Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer A Man With Heart

By Dennis Freeland

JUNE 22, 1998:  It won’t be the first marathon he’s run, but it might be the most fulfilling. On Sunday Jim Townsend, 43, will compete in the first Suzuki Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego just three-and-a-half months after undergoing double-bypass heart surgery.

Townsend, president of Memphis-based Sibley Services, a heating, air-conditioning, and plumbing company, has been running seriously for about two-and-a-half years. He’s a vegetarian and he’s in great shape, but because of a history of heart problems in his family, he has had regular heart exams for the past several years.

“I didn’t have a heart attack. I didn’t have any heart pains or anything like that,” Townsend says. “I was fortunate that they discovered the problem when they did, because the blockage was in just about the worst place and in the worst way possible. It was what they call the ‘widow maker,’ so once they located it they didn’t let me out of the hospital.”

During the surgery, veins were taking from Townsend’s leg and placed in his heart. Townsend says many patients often find the leg pain the worst part of recovery. Nonetheless, he worked on a treadmill or stationary bike every day until he received permission to run again.

“The people at the [Baptist] rehab center were great as far as giving me individual attention, separating me out and realizing that because I’m a runner, I could do more,” Townsend says. “They had me hooked up to heart machines and monitors to keep a close eye on how I was doing and gave me a custom program to follow.”

Before the surgery, Townsend had hoped to run the San Diego marathon in 3:45, which would have been a personal best. Now, he’s just happy to be competing. He will travel to San Diego as part of the Leukemia Society of America’s Team in Training. Fifteen Memphians have raised $3,000 each for the Leukemia Society. The San Diego Race will raise an astounding $50 million.

A member of the Ronald McDonald House board of directors, Townsend did not wait to be assigned a patient. He will be running for his friend Maria Cardenas, a 13-year-old leukemia patient from Honduras. They met at the Ronald McDonald House last June.

“Maria actually came up to the hospital and visited me before my surgery,” Townsend says. “It was a pretty humbling experience.”

Townsend is still raising money for the event. Anyone interested in contributing can send checks made payable to The Leukemia Society, c/o Sibley Services, 1892 Lynnbrook Place, Memphis, TN 38116.

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