A Runner’s Heart Saves Boston-Bound Man

  • By Duncan Larkin
  • Published Apr. 13, 2011
  • Updated Apr. 13, 2011 at 7:34 AM UTC
Bernie Zelitch is thankful to be back on the roads again. Photo: The Boston Globe

Bernie Zelitch is thankful to be back on the roads again. Photo: The Boston Globe

Doctors say he beat the odds.

Statistically speaking, Bernie Zelitch should be dead. Last March, the marathon enthusiast collapsed at a Boston commuter rail station. He went into cardiac arrest. When the EMTs arrived they had to break his rib in order to revive him.

Thanks to his strong heart, Zelitch survived the heart attack. And thanks to doctors Massachusetts General Hospital, he is now back to running. Next Monday, Zelitch will run his fourth Boston Marathon.

“Only 8 percent survive this,’’ he said. “And of the 8 percent, almost all of them have some brain damage. I like to say I’m just as stupid as before, but no more stupid. It’s incredible.’’

When Zelitch was in the hospital, he was kept comatose for four days while doctors performed a quadruple bypass on his heart. Then 58 years old, he feared he would never run again.

But those fears were never realized when his doctors cleared him to run and just seven months after his heart attack, Zelitch was back at the starting line of the Chicago Marathon.

“By the time I approached the Chicago Marathon, I was probably the only one of 35,000 runners who had negotiated a running pace with a cardiologist and my family,” he recalled.  ”And probably the only one who had family who had the authority at Mile 17 to pull me from the race if I didn’t look good, which they didn’t do. I looked good. I felt really strong.’’

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Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin is the news editor at and a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released last July.

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