A Midtown man is not letting his heart problems stand in the way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
50-year-old Gregg Templeton has always been a runner. He started running as a way to expel energy when he was a teenager, and it quickly became a part of his lifestyle. He ran cross country in college at the University of Arizona, and as an adult, he has completed more than 70 races, triathlons and marathons.
Templeton says he comes from a healthy family and tried his best to be healthy on his own. As a former Wall Street worker, Templeton was no stranger to stress — aside from the daily stress of his job, Templeton is also a 9/11 survivor and was on the 73rd floor of one of the towers when the plane hit the building. In 2016, some stress regarding his job that made him get help for his heart.
“In 2016, it was the stress from a termination from employment. That was my widowmaker, my doctor placed a stent in my heart,” Templeton recalled. “Some things happened, I had some stress in my life, and ultimately got even more stressed out.”
Templeton went on to need more procedures done, including placing multiple stents in his arteries. Templeton’s cardiologist, Dr. Varinder Singh, who serves as the Chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, told him he needed to lose 30 pounds.
” To Gregg’s credit, he totally changed his life. Gregg was a hard-living Wall Street guy,” said Dr. Singh. “He put out the first fire, he did the best of a lot of my patients, got skinny, and got very healthy.”
However, things took a turn for the deadly last year. On Dec. 22, 2020, Templeton was at home when he started to feel some discomfort.
“I felt weak, light-headed, and had shortness of breath,” said Templeton. “It was an aortic dissection.”
An aortic dissection is when the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears. It is most common in men in their 60s and 70s, and is usually fatal — 40 percent of people who experience aortic dissection die almost instantly, and the risk of death increases by 3-4 percent every hour the condition is left untreated.
“You feel the tearing, the ripping, like a searing sensation,” said Templeton. “It’s literally a searing from your neck to your abdomen.”
Templeton called 911 and was rushed to the hospital. He underwent a 10-hour surgery with a group of Lenox Hill Hospital cardiovascular surgeons led by Jonathan Hemli, MD, who rebuilt Templeton’s aorta using a graft and repaired his ruptured leg artery. He had seven small strokes during the surgery and was in a medically induced coma afterward.
“It was a catastrophic event. He should have died from that,” said Dr. Singh. “He basically ripped his aorta. For years when he wasn’t living well, he developed plaque. Imagine a two-layer wall, when it rips, blood gets into there, and then a thin layer is keeping blood in the body.”
As a result, Templeton had over 100 staples throughout his body, with 52 staples in his leg alone. He spent a couple of weeks in the cardiac ICU where he had round-the-clock care from the staff at Lenox Hill Hospital.
“When you go through something like this, you don’t realize the everybody that’s involved in your procedure, your cardiac ICU care, your care while in a coma, after the coma, and all the nurses. When you read my report, there are 9 people on that report, and that’s just surgery — nine people on the post-op report and only met 2 of them,” said Templeton. “I need to thank the cardiac ICU nurses who cared for me for weeks. Without them, I wouldn’t be here either. When you are in the cardiac ICU, you have eyeballs on you 24 hours a day. How do you thank someone for that?”
With home visits and monitoring of his vitals, Templeton has been slowly recovering since the surgery and has only gone on a run three times since. He goes on walks every day, and plays the piano to help bring some strength back to his arm, which was suffering from dexterity issues as a result of the aortic dissection.
Templeton has already been cleared to run and has a spot in the New York City Marathon this year, assuming that it happens due to COVID-19. If the marathon takes place, Templeton intends to honor his caregivers and run with a jersey emblazoned with the words “Lenox Hill Hospital Cardiac.”
“I was supposed to run the marathon last year but the Roadrunners canceled it due to COVID,” said Templeton. “I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s like a horse corral. Pre-COVID, it was fun — you’d be stretching with everyone, music would play. Now I don’t know how they’d do it with 50,000 when you can only have 2,000 people in Madison Square Garden. Who knows, it’s 8 months away.”
Templeton has since adopted a new mantra to help make the future brighter in his recovery.
“Never look back, never give up, never a bad day,” said Templeton. “It’s weird getting a chest x-ray and seeing nine metal clamps in my chest that will never come out, holding chest plate together. I’m determined to not let this rule the rest of my life. No one is immortal. Nothing is guaranteed in life, tomorrow’s never promised. From what I had, I shouldn’t have lived. My doctor says “Never a bad day, Gregg. Never ever have a bad day.” You can have an annoying day, but never a bad day.”
For those who have concerns about their heart health, Dr. Singh says it’s not possible to undo the bad habits from the past, but you can work to make yourself healthier for the future. He recommends the true Mediterranean diet, as well as consistent aerobic exercise.
“For symptoms, the most common is chest pressure or chest pain when you exert yourself. It may go up the neck or back, and you can just feel shortness of breath,” said Dr. Singh. “If you stop doing an activity and it gets better, it can be exertional activity-related. Another is very simple fatigue, there are several atypical symptoms like indigestion. Women are much more likely to have atypical symptoms.”
Most importantly, Templeton says that listening to your body is critical.
“Listen to your body. Pain is your body’s voice, listen to it,” said Templeton. “I learned that after my first one. I was walking home, five years ago from a store and halfway through block I had to stop to catch my breath. Something was not right. I did nothing and chalked it up to heartburn. A couple of days later it happened again and then I knew that something was not right.”