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Published on December 18, 2013

Sports Medicine Fellows Save Man’s Life at Half Marathon

In Brief

  • Barto resident Jack Benning, who collapsed at a half-marathon this past September, survived such a cardiac arrest with emergency treatment from the physicians of the Crozer-Keystone Health System Sports Medicine Fellowship program.
  • Crozer-Keystone sports medicine physicians recommend keeping up with annual check-ups and getting clearance from a sports medicine physician before undertaking a big endurance challenge like a marathon or triathlon.
  • The physicians also recommend paying attention to warning signs, which may include things like: chest pain, palpitations, and struggling for breath (beyond what is normal) during exercise.

Getting healthy and in shape is no doubt on many people’s list of New Year’s resolutions. But have you had your yearly check-up? Are you listening to what your body might be telling you? And if you’re training for a big endurance event like a marathon, have you consulted a sports medicine physician to make sure your body is ready for the challenge?

For 61-year-old Jack Benning of Barto — a longtime runner who collapsed at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon this past September — the risks of not following these safety measures are all too real.

At the end of the 13.1-mile race, Benning suffered a cardiac arrest and his heart went into ventricular fibrillation (a life-threatening condition that causes the heart to quiver ineffectively, rather than pumping blood through the body).

Thankfully, the physicians of the Crozer-Keystone Health System Sports Medicine Fellowship program, who were coordinating medical care at the race, responded quickly. CKHS fellow Keli Donnelly, D.O., and her team were able to resuscitate Benning onsite, restarting his heart and essentially bringing him back to life so that he could go on to receive follow-up medical care.

“I believe it happened this way for a reason,” a grateful Benning said a couple of months into his recovery. Benning noted that during his training, he often ran in the country, where nobody would have been around to help in a medical emergency. If his cardiac event had happened anywhere else, he said, the outcome could have been much different.

In fact, according to the American Heart Association, less than 8 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive.

For organized athletic events, where medical help is closeby, the survival rate is slightly higher, says David Webner, M.D., director of Running Medicine for Crozer-Keystone Health System and co-director of the CKHS Sports Medicine Fellowship Program.

Either way, the statistics put Benning among a very fortunate minority. Today, Benning says his recovery is going well, and he is enjoying a new outlook on life, which he described as “an appreciation for the fact that there are a lot of good people out there in the world.”

With patients like Benning in mind, Webner emphasizes the importance of:

Keeping up with your annual check-ups and getting clearance from a sports medicine physician before undertaking a big endurance challenge like a marathon or triathlon. If you need help finding a doctor, you may visit the website AMSSM.org  (American Medical Society for Sports Medicine). Sports medicine physicians are specially trained to care for athletes and other active individuals and to ensure that people have completed the proper testing before undertaking certain physical challenges.
Paying attention to warning signs, which may include things like: chest pain, palpitations, and struggling for breath (beyond what is normal) during exercise.

“Early in the season, I had a couple of incidents of pain in the middle of my chest, but I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it was indigestion,” Benning said, thinking back on his training for the September half-marathon. “At the time I thought, ‘It can’t be a problem, I do everything right,’” he added, noting that he doesn’t smoke and he eats a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. “It was sort of a warning if I look at it in retrospect.”

Benning recalls that his father had heart disease and he acknowledges today that his heredity puts him at greater risk no matter how healthy his personal choices.

“Don’t assume just because you do all the right things this is not brewing in your system,” Benning says. “Tell your doctor.  See if they can just check you out.”

To schedule an appointment or for more information about the Healthplex Sports Medicine Institute and the Crozer-Keystone Sports Medicine Fellowship Progam, call (610) 328-8830; or visit www.crozerkeystone.org and click on Services, then Sports Medicine.

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