From A Heart Attack to a 5k – One Man’s Inspiring Story

Ryan started out as a patient at our Coopersville office and he quickly became a friend. A big thank you to Ryan for sharing his inspirational journey with us.

My name is Ryan Burk and this is my story.

Would you believe that a broken ankle saved my life? On February 19, 2014 I fell on the ice at work and dislocated and broke my ankle in three places. At the hospital, I was surprised to find out that the doctors couldn’t perform immediate surgery on me because of high blood pressure. But what was even more shocking were the results of my EKG – news that would change my life forever. The test showed that I’d had a previous heart attack, and I never even knew it. Maybe I wasn’t in the best of health, but I wasn’t even 40 years old. How could I have had a heart attack?

The events that transpired stirred a wave of emotions in me and at the end of the day the only good thing I could take from this experience was the fact that I was still alive. Bad news continued to come my way as the doctor explained that my heart was only working at 50%, and no matter what, it would never function any better than that. As I sat there in shock, I knew I only had one choice, and that was to live. I thought about my wife and three beautiful daughters – I had to be there for them. It was that moment that changed everything. I was going to get healthy, no matter what it took.

Two days after my accident the doctors were finally able to perform the necessary surgery to repair my broken ankle. I left the hospital with a few spare parts, specifically, one plate and eight screws in my ankle, and a portable defibrillator vest that I wore 24 hours a day until one could be permanently implanted, which took about two months and left me with a sling on my arm for six weeks. It was still hard for me to believe that I was literally on the verge of a life threatening situation, but I was ready to do whatever it took to get strong and move forward.

With a sore ankle, an arm that was out of commission, and a “broken” heart, I was feeling down, but not out. I clearly remember my first day at Northern Physical Therapy, just one week after my ankle surgery. My therapist actually wanted me to peddle a stationary bike. “Are you kidding me!?” I asked. My ankle was broken, there was clearly no way I could peddle a bike…was there? My therapist just smiled and told me to trust her. Next up I took to the treadmill, walking at a half mile per hour pace for 1 minute. As time went on, I really did start to trust the Northern team, and I even began to develop a few friendships.

After just a few physical therapy treatments I began to notice improvements in the way I felt. I was walking faster and had less pain in my ankle. I was also losing weight, which I attributed to slowly becoming more active, and completely changing my eating habits. My friends began to notice the difference in my appearance and the changes I’d made as well. They’d often ask how I was able to maintain such a strict diet and pass on birthday cake and junk food. It was simple really. If I want to live longer, I’d have to pass on that cake. Don’t get me wrong, not every day is perfect – I still enjoy my B-Dubs chicken wings every once in a while, but I really try to watch my diet and exercise. I’ve already lost 40 pounds and am on track to lose 10 more.

Ryan and his daughter Jacie train for their first 5k at our RunFit run club.

As physical therapy came to a close I started exercising on my own. I initially chose cycling because it was low impact and easy on my ankle. Things progressed and this past summer I completed my goal of riding over 1,000 miles! I then told my daughter that I would run a 5k with her so we both joined the RunFit club at Northern Physical Therapy. Not that she needed it, but she runs beside me and encourages me as I train for the upcoming Outhouse 500, an annual 5k race held in Coopersville. I’m also part of the HIIT class (high intensity interval training) at Northern, which takes place outdoors at 5am. I never would’ve imagined that I’d be going to exercise classes at 5am with a yoga mat tucked under my arm, but here I am, and I really do enjoy it!

The last year of my life has been filled with struggle, pain, hope, and determination. It’s hard to believe I went from being on the verge of another heart attack to training for a 5k. I cannot thank the Northern Physical Therapy team enough for their encouragement to get me through my rehabilitation process. Over the last year I truly realized how much my family and friends meant to me and how much they’re willing to be there for me through the good times and the bad. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the most important person in my life, my wife Hannah Burk, who is the strongest woman I know. She stood by me and played the role of wife, nurse, and driver; and she maintained the household while I was down and out. My three amazing daughters, Sam, Jacie, and Avery were so supportive and incredibly helpful in taking on the responsibilities that I couldn’t accomplish. This spring I am most looking forward to seeing their faces at the finish line when I complete my first 5k. Who knows what I’ll be able to accomplish in 2015…for me, this is only the beginning.

Leave a Reply