Stittsville’s Dan Pak running for his life and the Ottawa Heart Institute

(Dan Pak of Stittsville is a former Ottawa Heart Institute patient involved in studies with the Institute. Dan is in his 6th week of ultra training for his first ever 50K Ultra Marathon at Ottawa’s Race Weekend coming this May 2021. Photo: provided)

(Editor’s Note: Dan Pak knows the importance of good heart health – he had his first heart procedure in 2018 – a cardiac complex ablation whereby the cardiac surgeon scars or destroys tissues in your heart that trigger or sustain an abnormal heart rhythm and corrects arrhythmias. Dan’s procedure has been a success and he doesn’t squander away his day worrying. He is back and running for his life and others to raise awareness of heart health and funds for the Ottawa Heart Institute. Here is Dan’s incredible journey.)

My heart journey began when I was out at a Shopper’s Drug Mart helping my daughter get makeup for her dance recital. Since I wasn’t needed, it was then I decided to check my blood pressure and when my BP was 205/117 and then it was 196/119 on a second check. So off to my GP who knew about my hypertension and attributed it to my genetics since both my parents had issues with high blood pressure. But for some reason my doctor decided to send me to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) to do a stress test on the treadmill.

On June 29, 2018 when I was on the treadmill and not lasting more than 7 minutes, it was then the diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation hit me. The ECG showed that my heart was racing and the upper chambers of my heart were being overworked. Which in some cases if the heart beats too fast something could get dislodged which would stop blood flow and could cause a stroke. When the intern said I needed to stop I was devastated. I really had to negotiate on what I could do as I did not have any of the symptoms they said I should have. Dizzy spells, headaches, fainting spells, fatigue and heart flutters. I was extremely active and never had any of those symptoms. I had no choice but to go on medication.

(Dan Pak runs the Trans Canada Trail in prep for his 50K Ultra Marathon in May 2021.)

Needless to say my first experience at the UOHI was not pleasant, but who knew in a few short months that it would change drastically when I met with a cardiologist/electro-physiologist. He gave me three options:

  1. stay the course with my meds
  2. add another med to my regiment and there are side effects
  3. opt for the Ablation procedure

The choice was obvious to me. So my ablation would be scheduled and eventually on December 6, 2018 I went in for the complex Ablation.

The day before I met with a research assistant and signed up for my first research study called the Aware study. It was a three-year study (Aware Study) where if I was willing to participate I would be in a blind study where upon my procedure the doctors would open an envelope to see if I would receive not a single, but a double procedure. At this time I do not know which one I was in as the study should be finished by December 2021 and I would like to know then I would be able to find out. That is a TBD.

(Dan has always been a runner entering many races. His family made this wonderful quilt from the many race shirts in his collection.)

My rehab began a month after my Ablation as part of the recovery meant a visit to the cardiac rehab centre at the UOHI. I met my cardiac PT Guy-Anne who monitored me from afar as I wasn’t a typical patient, but we worked together on how much activity was too much and how much rest I needed. It took me about six months or so to realize that I could not return to the same person I was pre-Afib. I took this as a sign that I was given a second chance and not to squander it by chasing goals that would put me at risk. So I decided that maybe I could use my presence on social media to bring more awareness. In fact once I was cleared in July 2020 I had asked about my medication and the doctor inquired if I was interested in doing another study (Ocean study) where if I qualified I would be in another blind draw to:

  1. stay on my blood thinner
  2. use baby asprin (pill in pocket)
  3. use a different blood thinner.

This is another three-year study and I just started in mid-January. So that is TBD the effects of that trial.

As runners, we tend to look past the pain and forge on, but when it comes to heart health I wanted to be that voice to those who feel invulnerable that a person like me who is active was able to get checked out and diagnosed early enough so that I can continue on. It has been a long journey since the Ablation and every month in February I try to bring that awareness for Heart Month.

(Dan completes the 10K run at Ottawa Race Weekend in 2019 a little over a year after his Ablation surgery.)

I was fortunate enough to participate in a campaign this month. Being interviewed by Joel Haslam of CTV News and then having a feature in both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun. I’m all in for heart month! If I can bring awareness to this world class facility I’m more than happy to participate. In fact when I was asked by the UOHI foundation I was like really I’m no one special. I’m just an ordinary guy. Apparently my story by Joel has inspired others about my journey! I guess you can say my heart is full!

Thanks Dan for sharing your story with the hope that it will help someone along their own journey. February is Heart Month, donate today to our Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation.

You can also sponsor Dan in his bid to complete his first ever Ottawa 50K Ultra Marathon during the Tamarack-Scotiabank Race Weekend in May 2021 (https://www.runottawa.ca/). Follow Dan on his fitness regimen to get there @OttPak.

(Dan runs for and supports Team Heart at every opportunity. The UOHI saved his life afterall!)

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