Funny Car veteran Paul Lee had two crews last weekend at the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas. He has the one he usually works with for his McLeod Dodge Charger and a film crew from WebMD.com, which is spotlighting the Orange, Calif., businessman in a documentary.
“They found out that I was a heart-attack survivor and not just a heart attack survivor. They saw my story online somewhere and contacted NHRA, and [National Dragster editor] Phil Burgess gave them my contact information. They contacted me and asked me if I’d be interested in being in a documentary about heart-attack survival and life after a heart attack,” Lee said.
“A lot of people apparently get depressed after a heart attack and they feel like their life is over. I never felt that way after my heart attack. All I wanted to do is get back in good condition and live my life,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t think about racing. I mean, I was lucky to be alive. I had a massive heart attack. I didn’t have just a little heart attack. I had what’s called a Widowmaker heart attack. That’s one that less than 10 percent of people survive. And I happened to survive it. Racing was not even anywhere in my mind. I was just lucky to be here, live the rest of my life.
“After about a year and a half of hard rehab, my doctor, a good cardiologist I have, he said he noticed after one of the stress tests, ‘You know, your heart is actually getting better, because I don’t see it increase this much that often.” He was measuring the injection fraction, and when I first had my heart attack, it was under 30. It was like 28, which is a high risk for another heart attack. But through the rehab it got up to like 35, and a healthy heart is like 70 percent. So I’ll never be 100 percent, but what he said after some tests and some things that we did was ‘You might be well enough to do this [drag racing] again.’ So I said, ‘Well, if I can do it, I’m going to do it.’”
Lee said a “heart rehab” consists of “exercise, lots of exercise . . . a lot of cardiovascular exercise and life cycle, lifting light weights. Just being active and eating healthy is another part of it – which I’ve always done, anyway, so I didn’t have any problem with that part. I just had to lay off the salt. I was big on salt. It doesn’t help when you have a heart attack. Salt retains water, and then that’s bad for your heart. So just eating healthy foods, exercising, staying healthy, which I have always done anyway. I just happen to have hereditary heart disease.”
His heart attack came without warning.
“I had no idea. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel bad before my heart attack. I just came home from the PRI show. The next day I had a heart attack, back in 2016. I had a good time at the show and didn’t think about anything. I was there, exercising in my exercise room in my house, and I was on my Life Cycle – and I work out hard – and I came downstairs and I felt pains in my chest. I thought it maybe was just heartburn. But within 30 seconds, I knew it was more than heartburn, because the pain just got worse and worse. And within about a minute to a minute and a half, I was basically on the ground with chest pain. I mean, literally what I found out was I had complete heart failure.”
A friend happened to be at his house and called 9-1-1. He said, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” So he wasn’t alone, and he said, “The other lucky part was EMT center is right across the street from where I live, and they were in my house in four minutes and saved my life. So I was so lucky. They had me in the hospital and emergency room getting stents in my heart within 30 minutes. So my heart was stopped for about half an hour. My body was shutting down. I lost vision. All of my organs were shutting down. So I’m very lucky.”
Lee said he was conscious through the ordeal: “Even though I couldn’t see, I could hear everything that was going on around me. My brain was completely 100 percent, but my body was shutting down. I could hear the doctors talking to me. I could hear the EMTs talking to me, even though I couldn’t respond to them. I could hear them talking. Apparently that’s what happens when you die. Your organs are shutting down, but your brain is like the last thing that shuts down, really.”
Publish date for the documentary has not been announced.
NHRA Pro Stock owner-driver Alan Prusiensky, who’s recovering from a violent, back-breaking qualifying crash Oct. 11 at Charlotte, isn’t sure if he’ll be able to meet his latest goal. He wants to race in November at Pomona, Calif. – #DragRacingNews #nhra https://t.co/5kXtS8Iujl pic.twitter.com/JL01ZyrYWx
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 23, 2019