Tom Reed The Times
Bob Owen, an American Airlines pilot from Gainesville, discovered he had heart disease at age 42, even though he had a healthy lifestyle. Owen said he wants people to know that anyone can be at risk for heart disease.
What: 3-mile walk to raise money for the American Heart Association
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: starts at Brenau University amphitheater
Contact: (770) 534-3442
Everyone has a stake in the Hall County Heart Walk on Saturday, if for no other reason than self-interest.
"Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women," said Gainesville cardiologist Timothy Scully. "More people have it than we know, and they're walking around thinking they don't have a problem."
Saturday's 3-mile walk, which starts at 9 a.m. at the Brenau University amphitheater, aims to raise about $100,000 for the American Heart Association.
Kate Lindsey, spokeswoman for the association's Hall district, said 25 percent of the dollars raised will go toward research, 13 percent to professional education, 31 percent to public health education, 8 percent to community programs, and 23 percent to fund-raising costs and administration.
Last year's walk drew about 600 participants.
"Most people do it as part of a company team, but churches, school groups and civic organizations are also welcome," Lindsey said. "Individuals can also walk in memory of somebody (who died of heart disease). We'll have tribute stickers you can wear."
The event is about more than raising money. It also raises awareness, sending a message that no one is immune to heart disease.
Gainesville resident Bob Owen thought he was safe, even though he has a strong family history of heart disease. An American Airlines pilot and former Marine, he doesn't smoke and always has been dedicated to exercise. But when he was 42, he experienced deep pain in his chest while running uphill.
Next thing he knew, he was in Scully's office being evaluated for heart problems. An angiogram showed major blockage in his front coronary artery.
Interventional cardiologist Jeffrey Marshall, who works with Scully at Northeast Georgia Heart Center, performed a balloon angioplasty to open up Owen's clogged artery. Six years earlier, he had done the same procedure on Owen's father when the latter had a heart attack.
In December 2002, Owen was required to get another angiogram so the Federal Aviation Administration could clear him to fly again. To his dismay, he learned that in just six months, the stent device had failed and the artery had reclosed.
At that point, his only option was coronary bypass surgery. He underwent the operation at the Ronnie Green Heart Center and quickly bounced back to his former activity level. In September 2003, Owen was cleared to resume his aviation career.
Now 46, Owen flies Boeing 777s from Chicago to London and Tokyo. He sees Marshall twice a year for checkups, but has had no further heart problems.
It scares him, though, to think about how he was a ticking time bomb.
"What I perceived as getting old was really my heart slowing down," he said. "It wasn't detected because I only had symptoms when I exercised. As a pilot, I've probably had over 100 EKGs (electrocardiograms) in my life, but none of them were stress tests."
Scully said doctors are reluctant to order stress tests, which cost more than a regular EKG, unless the patient is considered to be high-risk.
"But a resting EKG often is not an adequate screening," he said.
Scully said Owen's story is unusual, but not unique.
"He's not the youngest guy to come through our clinic," he said. "You can have a heart attack in your 20s if you smoke or have other risk factors. No matter what your age, if you have chest pain, don't assume it's not your heart."
Originally published Friday, September 23, 2005