In his new book Open Heart Runner, first-time author Gregory Marchand describes one fateful race when he suffered a cardiac arrest and went 20 minutes without having a pulse. No one expected him to survive, but he did.
EA: Medical struggles and near-death experiences come up a lot in television, movies – how is your experience different?
GM: Well I think my near-death experience was subtler than what is sometimes seen on television and in the movies. I don’t remember walking into a white light and finding the answer to everything. But I did have some experiences that made me understand that there is much more to our existence than the physical reality we see around us. The fact that I was without a pulse for 20 minutes should have left me with at least some sort of brain damage. But notwithstanding the inevitable diminishing of some of my faculties with advancing age, I feel that my brain functions fairly well now. And I got to this point because four trained medical professionals whom I’d never met before decided to perform CPR on this collapsed runner who showed no sign of life for the entire 20 minutes. Then a friend of one of them asked if he could pray while they did the CPR and convinced some other bystanders to do the same thing. Medically, I was running around with severe blockages in three of my arteries that I had no inkling of and could have killed me at any time. But my heart stopped with those doctors and a man willing to pray in public right there.
EA: The race was 14 years ago. Why is the book just coming out now?
GM: I actually started writing while I was in the hospital after my cardiac arrest. When I look at those jottings today, I can barely make out what I was trying to write down since I could hardly manipulate a pen let alone form some coherent thoughts. But I felt compelled to begin writing that early on. I’ve published some magazine articles about the event and have written journals about it off and on for the 14 years. But I wasn’t ready to bring out a book until now. The book has changed quite a bit over the years in its focus and structure, and taking a year off from teaching and counseling this year finally allowed me to shape it into the form that I felt worked best. It’s not easy publishing something that’s as personal as this, so I had a great deal of trepidation in putting my story out into the world. At the same time though, I’ve never felt more compelled to do something in my life than I have with the writing and publishing of this book.
EA: How has that distance changed the book?
GM: I hope the book has a universality to it that goes beyond an event centred on one person. I think the distance has helped give it a scope that will allow it to resonate with a wider audience. The 14-year span has given me more time to search for the meaning behind my recovery. Although the book has a chronological time frame, the year between my collapsing at the race then running it again a year later, the understanding I reached can’t help but be a reflection of the years that followed to a certain extent.
EA: A lot of your writing career has been about your family. How much does the book cover their reaction what happened?
GM: Although my family plays a large part in the narrative of the book, the reflections are mine. I try to respond to their concerns and thoughts, but I purposely didn’t include any actual narrative from them or any writing in the voices of my family. They saw the event much differently than I did. In some ways it was more traumatic for them. For me, it was almost like an intellectual and spiritual curiosity.
EA: Who do you see as being your audience for this book? Do you think runners will connect to it in particular?
GM: I hope that runners can relate to the book. I recently gave a presentation at a running clinic about the value of running. Of course, a motivational speech about running from someone who had a cardiac arrest while running might come across as being a bit disingenuous. But I do believe that running kept me alive and continues to be a major factor in helping me to remain healthy. I find that runners actually understand. I also think that my book can connect with those who have had heart issues. Someone who had heart surgery five years ago and just finished reading the book told me that it really resonated with him because of the similarities in our experiences. I truly believe that most of us are trying to find some sort of meaning in our lives so I hope the exploration that I write about will bring some insight for others who are looking for answers to events in their lives that sometimes seem to be inexplicable.
Sunday, June 24, 7 pm
Moka House on Hillside