For Rodney Ostlund, walking for heart health is personal

Ken Ostlund was a 45-year-old shoe salesman when he died of a heart attack on the fifth hole of the Fircrest Golf Club in 1978.

“They said he was dead before he hit a blade of grass,” said one of his three sons, Rodney Ostlund. “I was 13 years old and had to bury my dad. I still miss him. He died too soon.”

And all his life, Russell knew that the heart disease that took his father ran in the family.

“I knew I wanted to live longer than he did, and I actually figured out what day that would happen,” Rodney said. “The day my son Nick turned 13, that was the day I’d lived longer than my father.”

A few months later, at the Rollin’ 253 Skate and Community Center – about a drive and a 7-iron from the golf course where his father died – Rodney Ostlund felt a pain in his left arm pit.

He was 45 years old.

“I was with my daughter, Leah, and we stopped skating and went home,” Rodney said. “Of course, I wondered – ‘Could it be a heart attack?’ I knew the answer was yes, but I wasn’t in real pain, just discomfort.

“My wife Stacy had the medical book out, asking me questions, and we made an appointment to see the doctor the next day. I didn’t tell him I thought I was having a heart attack, just that I wanted to see him as soon as possible.”

The next day, the University Place couple visited Rodney’s doctor. A few tests later, the doctor asked them a question.

“He looked at Stacy and said, ‘Do you want to get him to the hospital right now or should I call an ambulance?’ ” Rodney said.

Four days later, Rodney had a triple bypass. That was 3½ years ago.

“I had to bury my dad, and I’m so glad my son didn’t have to go through that,” Rodney said.

One of the reasons he didn’t was Rodney’s exercise regime, often walking the Chambers Bay trail. A financial adviser, he stayed in shape. He still does.

On Saturday, Rodney and his whole family will take part in the annual South Sound Heart and Stroke Walk. The American Heart Association has made him a poster boy of sorts. When he walks Saturday, he’ll wear a red baseball cap given to all survivors of a heart attack or stroke.

Rodney takes the walk, and its message of raised awareness, personally.

“If my story can impact one person, then talking about this is worth it,” Rodney said. “I don’t feel obligated, but I do feel a responsibility to others.

“If I can get one person to the emergency room sooner, if I can save one 13-year-old kid from having to put his dad in a box, that’s worth it.”

The message, Rodney said, is simple.

“Get an EKG test, start exercising and stop procrastinating,” Rodney said. “We’re all going to do something someday. Well, someday is now.”

When Rodney walks Saturday, it will be in memory of his father — and for all those people who helped him survive his own “event.”

“I drew strength from my family and friends, from doctors and nurses,” he said.

For instance?

“A month before my event, Leah wanted to paint my toenails for Christmas and I let her,” Rodney said. “When I woke up from my surgery, I look down and there are my toes sticking out from the blanket — and my toes are red-green, red-green.

“I’m sure some people thought I must be pretty weird, but I liked looking at them, thinking of my daughter, my son, my wife ... that helped get me through it.”

The days, weeks, months and years have piled up since Rodney Ostlund thought he was following his father. It feels a little like bonus time to him.

“My son is 16, my daughter turns 14 (Tuesday) and my wife and I just had our 22nd wedding anniversary,” Rodney said. “You go through something like this, you realize how much you love your family, how many friends you have, how good life is.

“It changes everything about your life. I only wish my dad had had the same modern medicine I did. I hope my story can help someone avoid what I went through.”