A mile into the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon last weekend, Richard Strain felt a bad case of heartburn coming on.
He kept running, determined to finish his half-marathon.
Strain, who had been running for nearly a year, made it another five miles before the pain became so great he was forced to walk.
He doesn’t remember much more.
Strain, 45, woke up in a hospital emergency room gasping for air, coughing up blood and surrounded by hurried doctors and nurses.
“I was like, ‘What the hell happened to me?’ ” he said Friday.
Strain, of Canton, had collapsed in cardiac arrest and had to be shocked with an automated external defibrillator by emergency personnel at the scene. That quick action probably saved his life.
Wearing a heart monitor and special bracelets, including one indicating he’s at risk of falling when walking, Strain recalled the experience Friday while sitting in the cardiac intensive care unit at MetroHealth Medical Center.
Surrounded by his girlfriend, Milisa Fabian of Canton, and his parents, Bob and Kathleen Strain of North Canton, he said he wants to find the emergency workers who treated him on the race course so he can thank them for saving his life.
He has no memory of them or what happened just after collapsing — an ordeal that included being shocked again at the hospital and being on a ventilator.
Strain, who works as a deputy fiscal officer for Summit County, is a living miracle of sorts. It’s rare that long-distance runners suffer cardiac arrest during a race.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year noted that only 59 out of 10.9 million long-distance runners between January 2000 and May 31, 2010, experienced cardiac arrest.
Of those 59, only 17 survived.
His physician, Dr. Sanjay Gandhi, attributed Strain’s survival to the quick actions of emergency workers at the race.
Unknown to Strain, he had 100 percent blockage in one of his arteries. He now has a stent in that artery.
“It was inevitable,” Strain said. “It was a matter of when, not if.”
He has little damage to the heart muscle and is expected to make a full recovery — and even to run again someday, the doctor said.
Strain, who still has chest pain from the compressions, was expected to be released sometime over the Memorial Day weekend. He is itching to leave the hospital.
“This is the longest I’ve sat around for two years now,” he said, referring to an exercise regimen that helped him lose 60 pounds.
Believe it or not, a 46-year-old Doylestown man collapsed in cardiac arrest at last year’s Akron Marathon and survived.
Strain and Fabian, who also ran the half-marathon, had talked about that incident just before the Cleveland race began.
Fabian had passed Strain while he was walking. She asked how he was doing, but he waved her on, wanting her to complete the race.
So she had no clue what happened to him until well after she finished.
She waited and waited at the finish line — alternating between panic and trying to convince herself everything was OK.
Marathon volunteer and Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Center coordinator Garry Miller helped her find out what happened, which hospital Strain was taken to, drove her to the hospital and even paid for a meal.
At the time, Fabian had no money and no car, and her cellphone had gone dead. Miller stayed with her at the hospital until Strain’s father arrived.
“He’s an angel,” Bob Strain said.
The younger Strain maintained his sense of humor even while he struggled at the hospital.
He and Fabian had seen a T-shirt earlier that read “If I collapse, please stop my Garmin” — a reference to the GPS device that runners use to track distance and time.
At that point, Strain and Fabian were forced to communicate by writing on pieces of paper because he couldn’t talk.
“He wrote to me: ‘Did you stop my Garmin?’ ” Fabian said. “I busted up laughing. In his worst time, he’s there to make me laugh and smile.”
The family also jokingly blamed the cardiac arrest on a planned trip to China.
Bob Strain has always dreamed of visiting China and started learning Chinese. Richard, not wanting his father to travel around the world alone, agreed to go with him.
The trip, after four years of planning, was set up for last year. But before they were to leave, Bob Strain had a heart attack.
The trip was postponed to this week. Then Kathleen Strain got pneumonia, and the travel plans were off. She recovered enough that the trip was back on.
Then the younger Strain collapsed at the marathon.
The tickets are nonrefundable, but the trip can be rescheduled.
The Strains and Fabian, though, aren’t so sure that rescheduling is a good idea.
“We’re not going to China anymore,” Bob Strain said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.