COOS BAY — Roy Lans is hard to miss in the gymnasium at the Boys & Girls Club of Southwestern Oregon.
He’s in the center of everything, with young gymnasts sitting, patiently waiting for their turn to vault or spin and jump on the balance beam or whatever. But he was taking it easy last weekend at the Lighthouse Classic, the regular fall meet of Gymnastics Plus. Various dads helped to move heavy equipment while the normally super active Lans directed traffic.
It’s a new thing for Lans, doing more watching than working, but it’s a good thing.
“The last six months, I’m just extremely fortunate to have the people around me that I do have,” Lans said. “There’s no words for that ... I mean, how do you describe that? It’s hard. It’s just about emotional in that respect. I just got a new lease on life, a different perspective.”
- - -
Lans didn’t feel good on that fateful day several months ago. Heck, he barely felt good enough to be at work, trolling around North Bend Medical Center as a physical therapist helping patients work through injuries or surgeries.
His chest was giving him problems. His breathing was labored. His pace was slow, almost a crawl. Then he had an idea.
“I work in the medical field,” Lans said. “I said, ‘I know I’m gonna have a heart attack here. I can feel it coming. Even though I’ve never had one before. I turned myself in. Put myself in the emergency room and said, ‘I’m gonna have a heart attack.”
Lans had a massive heart attack, a widowmaker as its known in the industry.
“Most people don’t survive that kind of heart attack,” Lans said. “Like 10 percent.”
Lans went in for surgery and had an angioplasty, a minor relatively non-invasive procedure to widen clogged arteries. It stabilized him, but only just.
He rode a helicopter at noon to River Bend Hospital in Eugene, where he coded and forced a second life flight six hours later to Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, where his conditioned worsened.
At that point, Lans was put on the heart donor list with a grim prognosis. A new heart. A lifetime of anti-rejection drugs with a body constantly fighting what it thinks is a foreign object, but is actually keeping him alive.
But with the unconscious Lans in the room, something happened. The cardiologist noticed Lans’ heart starting to “wake up.” Lans has no personal recollection of these events, but recounts them in the first person anyway.
“It was unusual,” he said.
The initial plan was to put Lans on an external heart pump, relieving the crucial muscle from the heavy lifting of pumping gallons of blood around the estimated 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a human body.
So they waited a day instead, not wanting to act drastically when simple patience will help the patient. That next day, Lans underwent surgery. But nothing came out. In fact, all that went in was a single stent.
Lans had massive heart attack, almost needed a new heart, and lived to tell the story.
“The cardiac people in this town here are great,” Lans said. “That Prefontaine (Cardiovascular) Center — Dr. (Wojciech) Nowak, he was the doctor who saved my life.”
- - -
While Lans was laid up in Portland, gymnasts came to visit their ailing coach. He was put on dietary and exertion restrictions, and friends and family and more kept themselves strict to it, only bringing him approved foods and not letting him overwork his now problematic heart.
“The gym has been wonderful,” Lans said.
But early on in Lans’ stay at OHSU, he grew bored and got the go-ahead to pop down to the cafeteria and get some food and exercise on the way.
Lans, though, didn’t hold himself to the strict diet order of him. He got a taco salad, loaded it up with dressing and meat like he used to.
“Oh yeah, I got in big trouble for that,” Lans said, laughing. “All the salt in it. I felt — the next day I felt terrible. They chewed on me. That’s when I decided when I would conform. It took that. I said, ‘If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this right.”
Enter Myndee Sickles-Brown, a former gymnast under Lans’ tutelage and now an assistant coach working mostly with the balance beam and vault and floor exercise.
Sickles-Brown became Lans’ drill sergeant, keeping an eye on his work and holding him to the strict lifting restrictions.
“He’s been a big part of my life,” she said. “Obviously I’ve been here 15 years, he’s been a big part of my life. Without him, we’d run, but it wouldn’t be the same.”
- - -
In years without major health scares, the Lighthouse Classic in the fall is a rather large meet, with up to 200 competitors bustling around the cozy confines of the Boys and Girls Club gym.
But with a major health scare, this season’s fall meet was considerably smaller. Lans does all the scheduling, getting to association meetings, talking to coaches of other programs and filling out fields.
Laid up in the hospital isn’t a place to do that. But Lans has a good working relationship with Umpqua Valley Gymnastics out of Roseburg, so UVG brought some level 3 gymnasts, essentially beginners competing in what are known as “compulsories,” with scores not counting toward on-site medals but instead as qualifying numbers for later tournaments.
“This (was) our first meet of the season,” Lans said. “We have a bunch of new ones at different levels.”
The smaller size, while out of the ordinary, wasn’t unwelcome for the still-recovering Lans.
During the meet, Lans watched as Gymnastics Plus took its turn on the uneven bars. He knew something about each athlete.
"She learned this the other day and watch her nail it," he sad of one girl. "She decided she liked it only recently and has started to take it really seriously and trust me, she’s so much better now."
It took Lans three weeks to walk into the Boys and Girls Club gym after returning from Portland, and his presence was missed. His smile, his personality, his kindness and support and simple stability were noticeably absent.
The gym wasn’t the same, Sickes-Brown said. Enthusiasm, something normally ubiquitous, was lacking.
“There’s a hole in your heart,” Sickles-Brown said. “There’s a hole in your life.”
But once Lans walked back in, slowly, of course, things returned to normal when the rightful head returned to his place, even if he couldn’t help move the balance beam.
“He’s the glue and he’s the happy guy,” Sickles-Brown said. “He’s a constant as much as the gym is a constant. He just has a way with the kids. He’s got a good personality. He just makes the kids feel happy.”
Editor's note: Results of the Lighthouse Classic will be included in Saturday's edition of The World.