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Half marathon runner survives cardiac arrest

Photo of cardiac arrest patient Soma Ambadapudi and his UTHealth cardiologist Prakash Balan, MD, JD. (Photo by Rob Cahill/UTHealth)
Cardiac arrest patient Soma Ambadapudi made a remarkable recovery with the help of UTHealth cardiologist Prakash Balan, MD, JD, right. (Photo by Rob Cahill/UTHealth)
Photo of Soma Ambadapudi and his daughter Divya near the starting line of the 2019 Aramco Houston Half Marathon. (Photo courtesy of the Ambadapudi family.)
Soma Ambadapudi and his daughter Divya are pictured near the starting line of the 2019 Aramco Houston Half Marathon. (Photo courtesy of the Ambadapudi family.)

Soma Ambadapudi did not make it to the finish line of the 2019 Aramco Houston Half Marathon but he is happy with how things worked out nonetheless.

The 49-year-old civil engineer suffered a massive heart attack at the 8-mile mark and is alive today thanks to the care he received from a cardiac team led by Prakash Balan, MD, JD, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

“Mr. Ambadapudi suffered cardiac arrest secondary to a massive heart attack and received 40-50 minutes of nonstop cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his way to the hospital,” said Balan, who performed an emergency heart procedure on Ambadapudi at the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

Each year, thousands of Americans have cardiac arrest but unlike Ambadapudi, many of them do not survive it.

Ambadapudi, an avid runner with multiple races under his belt, had a major problem. His heart was not pumping because one of his main coronary arteries – the left anterior descending artery sometimes called the “widow-maker” – was completely blocked.

Balan used a miniaturized heart pump to restore blood flow. The device has been described as the world’s smallest heart pump and keeps the heart pumping temporarily while doctors repair the underlying issue.

While his blood flow had been restored, Ambadapudi still had a clogged heart artery. Balan then pushed a compressed stent through a catheter and expanded it at the site of the blockage. A stent is a tiny mesh tube that, when expanded, props open a blocked artery. It stays in a patient permanently.

Ambadapudi was released from the hospital after several weeks and immediately began a rigorous rehabilitation program.

Ambadapudi is not your typical heart attack patient. He is not overweight. He does not smoke. And, he exercises on a regular basis.

He was caught off guard by his heart problem.

“I had finished the same race the year before with no problems. I jog. I go to a gym regularly. I thought I was in pretty good shape,” he said.

When the run started on Jan. 20, Ambadapudi and his teenage daughter Divya felt certain they would complete the 13.1 miles.

Separated in the crush of runners, the elder Ambadapudi was by himself when he started feeling chest pains a little over the halfway mark.

“I walked off the course and into a service station. I sat down on the floor and I felt like I was going to throw up. I called my wife (Lakshmi) and she said to call an ambulance,” he recalled.

What happened next was a blur. “I remember the paramedics and being taken to the hospital and that was about it. Everything was running together,” Ambadapudi said.

“Mr. Ambadapudi has made a remarkable recovery,” Balan said.

“I can’t say how grateful I am for the help I received from Dr. Balan, the paramedics, the nurses and the rehabilitation specialists, everyone,” Ambadapudi said.

His advice to others is to heed the warning signs of heart problems. “If you have chest pain, see a doctor. I did and I’m glad I did,” he said.

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