Dallas’ Dwayne Pickens knows he’s lucky to be alive, much less running again.
He suffered a massive heart attack just past Mile 9 of last year’s BMW Dallas Marathon relay. He had quadruple bypass surgery a few days later.
“Here’s a guy who fell down — literally dead — and he got up with a little help, and he’s going to run it again,” said Dr. Baron Hamman, Pickens’ cardiac surgeon. “I respect that.”
From his hospital bed in post-op, Pickens, 64, remembers thanking Hamman for a successful operation. He wanted to know if he would ever be able to run again, Hamman recalled.
“I said, ‘You’ll be able to run again in three months,'” Hamman said this week, recalling last year’s conversation. “‘I’ll do you one better. I’ll run the marathon relay with you next year.'”
And so, the doctor and his patient, along with three of Pickens’ four sons, formed the relay team “DP Strong.” They will run Sunday’s SMU Cox School of Business Relay, held annually in conjunction with the full, half and ultra marathons. Other relays comprised of extended family, friends and some of the first-responders who helped him will also run to celebrate Pickens’ remarkable recovery.
Hamman’s proposal to run the relay gave Pickens, a 1972 Kentucky high school state 440 champion, the drive and the confidence he needed to push himself through cardiac rehab and resume the active life he’d previously led.
“To me, it’s a bit of an accomplishment,” he said. “I could have sat back and been a couch potato. I could have been afraid to go back out. But here’s this guy who just repaired my heart, and he’s telling me I’m OK to do this.”
While the proposal lifted Pickens’ spirits, Hamman’s motivation wasn’t all selfless.
“I did it for me, too,” said Hamman, who has lost 20 pounds. “I had noticed that I was getting more out of shape than usual. When all this occurred, I said: ‘OK. It’s time for me to ante up. I can do this.'”
Right time, right place
Two miles into his relay leg last Dec. 10, Pickens struggled to catch his breath. He stopped a couple times then fell face first. He doesn’t remember anything until he woke up in the ER.
When Hamman saw Pickens’ films in the emergency room, he couldn’t believe Pickens had survived.
Just behind Pickens were two full marathoners: Marty Leos of Sunnyvale, a lieutenant with Dallas Fire Rescue, and Bradley Hastings, a registered nurse with Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. Both stopped to help.
When Leos couldn’t feel Pickens’ pulse, he began CPR. Hastings called for the automated external defibrillator while Leos applied chest compressions with help from a certified physical trainer.
Leos, who will run his 18th consecutive Dallas Marathon on Sunday, normally runs at a much faster pace. Last year, he stopped multiple times to talk to family and friends along the route.
“If I hadn’t stopped four times, I would have been way ahead and never seen Dwayne,” Leos said. “That’s someone else’s design.”
Leos experienced a bit of déjà vu. In the 2008 Dallas Marathon, Leos assisted Erin Lahr, a 29-year-old Austin woman who collapsed late in the race near Baylor University Medical Center. She did not survive.
After Lahr’s death, the City of Dallas’ Office of Special Events began dedicating medics to special events. In addition, there are now AEDS positioned throughout the course. Leos credits those changes for helping save Pickens’ life.
Statistically, only one in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, said Dallas police Lt. Alex Eastman, the Deputy Medical Director for the Dallas Police Department and a member of the DPD’s SWAT team who was on a nearby security detail and among those who helped Pickens.
“Dwayne is such a lucky guy,” Eastman said. “For him to beat the odds, to survive and have a neurologically intact discharge from the hospital is truly remarkable.”
An example to others
Pickens had not seen his primary care physician in several years. He thought he had no reason to disrupt his busy work schedule. He stayed active, ate well and had no symptoms.
He’s grateful his heart attack occurred on race day. Had it happened almost anywhere else, he doubts he would have had a positive outcome.
Pickens has taken full advantage of his second chance. His cardiologist gave him a positive report at his last visit.
“If I wouldn’t have known you had a heart attack previously, then I would never have known you had any issues,” Pickens said of his cardiologist summary.
That said, he realizes his medical emergency could have been prevented, so he wants to encourage others to schedule annual visits and to be aware of how they feel and not to ignore any changes you might feel.
“I probably wouldn’t have had this heart attack,” he said.
Once he had the surgery, Hamman repaired the plumbing in Pickens’ heart, restoring Pickens to his previous state and enabling him to become healthier again.
Pickens’ youngest son, Matthew, a goalkeeper for the USL’s Nashville Soccer Club, was in the hospital room when his dad and Hamman discussed running the relay. Matthew thought they were crazy to talk about it so soon after surgery.
“Coming from the doctor, it was kind of cool,” he said. “There aren’t too many people that came that close to dying that will go back into the arena and do it again. It’s a testament to him recovering and getting his life back on track.”
BMW Dallas Marathon Weekend
What: 48th BMW Dallas Marathon, half marathon, ultra marathon (50K) and SMU Cox School of Business relay, 10K, 5K, 2-mile walk and kids races
When: Saturday, 10K at 8:30 a.m.; 5K at 8:45 a.m.; 2-mile walk at 9 a.m.; kids races at 10 a.m. Sunday, full, half and ultra marathon and marathon relay at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Dallas City Hall Plaza, downtown Dallas
Who: About 8,000 runners for Saturday’s 5K/10K and 16,250 for Sunday’s marathon, half marathon, ultra marathon and relay runners
TV: Pre-race coverage, 8-9 a.m., Ch. 8.
Forecast: The long-range forecast calls for highs in the mid-40s and lows in the 30s. There is an 80 percent chance of rain Saturday. Sunday should be cloudy with a 10 percent chance of rain.
Marathon records: Men: 2:12:04, Moses Kororia, 2006; Women: 2:29:55, Svetlana Ponomarenko, 2006
Half marathon records: Men: 1:02:58, Valenite Orare, 2006; Women: 1:11:32, Olara Nuta, 2008
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