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R.T. Rybak's second chance

  • R.T. Rybak was just 10 years old when his dad died from heart disease. He had suffered several heart attacks and a stroke before he died, and that made a lasting impression on Rybak. "I was determined to not be that guy," said the former Minneapolis mayor. "It's probably what turned me into something of an exercise fanatic."

    But earlier this year, "inescapable genetics" caught up with Rybak. He had a heart attack while cross-country skiing at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis and was taken by ambulance to Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Rybak had two angioplasties and six stents to restore blood flow to the heart and was discharged three days later.

    Fortunately, Rybak has no permanent heart damage. Excellent medical care when he needed it, and a lifestyle that included a healthful diet and plenty of exercise likely saved his life. "Not being able to escape the genetics means I should have been doing more to be monitored, but living a healthy lifestyle gives me a second chance," said Rybak.

    While there were no obvious symptoms of heart disease before his heart attack, Rybak now recognizes that there may have been some warning signs, including feeling run down in the months before the heart attack. "I chalked it up to the fact that I was finishing my job as mayor and felt like I had a real mission to get everything completed. At the same time, I had already jumped into my new job."

    Rybak's first hint that something was wrong occurred midway through his ski outing. It never felt like chest pain. Instead it was more a feeling of pressure, almost like someone had put an icepack around his heart. "I kept thinking it was related to the cold," said Rybak. With the help of some friends who were also visiting the park, Rybak was soon on his way to the hospital.

    Recovery - and a renewed commitment to healthy living

    Today, Rybak is more focused than ever on his health. While he has made a full recovery from the heart attack, he is being closely monitored by Yale Wang, MD, a cardiologist at Minneapolis Heart Institute®. In addition to prescribing several medicines, Wang helped Rybak integrate cardiac rehabilitation into his regular exercise routine. That included talking with Rybak's personal trainer to discuss appropriate exercises and training levels. Rybak's exercise routine includes cross-country skiing, tennis, weight-lifting and treadmill workouts. "And I do all of this while wearing a heart rate monitor and staying in the range set by my doctor," Rybak said.

    Rybak is also working with Terry Longe, MD, and other providers from the Preventive Cardiology Clinic at Minneapolis Heart Institute®. Its specialists offer advanced testing and treatment for people who already have or who are at risk of heart disease. They evaluate risk factors, make customized recommendations on heart-healthy lifestyle and diet, and provide referrals for stress management and exercise programs. Even though he was already very health conscious, Rybak has "doubled down" on his lifestyle and is even more conscious of what he eats.

    While some might be discouraged that a person could develop heart disease despite such a healthy lifestyle, Rybak views his situation with the appreciation of a survivor. "I did everything right and still had a heart attack. But I would have had the heart attack anyway because of the genetics. If I hadn't been doing everything right, I would have a very different life right now, and I might not even be here."

  • R.T. Rybak

    R.T. Rybak now recognizes that there may have been some warning signs, including feeling run down in the months before the heart attack.