For most of the participants, this year’s Shamrock Run was filled with fun times, silly costumes, good fellowship, and a chilly run.
For Tom Burns of South Buffalo, the event was as serious as a heart attack. That’s because he had a heart attack, thankfully a minor one, shortly after completing the 8-kilometer run on March 2.
“I once asked my younger brother Mike, who had a heart attack, ‘How do you know?’ He said, ‘You’ll know,’ ” Burns said.
Burns has been a part of the local racing scene for several years. He once ran races in 87 straight months, using the streak for fundraising purposes. A herniated disk came along in 2008, and he couldn’t run for more than a year.
After returning, Burns has been back on the roads less frequently. He’s run the Turkey Trot a couple of times as well as the Buffalo Half-Marathon in 2011. Lately he’s been doing some informal coaching with a few beginners; they call the group “Tom’s Moms.” He decided to run the Shamrock with two of them.
“I had a Pop-Tart before the race, like I always do, and met up with the two moms,” Burns said. “I headed down there about an hour ahead of the start.
“I felt fine during the race. It was a tough course, but I generally felt nothing different than I did after any other race. There were no arm pains or anything.”
The three runners met up with friends in the tent party after the race, and Burns jogged back to his car. He headed home to get ready to go to a Niagara basketball game scheduled for later that afternoon, and went into the shower. That’s where he started to feel a pain in his chest.
“My first thought was, I was outside for three and a half hours, it was cold, and I jumped in a hot shower. I was certain it was a muscle reaction to the heat,” Burns said. “But I didn’t wait too long before I chewed on a baby aspirin like you are supposed to. I called my wife, told her I was having pretty strong chest pains, and she drove me down to Mercy Hospital.”
The initial tests looked good, and the pain lasted almost two hours. However, a second blood test revealed an elevation in an enzyme in the blood, and Burns was admitted to the hospital. On Sunday, a cardiologist told Burns that they wouldn’t know if the longtime runner had indeed suffered a heart attack until an angiogram could be done on Monday.
“I don’t know if I was scared, but there is a history of heart disease in our family,” Burns said.
The angiogram revealed one blood clot and one blockage. That wasn’t great news, but it wasn’t too bad either.
“I’m pretty level-headed, and when you’re told you are going to get an angiogram, three things can happen,” Burns said. “One, it’s nothing. Two, it’s a blockage or two. Three, we’d do surgery. Part of my mind said if it was number three, I was in the right place.
“But, thank God it was number two.”
A stent was installed, and Burns was discharged on Thursday. He should be back at work at his job at Niagara University in the very near future. Burns, as any runner would, asked if he could run again, and doctors encouraged him to do so when he felt up to it.
The lesson here, Burns stresses, is not that running can lead to heart attacks. It’s that running probably saved Burns from a much worse fate that day.
“My dad passed away when he was 55. My younger brother had a heart attack the day before his 37th birthday,” he said. “Had I not been running for the last 10 years ago, this might have happened 10 years ago. They said the heart is pumping good, my heart rate is 48. … As heart attacks go, this one was a good one to have. There was little to no damage, and it wasn’t in a primary area. All in all, it was a fairly simple fix.
“I certainly look at it the way other runners would – I’m blessed.”
• Bunny Hop 5K, 1 Legion Dr. in East Aurora, 10:30 a.m. on March 30, 866-0136.