Warren Ward, 46, Software Engineer, Southern California.
How much weight have you lost?
What was the “old you” like?
Well, I’m an engineer so my work is mostly sedentary, at a desk or in the lab. I
was always the skinny kid. But after college, the weight began to creep up. I
remember once saying that if I ever went above 180 lbs I was going to stop
eating. Well, there I was at 210 and climbing, and not at all controlling what I ate.
What prompted your weight loss?
My brother was into triathlon and was training for IRONMAN. I didn’t really know
what triathlon was, except I knew he rode his bike a lot. One day in January
2005, he started bugging me to do a sprint triathlon with him. He assured me it
was super easy. I asked what it involved and when he gave me the details, the
swim and the bike seemed ok, but not the run. My response was “Run for three
whole miles? You’re nuts! No!!!” He then proceeded to call me every single day
and ask me to do it. After almost a month of saying “No”, I agreed to do it if he
agreed to never bug me about one of these ever again. After doing that race, I
was completely hooked.
How did you lose the weight?
It was a simple combination of gradually eating less, cutting down on the junk
food, and greatly increasing working out. The first few months this was mainly at
the gym, on the treadmill and stationary bike.
How long did it take?
From the time I agreed to do that first triathlon until race day was about eight months
and I lost about 25 lbs. This made running much easier.
What was the hardest part?
I love to eat and have the capacity to make a decent showing in competitive
eating. I also have insatiable cravings for sugary things, especially chocolate.
But your story isn’t entirely about weight loss is it?
Well no…not really.
Before we get into that, after that triathlon you said you were hooked. How many
races have you done?
Well, in the nine years after that first triathlon, I completed about 90 races, including
35 half marathons, 13 full marathons, 12 half IRONMAN and two full IRONMAN
For those who may not know, what is a full IRONMAN?
It is a 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run.
Are you an elite athlete?
Oh heck no! I’m pretty much a middle-of-the-pack kind of guy, maybe top third at
the half marathon distance and always bottom third at any kind of triathlon or
It was exactly a year ago today. You were training for the Portland marathon and
Yes, August 17, 2014, something very bad happened. It was 2 weeks before
what would have been my 36th half marathon in Disneyland, followed a month
later by the Portland marathon. I was out doing what was planned to be an 18-
mile run and I was taking it at a very comfortable pace. At mile12, I was feeling
very good and the remaining 6 miles were going to be pretty easy. Then I started
to have this very subtle weird feeling. I couldn’t pinpoint it at all, just that
something was wrong. Physically, I felt fine. Then I started getting this
increasing feeling that something bad was going to happen. This sort of
premonition thing is not normal for me at all. I still felt physically fine and stayed
on pace. Then it built up until it was almost like a voice in my head repeatedly
saying “Doom is coming your way!” This was the weirdest thing. So I stopped
and kind of did a quick head to toe check and concluded that I was physically
fine. I felt very weird, but I couldn’t tell at all what part of me was the problem. It
was like everywhere and nowhere. I debated for a moment whether to finish the
remaining 6 miles, or turn around and go 3 miles directly home. But this “doom”
thing was consuming my thoughts. Something was definitely wrong, but I had no
idea what. So I decided to sit down on a large rock that was nearby and sort out
what I was feeling. It was early on a Sunday morning and I was on a very quiet
street with no cars at all. The houses were all set back far off the street, and I
didn’t have a phone. The rock was in front of a wall so I wasn’t visible from the
houses. This is where I should have died.
Let’s skip forward a second. What was wrong with you?
The clinical diagnosis was “100% occlusion of proximal LAD”, the worst form of
heart attack. This is the one they call the “widow maker”. I always picture Fred
Sanford faking it, grabbing his chest and saying “It’s the big one! I’m coming to
see you Elizabeth”. When proximal LAD gets completely blocked it causes a
massive heart attack and usually a sudden death.
So at this time, you had no physical symptoms at all?
No chest pains?
None. I just felt weird but nothing specific. And I couldn’t get this “DOOM is
coming!” out of my head. I was sure that it was a nutritional thing because of my
So then what happened?
I heard a car coming fast down a driveway that was a few feet away. The driver
came to a sudden stop just beyond the wall, right next to me. She rolled down
the window and asked if I wanted a ride home. My first thought was, “What
woman is going to offer a strange guy a ride like this?” She even knew the
neighborhood I lived in, and got me home very quickly. Yes, I did go back later
to verify that this was a human and not an angel. Seriously.
Why didn’t you have her take you to the hospital?
I thought about asking her to go to the ER, but in the absence of physical
symptoms, I was convinced this was a nutritional problem. My first potentially
fatal error. In other words, pay attention you guys over 40: I was in denial. Go to
the ER! Actually, this was my second fatal error. The first was not carrying a
So now you are at home. Was anybody else home?
No, I was alone. My wife was out doing a long run also. Looking back, going
home was an extremely bad choice because I knew nobody would be there.
That means nobody to help me or call 911. At first, I lay down on the floor still
wondering what the heck was wrong. I could have easily died right there on the
living room floor. Anyways, then I thought that if this was nutrition it won’t go
away until I eat something. So I took a small bite of a banana and instantly I
wanted to throw up. Finally something physical and nausea is very unusual for
me, so then I knew something really was wrong.
And at this point you had no other symptoms?
Not yet. Well, the whole “doom” thing was still in my head and getting worse. It
was more like “DOOM is upon you!!!” at this point. With the nausea, I
immediately thought about “heart attack”, but at that time I didn’t understand how
the “doom” thing fit with that. Again, guys over 40, a “sense of impending doom”
is actually a documented symptom of major heart attacks. Don’t ignore this one!
Every second counts. So I remained in denial for maybe 30 more seconds.
Then I started to feel a very subtle ache on the left side of my jaw. It was about
the size of a quarter and under any other circumstances I would have totally
ignored it. Then it clicked. That was now two heart attack symptoms. I’m having
a heart attack!
So then you called 911?
I’m a guy over 40, of course not. First I took two aspirins, which every doctor
agreed was a great decision. Guys…CALL 911. Do not do what I’m about to
say. Then I followed that wise decision with a very foolish one. I went to the
front door, bounced up and down a couple times on my toes, took a couple deep
breaths, swung my arms around, and concluded that I was still in control
physically and could make the drive to the ER faster than an ambulance would
No! You drove yourself?
Yeah, I drove myself. It was less than two miles and I figured I had a least a few
minutes left. So I drove 85+ mph to the ER. When I got there I was feeling
VERY weird and could tell that I was going down hill rapidly.
Sorry, but that was stupid.
I know, I know. That was very stupid. And I lost count of how many doctors
scolded me for that. Guys…CALL 911. It was only by God’s grace that I made it
there. I only had a few moments of control left. I parked right by the door,
walked in, and told the nurse I thought I was having a heart attack. Right away,
they took me to the back and I sat on the edge of a gurney. Everything seemed
pretty low key like it was a slow day for them. But as soon as they put the EKG
on me everybody jumped into high gear, like someone disturbed an ant hill.
Right away two people pushed me down and others pulled me to the top of the
gurney so my feet weren’t dangling. Someone else pinned down my arm while
another stabbed an IV in me. That is when it hit me: “Doom is coming” meant I
was about to die.
Yeah, I still get a little choked up thinking about what it was like. At this point I
was in the ER for maybe 30 seconds. They were fast! Then the doctor came
over and said, “You are having a major heart attack and we can’t treat that here.
You’re going to (another hospital) NOW.” Technically, I was a CODE STEMI, the
worst kind of heart attack and the medical emergency that has priority above
pretty much anything else. They called my wife who was still running and let me
talk to her for a few seconds. Then they started literally running my gurney out to
a waiting ambulance. It was around this time that I started having massive chest
pains and instantly couldn’t breathe anymore. The forced oxygen they put into
my nose and me rapidly panting kept me going. Once the chest pains started I
was completely incapacitated.
So now you’re in an ambulance. What were you thinking?
I am going to die. This is it. At any moment the Lord is coming to get me. It was
a little obvious that the people with me didn’t expect me to make it. They always
say your life flashes before your eyes, but that wasn’t my experience at all. I
thought about all of the things I’ve ever regretted and people that I’ve wronged. I
know that I’m forgiven for everything, but I wasn’t ready to go yet. So, I just kept
asking God to save me. The paramedic repeatedly asked me to try to keep my
eyes open and to keep talking. But I said very little verbally because breathing
was so difficult. I did look out the back of the ambulance and could see that we
were on the freeway going incredibly fast, with the siren on.
How long were in you the ambulance?
The distance between the hospitals is just over 16 miles. They told me the driver
made it door-to-door in 9 minutes flat.
And you were awake this whole time?
Yeah, I never lost consciousness at any time. When I arrived at the second
hospital a huge team of people were waiting. It was amazing how coordinated it
was. Like something from a movie. Some people yanking the gurney out the
ambulance and running, others already holding the doors open. Running
through the ER and into another room that was filled with people waiting for me.
In no time, they were cutting just above my leg to get to my femoral artery and go
up into my heart. They quickly found the problem and fixed it with a stent. Then
they checked all my other coronary arteries.
Did they find anything else?
No. I had a 100% blockage in the worst place, proximal LAD, but the rest of my
arteries were completely fine. No build-up or narrowing at all. They have no idea
why this happened.
So then you were fine…
Oh, no…it was still pretty scary for a while, but at least my wife was there now.
During a heart attack the parts of the heart muscle that are not getting oxygen
start to die. A large part of my heart had no blood flow for many minutes. The
next few hours are critical, and many don’t make it. For those that survive a
STEMI, there is often extensive damage that leaves scar tissue which can cause
sudden cardiac arrest at any time in the future. They did an echocardiogram
soon afterwards that showed my heart function was significantly impaired. After
a couple hours in the recovery room, I was moved to a heavily staffed special
unit for critical heart patients. For the next eight hours or so, my heart was pretty
much going crazy with all kinds of strange rhythms. I could feel it going crazy.
And I kept going into V-tach for a couple seconds which caused alarms to sound
and nurses to rush in. This happened numerous times. At one point, my alarms
started sounding continuously and everyone rushed in. I could see the V-tach
pattern on the monitor, but it wouldn’t go away. One nurse was holding her
finger on the Code Blue button ready to push it. Then more people rushed in
with a crash cart and were ready to shock me. They didn’t because I was sitting
up fully alert and asking what I was supposed to do. That V-tach episode lasted
45 seconds. Everyone said it was very unusual that I remained conscious. It
should have been lights out. They also said that if I went out, they were going to
shock me right away. This was a very tough 8 hours. I still wasn’t sure if I would
survive through the night and if I did, what kind of condition I would be in? Would
I be able to walk? Would I be on oxygen the rest of my life? It was pretty scary.
This does sound scary. But it also sounds like something happened after eight
After about eight hours, all of the weird rhythms stopped and my heart returned to
normal. I was still scared to sleep and stayed up almost the entire night. But I
could tell that my heart felt different. It felt normal. The next morning I just felt
like a caged animal and wanted to be on my feet every moment they would allow.
The nurses coming on duty all seemed very surprised that I was the STEMI
patient because I looked fine. The second night, my nurse removed the IVs and
gave me a portable monitor so I could walk around. The next morning I got up
very early and walked back and forth, 80 laps of the unit, which was about 25
yards. Then some people started referring to me as the “miracle patient”. On
that second morning, the cardiologist who performed the surgery, ordered
another echocardiogram. This test showed that my heart was functioning
completely normal and with excellent efficiency. A couple hours later I became
the first person ever discharged from that unit to go directly home.
That is amazing. But there must have been some restrictions?
My permanent cardiologist, ordered me to do nothing except very slow walking
for at least two months. This was very frustrating and during this time I gained
more than 10 pounds. I wanted to go back to work right away, which was
allowed, so I missed only one week of work. They were convinced that there
must be damage to my heart and continued testing to find it. After two months, I
was given permission to ease back into running short distances.
Taking it easy doesn’t sound like you.
Well, I did take things very easy and slow, mainly because I was scared. Always
very slow. But exactly five months after the heart attack I ran a very slow half
marathon. I then did a second half marathon just before meeting with my
cardiologist again. I was very concerned about exertion. Was there a point
where if I do too much I’m going to have another heart attack? Or could I just go
into cardiac arrest? This was on my mind all the time, especially when I was
running. But basically I was scared all the time.
Can you share what your current condition is?
My cardiologist has concluded that there is “zero damage” to my heart, and noted
that this was “very, very unusual”. Because of this, there is no elevated risk of
me having another heart attack or going into cardiac arrest. My chances are the
same as anyone else. She also said that me running and constantly holding
back was unhealthy stress and was a problem. I braced for bad news, but then
she said, “I need you to stop holding back.” I couldn’t believe it. We then had a
long talk about exertion, and they are convinced that any level of exertion is
ok…including marathons or even IRONMAN. And she recommended that I do a
full marathon to get the nerves over with. God didn’t just save me, he fixed me
good as new.
So what races do you have coming up?
In a couple weeks will my 40th half marathon in Disneyland, the race I had to miss
last year and lose my Legacy status. I will continue to do a few half marathons
here and there.
Are you planning to do another marathon?
A full marathon could literally kill me and if possible I would like to go out in
style…so I signed up for Honolulu. Hahaha. I have faith that it won’t kill me, but
that’s a good excuse to go to Hawaii.
So you’re really doing the Honolulu Marathon?
Yes, that’s in December. And then the Surf City full in February.
What an amazing story. How do you think you got through this?
Really, I didn’t do anything. Well, actually I did everything wrong. This was
100% God. So many people die from what I had. The fact that I was alone with
no phone was pretty much a death sentence right there. But God sent me a ride.
Then when I went home instead of the hospital, he gave me hints that something
really bad WAS happening and held off the major symptoms until just after I got
to the ER. Then he held my heart together until I could get to the correct
hospital. He gave the surgical team the speed and skill to find and fix the
immediate problem before I died. Then for whatever reason, what should have
been permanent damage to my heart completely healed and left me good as
new. This was all God.
And IRONMAN…are you seriously considering IRONMAN again?
Yes, I already registered. Lord willing I will race in IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene next