San Anselmo resident Adrian Jones is hardly the type of person you’d think was at risk for a heart attack. Slim and fit, he runs, skis, does yoga, and is an avid mountain biker. He watches what he eats and, since being diagnosed with a rare but benign arrhythmia, sees his cardiologist, Dr. Kent Gershengorn, for a checkup once a year. Diagnosed with high cholesterol in his mid-thirties, Adrian takes a statin every day. In short, he’s a pro at preventive medicine.
But as an adoptee, there was one thing Adrian did not know – his genetic risk heart attack risk.
On October 8, 2016, Adrian was about to turn 47 and was feeling healthier than ever. He had just had a physical the day before, and his doctor had pronounced him in excellent health. Waving goodbye to his two pre-teen children, Adrian jumped on his bike and headed for the hills for a morning workout with friends.
The first climb was uneventful. After a water break, they started up the next hill. Almost immediately, Adrian knew something was wrong. “It just happened so quickly,” he remembers. “All of a sudden, all my energy drained out of my legs. I felt totally sapped.”
Adrian’s first thought was last night’s sushi. Too much salt, too much sake – he must be dehydrated. He stopped for a few gulps of water, letting his friends ride ahead. When Adrian reached the next flat area, he remembered being overcome by dizziness. “The world started to spin in a frighteningly unsettling way. It was all I could do to get off my bike. I hobbled over to a little bush and vomited violently. My body was doing something, but I didn’t recognize what it was.”
Adrian was beginning to suspect food poisoning. Nevertheless, he tried to convince his friends to keep going. They were too concerned about him to do so but agreed to take a longer way down. After riding a little ways, Adrian began to have chest pains so severe that he jumped off his bike and lay spread-eagled on the ground and started pounding his chest. He no longer had the strength to ride and walked his bike down the rest of the fire trail, accompanied by two of his riding buddies. The third friend, Brad, had trained as an ENT and recognized the signs of a heart attack in progress. Brad jumped back on his bike and shot down the hill to get his car.
By the time Adrian reached the bottom of the hill, four of his fingers had gone numb. Brad was waiting in his car. His initial plan had been to rush Adrian to the Fairfax Fire Station but when no one was there to answer his frantic knocking, Brad headed for Marin General Hospital.
Somehow, Adrian managed to stagger up to the Emergency Department admissions desk. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Adrian Jones. I’m 46 years old. I’m having chest pains and I’m having trouble breathing.”
Marin General Hospital is a Certified Chest Pain Center with a door-to-treatment time (the time between a patient’s arrival at the Emergency Department and their emergency angioplasty) that is 46 minutes faster than the national average. In a matter of minutes, Adrian was on a gurney in a private room, with an entire team working on him. The doctor in charge, Dr. Anand Soni, calmly introduced himself and relayed the news: it was indeed a heart attack. It took all of Adrian’s strength to sign the consent forms to have a stent put in, with open-heart emergency surgery as a backup.
The Emergency Department team whisked Adrian into the Cath Lab for an emergency angioplasty. Interventional cardiologist, Dr. Arun Ragupathy, threaded a stent into a vein in Adrian’s wrist and up to his anterior descending artery, which turned out to be 100% blocked. Adrian was wheeled out 45 minutes later. After two days in the hospital, he was able to go home. He refused the wheel chair, insisting on walking out on his own two feet. The discharge date was especially significant for Adrian: “I was born at Marin General Hospital on October 10, and I was discharged from there on October 10.”
Like most heart attack patients, Adrian was a little foggy after the procedure, but clearly remembers the excellent treatment he received. As he puts it, “I am very fortunate that my friend got me to Marin General Hospital. They’re amazing. The cardiologists were on it right away. One nurse’s husband had a “widow maker” heart attack and she was making me feel better with stories about her husband. And the food wasn’t bad either.”
He also remembers doing a lot of thinking in the ICU. “Why did this happen to me? I started thinking about my birth parents. What’s the family history? I needed to know what’s inside of me – for me and for my kids. I need to know about risk factors.”
The first few days after his heart attack, Adrian’s exercise program consisted of a leisurely walk around the block with his wife. By mid-November, he was taking strenuous hikes in the hills around his home and was back on the ski slopes in December. He returned to mountain biking in May of 2017.
Adrian went through Cardiac rehab at the Cardiovascular Center of Marin. With their expert guidance, he has made some important lifestyle modifications. He now eats a Mediterranean diet and avoids red meat. He does one-hour cardio workouts at least three times a week. He has also quit his demanding job in finance, trading the daily commute to San Francisco for a short drive to his new job in Larkspur. But while he’s made some small changes to his lifestyle, there’s one thing Adrian did that has turned out to be truly life-changing: tracking down his birth family.
As it turns out, Adrian’s birth parents, both married to other people, live in the Bay Area. He has gained three sisters with whom he felt instantly comfortable. He also learned that there was indeed a family risk factor for heart disease. His birth mother’s parents died of heart disease, and her brother had a fatal heart attack at age 52.
Adrian is very aware of how lucky he is to be alive. He now refers to himself as Adrian 2.0. “I live my life with survivor super powers. I’m so motivated to give back and make a positive dent on the world.”
The ways Adrian has chosen to give back tie directly to his heart attack. He runs a support group for adoptees and advises them on how to “find their truth,” – their family histories and risk factors for heart disease and other medical issues. Adrian volunteers with the American Heart Association and has served as a keynote speaker at their events. He is also on the board of the Via Heart Project, which raises funds to provide heart screenings and defibrillators in high schools. Heart disease is the #1 killer of student athletes, a statistic Adrian feels passionate about changing. As he puts it, “I would be so remiss in this second chapter of mine if I didn’t take this opportunity to have a ripple effect. I have a very healthy, rich life. I want to inspire others to do the same.”