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Heart attacks fail to keep tennis players down

David Stiller, age 71, a practicing divorce attorney, and Russ Reinagel, age 51, the Muny Tennis Tournament director, are both playing tennis at least three times a week after suffering heart attacks. Reinagel's heart attack occurred in 2007 at the age of 49. Stiller had his first heart attack 11 years ago at age 60, and his second one this past May. They both were in excellent shape when they had their attacks and seemingly had no history of heart problems in their family.

Stiller, who was All High in swimming at Bennett High School and All-American at Cornell in swimming in the 1950s, was the son of the late Judge Norman Stiller who lived to 94 and never really had any heart problems.
"Before I had the heart attack I was putting up a fence in my back yard and started feeling pain in my rib section. I assumed that I had bruised my ribs while putting up the fence." Stiller said.

Shortly after, when Stiller was in Florida, he noticed that he was getting short of breath and was getting more tired than usual. When he got back to Buffalo he went to the hospital where it was determined that the so-called bruised rib was actually a sign that he was having heart problems. While in the hospital he suffered a collapsed lung which turned out to be very serious.

"The doctors knew that they had to move fast and fortunately they did," Stiller said. It was found that he needed a valve replacement. A titanium valve was inserted and he also had bypass surgery to open up three arteries. Stiller was in the hospital for almost three weeks.

After doing rehab at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital he was back playing tennis in two months, both singles and doubles, mountain climbing and working out three days a week at Gold's Gym.

For the next 11 years Stiller stayed on this schedule and appeared in great shape. About three months ago while playing tennis doubles at the Village Glen, Stiller literally fell straight forward and hit his head. He had suffered his second heart attack and his heart had actually stopped. Fortunately, a doctor was at the club and got Stiller's heart beating again.
Stiller was rushed to the hospital and it was determined that he had suffered an electrical imbalance in his heart. A pacemaker and defibrillator were inserted.

"When I woke up from being semi-conscious for nine days, unbelievably, I didn't remember anything." Stiller said. "I found out that I was very fortunate to be alive."

Once Stiller got out of the hospital, he again went to rehab. After three months he is back playing tennis and working out as much as possible.

"As I said earlier, I am very lucky," Stiller said. He stressed that being physically active, keeping your weight at its proper level, and eating the right food is a must in combating heart disease. Also, having a heart specialist who is extremely knowledgeable with athletes is especially important.

"I was lucky that I had Dr. Robert Gianfagna, an excellent heart specialist and a skilled tennis player in his own right as my doctor," Stiller said. "He prescribed a program that greatly enhanced my rehabilitation and fitness regimen and I feel great."

"David is really the poster child for what you should do to ward off heart attacks," Dr. Gianfagna said. "He works out and follows a strict diet. The pacemaker and defibrillator will be a great help in preventing future heart problems for David."

Reinagel is a 4.5 tennis player who was recently part of a senior team that won the Regional USTA 4.5 Doubles Championships in Syracuse. Having watched Reinagel play tennis many times, it is hard to believe that he had any health problems, especially with the heart.

"When I was diagnosed with heart problems I was in total shock, even though I hadn't been feeling well," Reinagel said. "I have always been in good physical shape, my weight is good, I am a vegetarian, except for eating chicken, and I never really had any health problems."

Reinagel relates that he will never forget the day when he first started experiencing some heart problems. He was eating lunch and getting ready to make out the draws for the Muny tennis championships which he has done for the past few years.

"As I took a bite out of a chicken sandwich I felt a sharp stitch in the middle of my heart," Reinagel said. "When I got home I lay down and then I started vomiting. I felt horrible and instinctively knew that something was wrong. My wife called 911 and they took me straight to the hospital."

When Reinagel arrived at the hospital he was immediately put on a gurney. He was semiconscious but couldn't go to sleep. He had an angiogram, angioplasty, and a stent put in. Unfortunately, Reinagel still felt terrible. It was determined that he was still suffering some internal bleeding. Another stent was put in and he began to feel much better. Like Stiller, Reinagel stresses that he was fortunate in having an outstanding heart specialist, Dr. Dennis Chugh, overseeing his operation and rehab.

Once Reinagel was out of the hospital he rested and walked a lot. He then started to do light biking. Like Stiller, he started playing tennis two months later and gradually approached his former level of play. Today, he has no restrictions and doesn't have to cut back on anything.

"Presently, I am playing doubles at least four times a week and feel great," Reinagel said. "The more physical activity you can do, the better you will feel. However, you have to be smart. If you feel tired, take a break."

Reinagel also stressed that everyone, whether they play tennis or not, should eat a healthy diet, have their cholesterol checked, and take a stress test. Most important, if there is a history of heart disease in your family, be sure to have regular checkups by a heart specialist even if you are feeling well.

e-mail: thegreatgar@verizon.net

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