Published on March 05, 2018

After a heart attack, what? How about a race!

Eight months after his heart attack, Mike Desisto could have walked to the finish line of his first 5K, but he chose to run the distance.

“If you run, you finish faster,” said Desisto, 64, who lives in Cotuit.

His positive attitude and good support system are two important tools in recovering from a cardiac event, according to Jason Rose, exercise physiologist with the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Cape Cod Hospital.

“Mike was committed to making whatever changes were necessary to be healthy after his heart attack, and he surprised me by running that first race after cardiac rehab. I had never seen him run in class. I’m even more excited to see that he ran another race,” Rose said.

By last fall, Desisto had raced twice since his heart attack, and prior to that had not raced since 1996.

“I worked hard to come back,” he said.

He joined colleagues from the Cape Cod Hospital (CCH) cardiac rehabilitation program for the Healthy Parks, Healthy People 5K Run/Walk for Heart Health in September 2017. A month later, he ran the Miles for Meghan 5K, finishing fifth in his age group with a 10:15 minutes-per-mile pace.

Desisto uses the word ‘lucky’ a lot as he describes the things that have helped him the most after his heart attack: His wife, the cardiac rehabilitation program and his fellow patients.

When he talks about his wife, Verna, he says he has been especially fortunate.

“I’ve been married 25 years and don’t want to disappoint my wife, so I’m following what they taught us in cardiac rehab. She has put as much effort into our relationship as I have—more, really. Verna has been a real inspiration through the tough times. I am lucky.”

Secondly, Desisto credits the cardiac rehabilitation staff and medical director of the program, Elissa Thompson, MD, who he said are welcoming and make you feel at home, which makes it easy to learn what you need to do to stay healthy.

“Jason, Julie Drake (CCH physical therapy director) and the rest of the staff taught me how to exercise right so that it’s really beneficial for my health. I learned how to make better food choices, control my cholesterol and blood sugar, how to meditate to bring my blood pressure down, and that there are great people who know how to give you your life back,” he said.

Desisto also worked closely with cardiovascular nurse Debbie Hoothay, RN.

Inspiration From Many Places

“The way I was treated at the cardiac rehab unit just keeps inspiring me to do the right things as I go forward with my life after the heart attack,” he said.

Last, but not least, Desisto credits the camaraderie he enjoyed with other cardiac rehabilitation participants.

“I enjoyed rehab with the guys. We got to know each other’s interests. I was inspired by guys in their 70s and 80s coming back from heart attacks, exercising and doing great.

“An 88-year-old in the program really inspires me. He made such an impression on me because he was a little frail, but there was no quit in him. I figure if this guy can do it, I can do it and at a higher level because I’m younger. He is a very positive, inspiring person.”

Desisto is friendly, quick to smile and equally inspiring. Saltwater fly fishing and hockey are among his favorite hobbies, and he has returned to both.

The hockey team he plays on went undefeated in four games to win the Cape Cod Cup Tournament in September 2017.

His advice to other heart attack survivors?

“Take time out to fish. Get by the water and let go of stress. You can’t be afraid after a heart attack. You have to get the help you need, stay active and enjoy the things that are important to you,” Desisto said.