Gail Endres is not your typical cardiac success story.
To begin with, he’s a two-time prostate cancer survivor. As well as an avid cyclist with 18 completed RAGBRAIs to his credit.
He’s also proof that it doesn’t matter how physically fit you might be — your family history has a lot to say about your cardiac health.
In an eventful 14-month period, the 66-year-old retired father of three found himself in need of the comprehensive cardiac services only Mercy Medical Center can deliver.
It began with symptoms common to people on the verge of cardiac disease, and as an athlete, Gail was particularly keen to what his body was telling him.
In April 2011, he joined fellow cancer survivors on a hike to the base camp of Mt. Everest. At more than 18,000 feet above sea level, he experienced shortness of breath — understandable given the thin air.
“I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was probably just my reaction to the high elevation,” said Endres.
However, a few months later, he noticed his breathing became more labored than usual while riding his bike during RAGBRAI.
Making his condition even more troubling to him, Gail was preparing for a 2012 expedition up 19,341-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. And six months after that, he was signed up to join a team that would be riding in the Race Across America bicycle race.
That’s when his heart health forced him to take an unexpected detour.
As part of his training, he was a regular at a spin class at the YMCA Healthy Living Center. One day in late August, his difficulty breathing was so acute, he was simply unable to finish his workout. “That had never happened to me before,” said Endres. “I knew something was wrong.”
Fortunately, Above and Beyond Cancer founder and Mercy radiation oncologist Dr. Richard Deming was also in the spin class that day, and he wasted no time making an appointment for Gail to see Mercy and Iowa Heart Center cardiologist Dr. Shakuntala Advani. “I didn’t realize that Dr. Deming had done that. I called in to make an appointment and was told I was already scheduled,” recalled Endres.
Tests were performed the next day and Dr. Advani determined the need for an immediate angiogram. This procedure was performed by interventional cardiologist Dr. Magdi Ghali. The angiogram revealed two badly obstructed arteries — one 95% blocked and another 90% blocked. Two drug-eluting stents were placed to improve blood flow and Gail spent the night resting comfortably in the hospital.
“I couldn’t believe how much better I felt the next day,” said Endres. “As soon as the effects of the anesthesia were gone, I felt great. My energy was back.”
Yet, as with any cardiac procedure, a complete recovery was going to require diligent rehabilitation. That concerned Endres because of the plans he’d made for the coming months.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go through with the Kilimanjaro trip as well as the bike race. Would I be permitted to train enough? I lost sleep, wondering if I’d gotten in over my head,” he said.
But he persevered and went to work, rehabbing twice weekly at Mercy for 12 weeks, while maintaining his regular exercise regimen.
In no time, his Mercy and Iowa Heart Center team of cardiologists and highly trained outpatient rehabilitation therapists had Gail back to 100% fitness. He made his scheduled climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Then six months later he and seven other cyclists rode for the Above and Beyond Cancer team in the Race Across America.
“My doctor told me soon after my angiogram that I could go back to my normal activities,” laughed Endres. “I don’t think she realized what my normal activities were.”
Today, more than a year after undergoing a cardiac procedure at Mercy Medical Center, Gail Endres continues his active lifestyle. “I’m running now, too. Maybe I’ll run a half marathon,” he says.
Whatever Gail Endres takes on, he’ll do it with all his heart.