By Holly Hudson, originally published at wcfcourier.com
George Marshall has always led an active life. Well into his 60s, Marshall bikes, kayaks and plays a spirited game of pickleball – a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong that has grown popular at the Cedar Valley SportsPlex.
He wrestled in high school and participated in area volleyball leagues for about 30 years, Marshall said.
He also enjoys annual trips to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota for hiking and canoeing with friends.
But earlier this summer, while on a trip to Nevada, Marshall’s active lifestyle was threatened.
“I played some pickleball and rode my bike at the higher elevation and had some chest pain,” he said.
When he returned home, the 67-year-old mentioned the episode to his doctor who ordered a stress test.
“I was about one minute into the test and I’m feeling great and I’m thinking ‘I’m ready to max this thing out,’” Marshall said. “That’s when the nurse said ‘We have to stop. We have a problem.’”
Marshall underwent a catheterization procedure the same day and doctors discovered he had three 90-percent blockages.
“I was shocked. I’m thinking ‘I’m old, but I’m young at heart,’” he said. “It didn’t sink in until the surgeon said I’d need open-heart surgery.”
Marshall had a triple bypass the next day, June 7, at UnityPoint Health - Allen Hospital.
“I was a little depressed,” he said. “I thought the whole summer was going to be over before I was recovered.
“I’ve had a fear of heart surgery. You hear about incisions the length of your leg and cracking your chest open. Pretty invasive,” he said. “I had three small incisions on my leg for veins, and the incision on my chest, you can hardly see it and it healed fast. I did what the doctor said. … Heart surgery isn’t that big a deal anymore.”
Marshall was released just three days after surgery — in time to attend the My Waterloo Days Parade on June 10.
“I was pretty ginger,” he said.
The next weekend Marshall was playing harmonica with his band, The Atomic Fireballs, at the College Hill Arts Festival.
“My doctor told me to do breathing exercises, so I thought that would do the trick,” he said. “I was able to play the whole hour.
“Once I did that, I thought ‘I’ve got this.’”
A month out from surgery, Marshall was getting pretty active, he said.
“I credit it to the fact that I always stayed in pretty good shape,” he said. “Once the chest wound healed up, my doctor released me to do pretty much whatever I could handle.
“It wasn’t too hard to walk. I went places and the doctor had told my wife (Judy) not to wait on me.”
Marshall then ramped up his rehab, his sights set on the Boundary Waters trip planned for the end of August.
“We were there for six days,” he said. “We paddled for 20 miles, hiked for 20 miles. It was a pretty vigorous trip. The guys took it easy on me. They went at a little slower pace and they gave me the lighter pack to carry. I kind of found out what my limits were. I’m still kind of discovering that. But I didn’t have any issues. It was a great experience.”
Though Marshall’s recovery has been successful by any measure, there were a few scares along the way.
“One instance I had to go back in because my heart was beating way too fast,” he said. “I went into the hospital at about 3 in the morning. The doctor came right in and got it slowed down through medication but told me my heart wasn’t behaving. He said we would give it a little time, but if it doesn’t ‘flip’ to get back in rhythm, they would have to use paddles on me.
“That puts you in a whole different category,” Marshall said. “Susceptible to other complications or a pacemaker. That’s not what I wanted.
“While I was sleeping (in the hospital), my wife was praying ‘Don’t let him have to do that.’ Right then I jumped out of bed. I was dreaming that a ball was coming at me and hit me in the face and I had my arms up to block it.
“Then I noticed and told my wife ‘I think my heart has slowed down.’ Then the nurse came in and said ‘Your heart flipped.’
“I don’t know if the dream caused my heart to flip or my heart flipping caused the dream,” he said. “It was pretty amazing.
“And I give kudos to Allen for just how gracious they were, everybody, from the janitors to the surgeons. They were just so nice.
“I had a picture taken when we were in the Boundary Waters that I sent them. I wrote ‘Thank you Allen hospital in charcoal on my paddle,” he said.
And Marshall can’t help but think what would have happened if not for that trip to Nevada.
“Stress tests are not one of those things you do on a regular basis,” he said. “I think they should be.”