Father’s day should be a time of celebration, love and laughter. But for Phil Sandifur, the father of 2½ year old son and expecting a new little girl, June 19, 2005 wasn’t such a good day. Following a swimming accident, an EKG revealed unusual results, prompting a follow-up stress test and angiogram. The results were not good. At just 34 years old, Sandifur, a triathlete, was diagnosed with coronary heart disease and a blockage that would require immediate five-way bypass surgery.
“I was in total disbelief.” Phil recalls. “I felt great and did not understand how I was able to be so physical, train so hard, and yet need heart surgery!”
Following his operation, Sandifur entered St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, a medically-monitored plan that provides information, support and exercise in a supervised setting. Due to his unique circumstances, Phil received a special one-year medical exemption from Ironman North America.
“I had no idea what I would, or wouldn’t be able to do after the surgery,” he said. “I knew I would be back at square one.”
But Phil had a dream: to compete in an Ironman close. It gave him the motivation to begin cardiac rehabilitation just one month after his surgery.
“Phil was the type of patient who would do whatever you wanted and needed him to do,” recalls Monica Jordon, one of Sandifur’s St. Luke’s physical therapists. “We were almost sad to see him go!”
After 10 weeks at St. Luke’s, Phil transitioned back to general exercise at his local gym - with the assistance of a personal trainer. “He started off with pretty low endurance, but progressed rapidly,” Jordan remembers. “He ran like crazy, and was willing to work as hard as he was told he could.”
And it paid off. After receiving clearance from his Cardiologist, Dr. Boulet, Phil began to train for the 2006 Coeur d’Alene Ironman.
“The extraordinary part is that I am able to train for an Ironman Triathlon within a year of a very successful five-way heart bypass surgery,” Sandifur says. “It is a testament to the high quality of medical service in Spokane.”
“St. Luke’s has a great program that helps you recover faster and the things you learn there can help you for a lifetime,” he continues. “The therapists at St. Luke’s give ‘tough love’ - they push you when you are tired and scared, but never give you more than you can handle. They know what they are doing and I needed that!”
Sandifur says he is physically better and stronger today, despite having a five-way bypass surgery. His lifestyle has changed somewhat – he now really pays attention to what he eats, how he exercises and where his cholesterol levels are – but he doesn’t seem to mind. “I realize now that life is fragile and I value it. I value the little things now more than ever and I have a cleaner view of life.”
Sandifur urges others to see a doctor for regular check-ups, even if you are healthy and active. “Really the Ironman Triathlon saved my life. If I didn’t have that swimming accident I wouldn’t have realized how sick I was.”
And yes, Phil successfully completed the 2006 Coeur d’Alene Ironman with a final time of 16:42:10!