No Symptoms. No Risk Factors. 90% Heart Blockage?

64 years old today, my husband is exceptionally healthy.  Until now. We just discovered he has 90% artery blockage in one main artery and 30-40% in several other arteries.  No other health issues, literally on ZERO medications.  Happy birthday.  How is this possible???

The morale to this story is if you want to go cruising, GO.  Don’t piddle around “fixing up the boat” or waiting until you can afford to buy a bigger, better boat.  Go now, enjoy what you have and enjoy being healthy.  We’re not done being healthy or cruising, this is just a detour so David can get tuned-up!

David is my hero. He keeps me safe while cruising, enjoys snorkeling,  free diving and spearfishing, is a much better than average slalom skier, a trophy winning one design Y Flyer sailboat racer, a wonderful husband and companion, not to mention a fun buddy while hiking and adventuring.    In addition, he has no risk factors for any heart problems:  non-smoker his entire life, daily exercise,  no high blood pressure, a very active lifestyle, not a bit overweight, no family history of heart disease and no symptoms … until we hiked up rocks on a fairly steep incline in Acadia National Park.  At a max exertion level, he was out of breath, but not bad enough that it stopped him from exploring off the trail.  At the time, I thought it was odd but it was only a fleet instant, and then we were on with our rock climbing enjoying nature and the beautiful vistas from the top of the peaks on Mt Desert Island, Maine.

David Rock Trail Hiking in Acadia National Park, Mt Desert Island, Maine

David Rock Trail Hiking in Acadia National Park, Mt Desert Island, Maine

Before we returned from that 3 week trip, he called the doctor for his regular physical.  Then a failed stress test lead to a nuclear stress test… each after 14 minutes at an 18 percent incline at over 6 mph or a 10 minute mile.  Not fast for young runners, but we’re not exactly young anymore.  To put it in perspective, mountain road grades are generally no more that 7% and even the infamous San Francisco trolley hills are only 9%.  He was running at 6 mph at an EIGHTEEN PERCENT grade.  Hell, I’d have had a heart attack and fallen off the dang treadmill! But the same tiny blip on the nuclear stress test lead to an EKG in a cardiologists office a week later.   Because of his “symptoms” — breathless after rock climbing in Acadia National Park, Maine and the crazy stress test, the doc insisted on doing a heart catheterization the very next morning.  We left the office reeling … what?  This is the same guy that walks 3+ miles with me every day.  We slalom ski as often as the conditions are beckoning since we live on a lake, we bike, we kayak, we sail … what is this doc thinking anyway???   No sleep that night.  It’s impossible that anything could be wrong.

David, Climbing Down Down is Easy

David, Climbing Down, Down is Easy

But it is.  After the heart cath, the doc called me in and showed me video and photos.  David has a 90% blockage in a big artery on the front of the left side of his heart and 30-40% blockage elsewhere. Because the 90% is in a precarious position, the doc didn’t want to put a stent in — we’re in a small town and the hospital doesn’t have cardiac surgery, so if anything were to go wrong, there’s no backup.

How is it that perfectly healthy with no symptoms and no risk factors all of a sudden has a 90% artery blockage? All David’s physical blood test numbers were “normal”.  His chloresterol and blood pressure were up slightly vs last year, but nothing to be a big concern.  Nothing to signify he might be having fairly serious heart trouble. If he hadn’t insisted that something wasn’t right when he was rock climbing in Maine, the primary care physician would never have ordered a stress test.  And if the guy that read the initial stress test hadn’t been REALLY on the ball and noticed the slightest blip, he wouldn’t have ordered the nuclear stress test … and the cardiologist said that if the only input he had were the two stress tests and the EKG, he would never have wanted to do the heart cath.  BUT, since David was saying there was something wrong, his chest hurt but only while climbing those rocks, we now are faced with a dilemma.   No stent, yet.  Doc wants to try medications first.  But that’s a problem because we’re CRUISERS!  We leave in our boat for months at a time.  We’ve never been tied to having to get heart meds every 30 days.  We’ve been so lucky.



So if you’re thinking of going cruising, GO! GO! GO NOW!  Life is precious and can change on a dime.  If you wait until you’re “retired” you may not get the chance.

We’ve known many of our cruiser friends that were forced to quit cruising in remote areas because of health issues and even a couple friends that passed away – not on the boat, while they were back in the US.  Both were cancer.  We listened to the VHF radio chatter as another cruising acquaintance had a heart attack while cruising the Bay Islands and they were able to get him relatively quickly to a mainland Honduras hospital where after a lengthy time, he recovered enough to return to cruising.

We’re getting a 2nd opinion, a known 90% heart artery blockage and being offshore, out of range of a normal “ambulance” service is a troubling thought.   But we’ll get it sorted out and keep on cruising.  The next few weeks will tell whether we’ll be able to explore “off the grid” like we’ve enjoyed the prior six years.

We are so lucky.  Despite the disbelief factor, if David hadn’t been diligent about insisting he had shortness of breath and even chest pain while he was on that nuclear stress test treadmill, the doc would not have ordered the heart cath and we wouldn’t know anything.  It’s very possible, David might have become another statistic.  Now all we have to do is manage the situation.  Thanks to God!



  1. A major point here is that cruisers are used to taking responsibility for their health . . . and know when something is wrong and don’t just “go along” when they think there’s more going on than what the initial tests show. An important lesson for everyone.

    And yes, to those thinking of cruising, go when you can. We wish we’d left when we first thought of it!


  2. Can I give you my wife’s phone number so you can explain this to her? I’ve raced sailboats for 15+ yrs, did live-aboard for 3yrs, been trying to get out there and go cruising for 14yrs, got stuck after getting married to a non-sailor in the middle of trying to go (who wants to go by themselves right?) although she really likes it. So now I’m trying to get all of the repairs finished and get away from the dock. I know she doesn’t understand the go now perspective, she sometimes thinks she’s in her 30’s and we’re in our 50’s now. She’s not been cruising, I have for a short time. I can’t think of a worse scenario than if I were to get sick and not be able to go. It wouldn’t bother her, but it would devastate me. So, when it comes time in a couple of months to take off for a shake down cruise and she tells me she can’t go because of one reason or another, I’m just going to have to go and hope for the best. I’m not going to wait any more, I’m not going to tell her she can’t go, just so I can keep my plans, and if it causes a divorce, then maybe that’s what’s meant to be. I waited all my life for the right partner, and I thought I had found her, but if she doesn’t go and doesn’t want to go, damm, I’m gonna miss her.
    s/v Renasci

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