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Running for rehab: Kyle man competes in half-marathon after four heart attacks

Mending a broken heart on Valentine’s Day can often mean salvaging a bad date or a messy breakup.

But for Kyle resident Tom Shelton, such a phrase takes a literal meaning after surgeons repaired his heart after he suffered his fourth heart attack in 14 years on Valentine’s Day 2016.

Shelton, 55, eyes the day normally reserved for love as his fourth chance on a new lease on life, which now includes completing a half-marathon. 

Shelton said his first three heart attacks occurred within a twelve-month span in 2002 when he was only 41 years old.

Kyle resident Tom Shelton suffered four heart attacks before turning his life around and finishing a half-marathon. (courtesy photo)

His first was a “traditional” heart attack, which was then quickly followed by a second one. Shelton said he has a family history of heart conditions.

Shelton said he had stents put in two arteries to alleviate the problem. However, two other arteries were not able to support stents, which led to double heart bypass surgery in December 2002.

For the next 13-plus years, Shelton experienced no other heart issues.

On Feb. 13, 2016, Shelton walked into the Seton Hays emergency room when he just “didn’t feel right.”

He ended up having his fourth cardiac episode right there.

Shelton was rushed into surgery on Valentine’s Day, where Dr. Vamsi Krishna, a cardiologist at Seton Hays, placed stents to open up blood flow to Shelton’s heart again.

Krishna’s post-operation evaluation of Shelton included changes to his diet, exercise and his participation in a Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at the hospital.

He added the latter three heart attacks Shelton experienced were caused by stress on his bowels, as well as small plaque blockages already present in his heart.

Krisha said the two issues caued his heart to “die slowly.” 

Shelton agreed he needed to do more and to stick with a heart healthy diet and increase his activity level. Krisha said he “took it to heart” and began exercising and dieting.

Shelton was so dedicated, that while trying to turn his life around, he actually started to suffer from a disorder called adhesion, where his bowels became sticky from getting closer together as he lost weight.

A more active lifestyle followed for Shelton. After starting a new job with the Texas Comptroller in January, Shelton says he takes four-mile walks with friends during breaks.

“And I walk 7-10 miles on Saturday,” Shelton said.

Krishna said Shelton should be “complimented and rewarded” for the drastic lifestyle changes he has implemented since his heart attack a year ago.

Shelton has also lost 50 pounds by reducing his portion sizes and cutting out junk food.

“I do a lot more activities, exercise more and I don’t eat Texas-sized portions anymore … I’m not hungry, but I’m not stuffed either.” Tom Shelton

In January, Shelton achieved a goal he set by crossing the finish line at his first ever half marathon, which is 13.1 miles.

As far as what the future holds for Shelton and his mended heart, he said he plans on completing another half-marathon and would love to participate in a full marathon someday.

“If Shelton keeps up the good work on his healthy lifestyle his life expectancy from here on out is excellent,” Krishna said.

Shelton attributed his recovery to Seton Hays, which helped him on the road to recovery.

“Probably if I had to say anything it would be to look at the picture of difference a year makes,” Shelton said, “Each one of them cared for me so well that’s why I’m here today.”

He agreed his new lease on life is here to stay with goals to stay active for the next 50 years.

“My dad is 78 years old and he still runs 11 miles a day,” Shelton said, “I want to be like that at his age, be able to get out and do things.”

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