around 17 minutes at the mile 2 marker, high fived running buddies when we crossed paths. Near the end of the race, I picked out a female runner in front of me to pass - which I did. I finished really strong and stomped my feet at the finish on the timing pad, glanced up at the time to see 26:16, which I felt good about.  I walked in the chute thinking about meeting up with running buddies for corned beef sandwiches and was reaching for a water bottle, and then everything went white.

I woke up in an ambulance with my running clothes getting cut off (and not in a fun “50 Shades of Grey” way), and was violently nauseated and embarrassed about being nauseous.  I was totally lucid and, strangely enough, unafraid.  I was taken to the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, and was able to answer all the questions:  my name, date, what was I doing, etc.  Race Director Beth Shluger also was there, completely calm and stayed until my husband arrived.  He was not so calm.  My good friends Joanne and Peter Goode also showed up in the ER as my husband had the presence of mind to call them to get my car home from the race.

Sharon and her son Ben in the ICU
After the hospital spent all afternoon trying to kill me, they decided to keep me overnight. My husband insisted on a CAT scan of the head on the way up to my room.  As a result, the physician ran up five flights of stairs quite shaken to announce that I had an active subarachnoid bleed from an undiagnosed aneurysm - did I want to go to Yale or Hartford Hospital?  Hartford Hospital was contacted and they sent Lifestar to get me.

Being Catholic, and figuring out my day was not going according to plan, I asked for a priest to administer the sacrament of the sick in case I saw St. Peter later that day.  I wanted to be reassured that he had my name in the book.  The hospital rounded up a minister for me to say a blessing, and my friend Joanne held my hand until Life Star took me away. I arrived at Hartford Hospital Neuroscience/Neurotrauma ICU, where they determined I was stable enough to wait until morning for the surgery so the surgeon and staff would be fresh.

Sharon and her friend Marcy in the ICU

In the morning after kissing my husband and son (who had driven down from Boston at 2am), I again tried for a Catholic priest.  Hartford Hospital sent me a blonde, dread-locked rabbi who sang a blessing for me to send me off to surgery.  Being that Jesus was a good Jewish boy, I figured the Jewish blessing couldn’t hurt.

I woke up later Sunday after surgery and was told that the aneurysm had been successfully repaired but I would be in the neuro ICU for at least 14 days.  Blood on the brain is extremely toxic to the body, so I had 14 days of very aggressive medical intervention to position me for a successful recovery.

For the first two days, the nursing staff woke me up every hour to check me and ask me questions.  I received a variety of injections, intravenous medications and oral medications every four hours around the clock for 14 days.  I had IV’s in both arms.  The nursing care in the neuro ICU at Hartford Hospital ranged from excellent to fantastic.  All the staff from the registered nurses and therapists to patient care assistants were the most talented, committed professionals I have ever seen.

Rentschler Airfield 5K-first race back
Throughout all this, I was unafraid, which I attribute to God’s mercy and grace.  I finally did get a Catholic priest to administer the anointing of the sick on Monday night; 2 days after my brain blew up.  I mentioned to friends a line from the movie Shawshank Redemption – “You have a choice, get busy living or get busy dying” and I was real busy living.  But it was difficult, two times in the ICU I was so sick from the after-effects of the aneurysm that I could have easily put my head back on the pillow and breathed out my last breath.  Dying was easy, living was hard

I was discharged March 30th with no restrictions. I was so happy to come home to my own bed, bathroom, and SHOWER!  My friend Joanne had a huge “Welcome Home” balloon bouquet tied to my lamppost, and had planted pansies in all my front planters. 

That first week at home I was very weak and could have chosen to remain an invalid in bed forever and become ‘Poor Sharon”.  I chose to live and had a friend drive me to the office the second day to reassure the staff, and my husband, that I would be back.  I worked 2 days that first week; a couple more the following week; and was back full time the 3rd week.  My friends, families and co-workers sent enough meals over so I didn’t have to make dinner for over a month.

I was very weak having lost all my muscle tone from being bed-bound, with IVs going in both arms and oxygen meters on my fingers.  I started gaining my strength by walking to the mailbox one day; then from my driveway to a neighbor’s driveway.  I did a little more every day until I could walk 3 miles by the end of April.  Then I started running a couple of light poles, and could run 3 miles by the end of May. I ran my first race at what else, an HMF event, the Rentschler Airfield 5K on July 17th, and placed second in my age group.

Sharon and Ben, Manchester Road Race 2014

I could not get medical clearance to run in the NU Hartford Marathon so I chose to volunteer out in South Windsor, since I remembered that being kind of desolate where I would have wanted some encouragement.  I was stationed out by mile 13.3 at 7am, in the rain, until maybe 2pm.  And I had the best time – it was fabulous, I wore a tiara, had a cowbell and a flag to direct and encourage runners

I’m alive because I was at a Hartford Marathon Foundation racing event and because of the excellent care I received at Hartford Hospital.  That aneurysm was destined to rupture at 10:15 am on March 15th, and going down at an HMF finish line, where there is always a medical team and ambulance on standby, saved my life.  I didn’t breathe for 4 minutes, so if this had happened anywhere else I would be dead.  And remember how I mentioned that I passed a runner at the finish? That runner was an EMT who went down with me and started providing CPR.

So by God’s grace and mercy, I had a life threatening event in a venue where all the lifesaving mechanisms where in place.  And HMF President Beth Shluger’s presence in the ER was a positive, calming, professional presence that contributed to my survival.

I was always a very much in-the-moment person; so I have continued in that and try to remain focused on the present.  Every day is a gift to me, and I am profoundly grateful for every day. Time is my most precious commodity.  I don’t strain my brain trying to analyze why I survived, but rather am profoundly grateful for every day and choose to make the most out of every day…and run in as many races as time, money and my husband will allow.

I achieved a personal record at the Ghost Run Half Marathon in Hebron in November, and have placed in my age group at several races.  I joined the Run 169 Towns Society, where the members share the personal goal of running a race in all of Connecticut’s 169 Towns, and I have had a blast running with them.  Since joining, I have run races in Mansfield, Middletown, Guilford, Stratford, Bethlehem, West Haven, Cornwall, Sterling, Rocky Hill,  Norwich, and Norfolk, to name a few. I have an aggressive race calendar set up for 2015 and will be chasing my Boston Qualifying time to run Boston in 2017. Cause, baby, we were born to run…”


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