Shannon Cole: Opening her heart to running

All was going well. Near the end of 2008, Shannon Cole was your average young adult heading to the doctor over a cold. She had realized after 3 weeks of not feeling well (and some loving insisting from her husband, Darin) that she needed to go. Cole says that she had fever and a bad cough and wondered at the time even if it could be as simple as bad allergies. It all seemed relatively standard.

During her visit, however, Cole was whisked over to Dr. Prabhakar of Passavant Internal Medicine to have a sonogram. “From there, it just spiraled,” expressed Cole. She is told that she has an Atrial Septal Defect (ASR), or as Shannon explained it, the abnormal finding of a murmur. The American Heart Association defines ASR as, “a ‘hole’ in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart,” detailing further that, “this defect allows oxygen-rich blood to leak into the oxygen-poor blood chambers in the heart.”

As Cole stated, the whole ordeal spiraled indeed. She turned 30 on March 1, 2009, and was scheduled for her open-heart surgery just 30 days later. Physicians later informed Cole that the ASR was a birth defect and she had been living with it her whole life. Generally, the ‘hole’ will close on its own within several weeks or months after birth, but Cole was one of the small percentage of the population whose hole did not naturally heal. During the operation, Cole was on bypass and Cardiologist Dr. Matos at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield located the hole that needed patching; it was equivalent to the size of a half-dollar. Almost 7 hours her family and husband waited. “I’m so glad I wasn’t the one that had to wait in the waiting room. I’m glad I had to be the patient, to be honest with you,” divulged Cole. When Cole returned home to recover, she had great support. Greenfield Baptist Church brought meals to her family at their house for a month, while her friends and entire family outpoured loved and well wishes.

“It doesn’t seem possible,” says Cole that March 31st of this week celebrates the five-year anniversary of her operation. After her surgery, Cole felt that she “needed to do more because you realize how short your life could be or how suddenly everything can change.” So, she turned to running. Just 8 weeks after having such an invasive surgery, Cole was back to work and had starting building up her endurance on a treadmill in their home. Then she began to run. And run and run. She has participated in 5k and 10k races locally. She has raced in the “Springfield Fight for Air Climb” at the Hilton (that’s 32 flights of stairs) for the past 2 years under her team name, “Stronger Than Yesterday.” And that is exactly how Cole feels – stronger than yesterday. Finding the heart defect was an eye opener that led Cole to running and discovering a new strength. Cole’s first ½ marathon is April 26th in Champaign and having recently turned 35, her goal is appropriately to complete 35 runs this year alone. Amazingly, she is not just participating in these races – she is winning, and has a hanger full of medals to prove it. “When your feet get tired, run with your heart,” she quotes often.

After having annual checks with echocardiograms, she was recently told “no restrictions” from Dr. Matos. It’s an extraordinary story. Without seeing her scar, one would never imagine what she’s survived. She lives a normal life in Greenfield with her husband, two step children named Kailya and Kobe, and two Labradors. Now, she runs at least 3 miles a day. She’s racing and motivating others, she says.  Cole is celebrating life, now just five years after having open-heart surgery – after what she thought was a mere cold.

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About the author

Kyla Hurt is a capable boondoggler trained in the arts; she’s also an accomplished event coordinator with experience from museum fundraising to art festivals. She enjoys puppies, sunshine, and good radishes – and wit. Wit is good, too.

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