Student Spotlight

Last year a heart attack; this year, a race to the top of the Space Needle

September 30, 2015 by Margo Myers
John and Susan Huntington. He's planning to race to the top of the Space Needle on Oct. 3.

John and Susan Huntington. He’s planning to race to the top of the Space Needle on Oct. 3.

John Huntington’s day started like many other Sundays – a run, and then a trip to the indoor climbing gym.

Sitting at the dinner table with his family that night, his left arm started to hurt. At first, he thought he might have strained it at the gym. Then pain shot into his chest.

Huntington thought, “That’s not normal. That’s not good.” He asked his wife to drive him to the hospital and she smartly refused. “My daughter, who’s a nurse, happened to be at dinner, and she and my wife called 911 immediately,” said Huntington. That move likely saved his life.

When the ambulance arrived minutes later, medics called the hospital, relayed vital information, and headed to the emergency room. Huntington was having a heart attack.

“Forty-five minutes after the 911 call, I already had a stent put in for a 99 percent blockage in my heart,” he said. “They went in through my wrist, and I was out of the hospital in 23 hours with a minimum of heart damage. The system worked the way it’s supposed to.”

In fact, Huntington, a detective with the Washington State Patrol, was earning his master’s degree in organizational leadership at Brandman University’s Bangor campus at the time. Amazingly, he did his part of a group presentation just four days later. Huntington’s full return to work took about five weeks and he received his degree just two and a half months later.

That fateful day in March 2014 prompted Huntington to make some major life changes. He became a vegetarian, and within the first 100 days, lost 50 pounds, and brought his cholesterol level down from 220 to 120. His doctor even took him off blood pressure medication.

John Huntington is back climbing and running following a heart attack in March.

John Huntington is back climbing and running following a heart attack in March.

“I haven’t really missed meat, and luckily, my wife is a creative cook,” Huntington said. “Not everyone can do it, but it’s really helped me turn my health around. We eat a lot of Indian and Mexican food.”

Huntington’s return to fitness, however, turned out to be frustratingly slow. He couldn’t complete a 1-mile run for the first year. He says that was all in his head and once he surpassed that distance, he quickly progressed. Now Huntington is training again for 5k races, and the upcoming Base to Space, a stair climb to raise money for cancer research that will take participants from the base of Seattle’s Space Needle to its top on Oct. 3.

Eighteen months after his heart attack, Huntington is happy to have regained his health and made such large improvements.

“The fact we called EMS, they notified the hospital and doctors were waiting for me on a Sunday so I could have the procedure immediately, meant zero heart damage,” he said.

Huntington offers advice to others who might experience similar symptoms. “Don’t wait, and even if you’re not sure what it is, get it checked out fast.” It could turn out to be a lifesaver.

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