In December 1992, Gerry Turer felt a tightness in his chest while yanking the pull-cord on his snow blower. He dismissed it as a consequence of exertion, finished his work and played three sets of tennis. About 3 a.m., he awoke in a cold sweat with that same squeezing and burning sensation in his chest. He couldn’t ignore the symptoms any longer.
Upon arriving at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, N.Y., Gerry suffered his third heart attack in less than 12 hours.
“I was designated Code Blue, which means an emergency,” said Gerry, who is now 74 and lives in Airmont, N.Y. “They administered a drug, tPA, that dissolved the clot and saved my life.” The next morning he underwent triple bypass surgery from Dr. Craig Smith at Manhattan’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. Gerry then plunged into his rehabilitation program with such gusto that he was twice nominated by his cardiac rehab supervisors at Rockland Sport-O-Rama as National Heart Patient of the Year.
“I didn’t think I was a heart attack candidate,” he said. “I didn’t smoke or drink, have never been overweight, ate healthy foods and led a very active lifestyle — I’ve played tennis now for more than 60 years. I thought my heart was in fantastic condition.” But the one strike against him that he had no control over was genetics — Gerry’s dad had heart disease and died at age 76. That was the risk factor Gerry hadn’t considered.
Gerry had a short recovery period and was soon back doing the things he loved — playing tennis and golf, hiking, square dancing, gardening, traveling and spending time with his wife, two children and five grandchildren. “When my father was a heart patient, he was afraid to exert himself,” Gerry said. "I, on the other hand, will play tennis every day if I want to.” Gerry now takes cholesterol-lowering medications, continues to eat healthy foods and gets lots of exercise to do his best to prevent another heart attack.
A retired men’s clothing retailer, Gerry’s enjoying every minute of his retirement with his wife of 49 years, Allene. “I think I’m in better shape now than before,” he said. “I’m in the golden years, and they’re the best years of my life.”
With his new lease on life, he’s set out to raise awareness of heart disease and its risks. For several years he’s been chairperson for the Heart to Heart Tennis Tournament to raise money for the American Heart Association, and he was nominated four times as Heart Patient of the Year for Rockland County, N.Y. He’s also served as a member of the leadership council of the Rockland County American Heart Association and has organized benefit tennis and golf tournaments for the association as well.
Gerry’s most recent community efforts include raising awareness about the importance of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which cut minutes from the response time to sudden cardiac arrest victims. During the first 10 minutes after someone has a cardiac arrest, every minute saved means about a 10 percent increase in relative survival. Thanks to Gerry’s persistence, his hometown police and ambulance personnel are now equipped with AEDs and have attended training courses to learn to use them properly.
“I’m trying to give back to the community for the years of good life that I’ve enjoyed with my family since my heart attack,” Gerry said. “I want to help with the good works that the American Heart Association is doing to raise awareness and save lives. I found out the hard way that you don’t have to be overweight or a heavy smoker to have a heart attack. In my case, genetics was the big risk factor. If I can help others become aware that anyone can have a heart attack, then I may help someone else have extra years with their family.”
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