LAKE PLACID - Having a health issue with your heart is serious. Having a heart issue while on a trail in the Adirondacks can be a matter of life and death. Fortunately for Village Trustee, and local Hotel owner, Art Devlin, he is alive to tell the tale of a nearly disastrous day.
His day started like any other for someone who appreciates the outdoors. It was Monday, July 15 and Devlin set out for Keene to climb Dial, Nippletop, Colvin and Blake with his good friend and hiking partner, Jeff Gronauer. By 8:30 a.m., they were hiking up the hill to the Ausable Club ready for a day of climbing.
Devlin has a condition in which his heart goes out of rhythm - something he has lived with, but never was a problem for him while hiking. Devlin told the News that he started running about three years ago, then thought it would be good to start climbing mountains. His goal is to become an Adirondack 46er (climbing the 46 peaks over 4,000 ft). On July 15, he was at hike number 27 and hoping to add four more to his total.
Photo courtesy of Art Devlin
Art Devlin, left, and his hiking partner Jeff Gronauer on a trail in the AuSable Lakes area last year.
The account of what happened on July 15 is best told by Devlin himself.
Lake Placid News: So how did the day start?
Art Devlin: It was a rare day for this year as there was no rain in the forecast, low humidity and temperatures in the 80s. Because of the forecast for warm weather I brought along seven 20 ounce bottles of water. The trail from the Ausable Club via Bears Den to Colvin to Blake starts out with a steep climb and never gives up. The view from both mountains is well worth the effort and among the top five of the 31 "46ers" that I have climbed. At this point I had gone through three of my water bottles and was thinking I had packed just the right amount. My only disappointment of the day was after six pictures my camera battery went dead and shut down before I had the chance to take even one picture from the top of Dial. After a quick lunch with a spectacular view, we headed down to Elk pass to start our climb up Clovin. I reached the top of Colvin ahead of Jeff and talked with a lady and her two children. As Jeff has climbed the 46ers multiple times, I asked the lady if she would tell him that I was heading for Blake, and if he wanted to stay put, I would meet up with him on my way back.
LPN: OK, so you were at the summit. What happened as you began your descent and describe your first inklings of trouble?
AD: As I finished the descent off Colvin and was starting up Blake, my vision started to black out and I realized my heart had gone out of rhythm. I have had A-fib for about 12 years and my heart going out of rhythm is not that uncommon, but has never been a problem while climbing. After about 45 minutes I was able to get back in rhythm and now had to decide if I should head out or finish the .5 of a mile left up Blake. Not wanting to come all the way back to finish the half-mile of a viewless peak I ventured on. I met up with Jeff at about 5:30 and we headed down.
LPN: So what happened next?
AD: I was out of water and moving slower then normal. By the time we reached Elk pass, I was starting to feel nauseous and had stomach cramps. Before we reached the road that leads to the Ausable Club, I had had diarrhea and thrown up twice. When I reached the access road my body had had enough and collapsed on a rock.
LPN: Were you aware of being in the woods and what thoughts were going through your mind?
AD: On the way down I was aware of moving slowly but figured we had day light untill about 9 p.m. and that it would just take time to get out. As we neared the Ausable Club access road I only felt tired and thinking only of resting.
LPN: What happened next?
AD: At this time, a hiker was passing and asked if I was OK. Jeff explained the day to him, and he then went for help. Both of my arms and legs were now feeling numb and tingly. I was short of breath and despite the the warm night, I was shaking like a leaf. I was not ruling out the fact that I might be having a heart attack.
LPN: Did that thought bring more fear to you? Things surely must have been racing through your mind.
AD: At this point I did start to get concerned. Things went from just taking longer to get out of the woods to thoughts that I could suffer permanent damage. I was in no position at this point to do anything but rest and depend on Jeff.
LPN: Then what happened?
AD: Soon the Ausable Club sent an angel by the name of Chelsea up in a minivan and she drove us to Jeff's Suburban. We stopped in Keene to get a bottle of Gatorade and a milkshake before heading to the Lake Placid ER. Jeff had the air conditioning on for his side of the Suburban and I had the heat on my seat. I was still cold and shivering. By the time we reached the ER, it was 9:30 p.m. and I was immediately attended to by two nurses, Denise Griffin and Alise Lee who took vitals and an EKG for Roy Parker, the PA. With the lab work and X-rays back, the PA said the tests showed no damage to my heart and started me on the first of two IVs to stabilize me. By 11:30 p.m. I was headed home feeling as refreshed as I had at the start of the day.
LPN: So you must have been so relieved. What were your thoughts then?
AD: While I was waiting to be released from the LP ER I couldn't help but think that if Lake Placid could host the Winter Olympic games twice that saving such a vital service as the Lake Placid ER should be a piece of cake. With the combined talent and commitment to Lake Placid of ADK Health, the Lake Placid Ambulance Squad, the Olympic Regional Development Authority, Town of North Elba, Village of Lake Placid, elected state represenitives, along with the year-round and summer residents of Lake Placid, not saving a vital community service like our ER would be a disgrace to those that made the impossible dream of two winter Olympics happen.
LPN: So, reflecting back in the experience, first, describe how fortunate you feel that it wasn't worse.
AD: I was very lucky there was no permanent damage and that with the treatment from the ER and rest I would be ready to go again.
LPN: Will this impact your goal to be a 46er and what message to you have for others who are live with a heart condition?
AD: The following Sunday Jeff and I hiked Seymour. I used the old saying: "If you fall off the horse the best thing you can do is get back on." My brother-in-law Rick Preston (director of sports medicine/rehab at Adirondack Health), and who has done four Ironman competitions and Kari Fitzsimmons (fitness director at Adirondack Health) gave me great advise that I will use in the future. As for advice to others I think everyone's heart condition is unique and should be discussed with their heart specialist. As for me, I hope to continue climbing and finish all the 46's by July 2014.
LPN: Is there anything else you would like to add?
AD: Special thanks to all that made a potentially disasterous day end so well.