Many people chill out on the sofa when they get home from work. Mickey Coleman, however, laces up his sneakers. The 43-year-old is a former Gaelic football player, a sport known for its rough-and-tumble mashup of soccer and rugby. Mickey and his team, Tyrone, won the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)’s All-Ireland Championship twice in 2003 and 2005.
So, when he took a long evening run around his Pearl River neighborhood in March of last year, it was just a normal night for him—until it wasn’t. Shortly after returning to his house, he suddenly felt severe pain in his heart. “It was somersaulting like it was in spasm,” he recalls. “I knew right away I was dying.”
Somehow, he dragged himself upstairs and alerted his wife, who called 911. “Two police officers came into my house. I said, ‘Can someone help me?’ and then I remember falling,” he shares. He had flatlined.
Fortunately, EMS had just arrived. They needed to revive Mickey twice before loading him into an ambulance. On the way to Montefiore Nyack Hospital, his heart needed to be shocked a third time.
Although the situation was grave, world-class care was standing by in the emergency room. Dr. Mark Greenberg, an interventional cardiologist, analyzed an electrocardiogram that the EMS team had forwarded. It showed Mickey had a blockage in the artery that supplies blood to the largest area of the heart muscle. “The artery was entirely blocked. It’s the most serious of heart attacks,” shares Dr. Greenberg.
The condition is so serious, in fact, it’s informally known as the “Widowmaker” due to the likelihood of survival (12–15 percent), explains Dr. Duane Bryan, the chief medical director of nuclear cardiology and co-director of the cardiac CT angiography department at Montefiore Nyack. Mickey needed several more shocks from the automated external defibrillator (AED) before he was stable enough to be treated, first with an angioplasty to restore blood flow, and then with a stent to prop up the artery permanently.
Three days later, Mickey woke up from a medically-induced coma on a ventilator. Twelve days later, after undergoing a second angioplasty for two other partially blocked arteries and recovering from pneumonia he’d developed while on the ventilator, he went home.
Yet his recovery was far from over. “Mickey had severely reduced heart function, because a significant portion of his heart had been damaged by the blockage,” explains Dr. David Southren, division director of cardiology at Montefiore Nyack. “The minute a blockage occurs, you start to lose heart muscle.” He was impressed by Mickey’s resilience, however: “When he woke up and his breathing tube was removed, he was very positive from the beginning. He’s an incredibly motivated individual,” he notes.
That fighting spirit would come in handy for the next step in Mickey’s journey: Exercise sessions at Montefiore’s Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center, which opened in the hospital in 2020. The outpatient facility helps enable individuals who struggle with heart disease, have had a heart attack, or are recovering from cardiac surgery to resume a healthy, active lifestyle.
The program is an enormous help to patients, explains Dr. Jared Corriel, director of echocardiography, co-director of cardiac CT, and the center’s director. “There is great clinical evidence supporting cardiopulmonary rehab. After a heart attack, a stent, bypass surgery, or many other conditions, a patient’s survival rate is better with cardiac rehabilitation.”
Several weeks after Mickey returned home, he began visiting the center and working with exercise physiologists to customize a program based on his needs. The wealth of resources ensures superior care. “We’re helping to increase the functional capacity of our patients’ bodies as well as their exercise capacity, and also teaching them what exercises will help in terms of conditioning their heart,” says Dr. Corriel. “In addition, we’re introducing improvements to their diet, and educating them about their medications. It’s a full-body, holistic approach to improve a person’s cardiac care.”
Mickey worked out at the center three times a week for three months under careful supervision. “I started out with short walks on a treadmill. It was exhausting,” he says. But he quickly rallied: “By three weeks, I was running three miles and rowing three kilometers on a rowing machine,” he says. He also performed exercises to strengthen his upper body.
Mickey revamped his diet on his own and is now a vegan. He has also taken steps to reduce his stress. “One of the doctors told me stress can bring on stress hormones, which can lead to bad health and heart attacks,” he explains. Although his responsibilities as the owner of a drywall company in Manhattan can weigh on him, “I started doing yoga and meditation,” he shares.
Despite Mickey being relatively young and extremely active, his family has history of heart disease—which can affect even those in incredible shape. “There are risk factors that we consider controllable—including weight and diet—and then there are things that are uncontrollable, like your genetics and your family history,” says Dr. Bryan. For those who know heart disease runs in their family, Dr. Bryan says following a healthy diet, staying active, and having regular physicals, are extremely important.
Dr. Southren, who sees Mickey for regular check-ups, is proud of the stellar care he received. “Montefiore Nyack Hospital has a state-of-the-art catheterization laboratory, specialists in advanced heart failure, and a new cardiac rehabilitation program,” he says. Mickey, who’s grateful to still be here for his wife and two young children, agrees that he couldn’t have asked for more. “The doctors were amazing,” he says. “They saved me. I can’t thank them enough.”
Having been given a second chance against all odds, he plans to work hard to preserve his newfound health. “There’s an old quote,” says Mickey. “Every man has two lives. They start to live their second when they realize they only have one.”