Bohn back after heart attack
Jason Bohn returns to competition for the first time since February
April 12, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Editor's Note: Bohn returns to The Honda Classic in 2017, having overcome his health issues.
Jason Bohn never worried about suffering a heart attack. If he ever did experience one, he figured it would arrive in a Fred Sanford moment.
You remember the old Redd Foxx TV character, don't you? His trademark move when things went awry was to grab his chest, stumble around and feign cardiac arrest. "This is the big one, Elizabeth," Foxx would yell, looking towards the heavens and referencing the character's late wife. "I'm coming to join ya, honey."
Turns out, Bohn's heart attack was hardly that dramatic. He had just finished the second round of The Honda Classic in late February, grinding out pars through the daunting Bear Trap to make the cut on the number.
Occasionally during the first two rounds at PGA National, Bohn had experienced some tightness in his chest, like someone was giving him a bear hug. It was sometimes hard to catch his breath as he walked to his ball, too.
Bohn had just gotten over a case of the flu that had morphed into bronchitis. He'd spent the previous week laid low in the basement of his home in the Atlanta suburbs, his wife and two kids wearing surgical masks to visit him so as not to spread the germs.
So the fatigue didn't exactly come out of left field.
"The only thing I noticed that was kind of unique to me is sometimes we'll hit shots and we'll carry the golf club to the next point before we hand it back to our caddie, and I felt like the club felt a little bit heavier in my left hand, but nothing significant," Bohn said. "... I really just thought I hadn't gotten over the flu or bronchitis."
When he got to the locker room, Bohn asked to see a doctor. He thought he needed a Z-pack to help him get through the weekend. Paramedics came, hooked the 42-year-old up to an EKG and told him he needed to go to the hospital.
But Bohn, who was staying at the upscale resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, essentially said thanks, but no thanks. He wanted to shower so he told the EMTs he would drive himself to the ER later.
"They said, no, we're going to put you on a stretcher and we're going to take you to the hospital, and that's when I thought, uh oh, something is not right," Bohn recalled. "... It was a little bit like, whoa, what's happening? I'm thinking to myself, all I wanted was a Z-pack, and now I'm in the back of this ambulance going to the emergency room."
When he got to the hospital, doctors told Bohn he'd either had a heart attack or was suffering from a pulmonary embolism. The latter made the most sense to him, particularly given his recent bout with bronchitis.
"I thought, oh, it's got to be my lungs," Bohn recalled. "I'll be fine. They'll give me something."
And they did -- nitroglycerin, which is used to relax the blood vessels so the heart does not need to work as hard or require as much oxygen. The relief was almost immediate.
"I felt so good, I was like, OK, I'll be able to go practice this afternoon, and I'll finish (the tournament) this weekend," Bohn said.
Not so fast, the doctors told him. The CAT scan revealed Bohn's lungs were clear. There were no blood clots. He had, however, suffered a pretty serious heart attack.
Bohn's next stop was the catheterization laboratory where doctors used diagnostic imaging equipment to visualize the arteries and chambers of the heart. The test showed his left anterior descending artery -- the one commonly called "the widowmaker" -- was 99 percent blocked.
"(The doctors) told me that I was extremely lucky, that had I gone down on the golf course, like had I passed out, they didn't believe that I had enough time for anyone to get to me and relieve the blockage and I probably wouldn't have made it," Bohn said.
"When the physician was telling me all this, I'm just thinking to myself, at no point did I feel bad enough that I thought I might be able to literally die."
Two things had worked in Bohn's favor that day.
First of all, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center is known for its cardiology department. In the four or five hours Bohn was in the ER having tests, he counted 13 cardiac arrests coming through the ER
"It was like a factory," Bohn said. "You'd just hear the announcements, get Room 5 ready, cardiac arrest coming, and we just kept counting. ... It was amazing. So once they told me I had a heart attack, I felt really comfortable where I was because I knew that these people did this quite often, and it was not like something was new to them."
The second positive? He made the cut.
"Had I missed (it), there is absolutely no question in my mind that I would have never sought medical attention," Bohn said. "I would have just gone in my room, showered, packed my bags and tried to catch the next flight home."
The doctors told Bohn that could have been fatal. And then he would have had to have that conversation with the man upstairs.
"Had I not made it, I would have been standing in the gates of heaven and arguing with God," a smiling Bohn recalls telling his wife. "If you're going to take me, take me at like Augusta or take me at St. Andrews.
"I would have just been standing there just screaming at him. I can tell you that."
Saturday morning -- after he surprisingly, and with medical approval, feasted on takeout from Chipotle the previous night -- the doctors used a stent to open up Bohn's blocked LAD artery in a procedure called coronary angioplasty. A small incision was made in an artery in his groin and a catheter, with a deflated balloon on its tip, inserted.
The stent, which Bohn described as looking like it was made of a fine chicken wire and resembling the spring in a pen, surrounded the deflated balloon. Using special x-ray movies, doctors maneuvered the catheter to the site of the blockage.
There the balloon was inflated, which widens the artery and restores blood flow, as well as pushes the stent into position against the wall. When the stent was set, the balloon was deflated and the catheter removed.
Bohn was awake during the entire process, sedated by morphine and able to watch on a gigantic television screen.
"You don't feel pains but you feel pressures," Bohn said. "When he was putting the cath in and found the area that was blocked, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure up in my chest, and then the instant that the stent went in, it was all relieved.
"He was talking to me saying, ‘Can you feel this?’ and I'm like, yeah, I feel it's difficult to breathe, I feel a lot of pressure, and he's like, we're right there. This process only took maybe 45 minutes to an hour, so it's amazing to me how quick it is."
Bohn ended up spending several days in the Intensive Care Unit and five total in the hospital. The time in ICU was precautionary since his ejection fraction -- which measures how much blood is being pumped with each contraction of the left ventricle -- was very low.
"If it's too low, your heart can go into an arrhythmia that it can make you just pass out, faint, and then if somebody doesn't shock you back into rhythm then you could die," Bohn said.
So doctors decided to fit Bohn with what they called a life vest -- he compared it to a "gigantic man's bra" -- that would need to be worn around the clock, except for when he took a shower. The vest wraps around the chest and has electrical panels that can deliver shocks like a defibrillator.
As it turned out, Bohn's ejection fraction increased from 20 to over 35 percent while he was in the hospital (and is now over 50) so he didn't have to wear the vest. Still, it was a sobering experience.
"It was very scary to me when they were explaining all this," Bohn said. "But they were great about trying to say, this is normal this is basically like the biggest life insurance policy you can have, and it's strapped to you, and it will save you instantly."
Jason Bohn at home
Tewana Bohn was attending a book fair back home in Acworth, Georgia, when her husband texted her after that second round in Palm Beach and told her he was heading to the hospital.
They think I’m okay but just want to be sure. Don’t worry, I’m fine, this is just a precaution.
Jason conveniently left out the part about the ambulance ride.
The couple's oldest son, Connor, called his dad, as he always does, after his round. The two talked briefly, and then Bohn asked to speak to his wife and told her the full extent of what was happening.
Tewana, of course, wanted to rush down to south Florida but Bohn finally persuaded her to stay home. His parents immediately drove down from Lady Lake, Florida, which is in the center of the state, and her folks happened to be in Naples, which is on the west coast of the state, purchasing a condo so they could come see him, as well.
Plus, the couple had Connor and his little brother Cameron to consider. Bohn kept thinking back to the back surgeries he had in 2008 when he was bedridden for 32 days.
"I could tell how uncomfortable they felt in that environment and for young kids, just seeing tubes and things going in and out, it's difficult," Bohn said. "It's difficult for adults to see, but I think it's really hard for young kids to kind of comprehend that, especially when it's their parents."
So Tewana called her next-door neighbor, got the boys ready and they all went out to dinner. Obviously her mind was elsewhere and she needed to collect her thoughts. The neighbor suggested the boys stay at her house to watch a basketball game.
Now alone in her own home, Tewana gave in to the emotion. The tears. The uncertainty. The fear. By the time the kids came home for bed, she had composed herself and was able to be strong again.
"It was kind of hard being around them all the time like that, but at the same time, they needed that constant reassurance, and I felt like, gosh, if they see me upset or crying, I was just thinking about how would I feel if I saw my mom doing that, so I just held it together, just acted like it was going to be fine," Tewana said.
"And in all honesty, we didn't think it was as serious as it was until after it was solved."
Bohn was "blown away" by how many people stopped by to see him at the hospital. Some were turned away when he was in ICU but the emails and texts spoke volumes.
"I knew that I have a great group of friends and a great family on the PGA TOUR, but I mean, really, like it showed me how big of a family it was," Bohn said. "Still when I think about it, I get pretty emotional and touched."
Jonathan Byrd, who was in town to play in the Seminole pro-am, brought two caps from the exclusive club for Bohn's sons. Cameron Tringale brought a magazine on the top 25 cigars.
"And I'm just thinking to myself, OK, I've just had a heart attack," Bohn said with a smile. "I don't think I'm going to be smoking a cigar for a long time, but I really appreciate it. We chuckled and laughed about it, and he's like, well, you can still read about it. You don't have to smoke them."
Carl Pettersson, who, along with George McNeill, Tom Gillis and Tim Herron are Bohn's regular dinner companions when their families aren't on the road, called while Bohn was in ICU. The nurse was inserting a third IV into Bohn's left arm so he put the phone on speaker and laid it on his chest.
Pettersson told him: I’m sorry you have to go through this, but I just want you to know – not only has this affected you, it’s affected all of the rest of our lives. Now when I'm getting all these appetizers, we're going to end up going to all these salad bar places. And no more fried cheese. You know I love the fried cheese.
The nurse didn't know what to think. Bohn, on the other hand, was cracking up.
"I've got tears coming down my eyes, and when I hang up the phone, she goes, I am so sorry about that," Bohn recalled. "I go, that might be one of my closest friends I've ever had. She just loves this. She's like, that guy was just grilling you for having a heart attack. I said, you know, this is what I've got to put up with."
While many of Bohn's friends on TOUR just wanted to keep his spirits up, two others, in particular, reached out with more practical advice. One was Erik Compton, the ultimate survivor who has undergone not one but two heart transplants, and the other, Notah Begay, also had a heart attack at 42.
"Erik was just really, really supportive and like was just telling me kind of what to expect, and I'm thinking, this guy is probably smarter than most cardiologists," Bohn said. "And Notah Begay ... reached out to me and just said, look, don't be too big of a man. Ask for help from us who have been through it, ask us questions, we're more than happy to help."
Bohn looks to keep getting better
Five days after he was admitted, Bohn left the hospital and headed home. He spent the first week or so laying on his couch. In retrospect, he thinks he was afraid to move around too much for fear it might trigger another heart attack.
"I thought he was going to get depressed because he would just lay there and watch movies," said Tewana, who eventually put her husband to work cleaning closets and drawers.
"If this is any sign of retirement, I don't know that I'm ready," Bohn said with a grin.
Bohn's spirits picked up once he started cardiac rehab at an Atlanta area hospital. He goes three times a week and is by far the youngest person there. The therapists hook Bohn up to an EKG machine and put him through his paces on a variety of machines from elliptical to treadmills to stationary bikes.
"They just watch my heart rate, and then we push my heart rate, and they watch how long it takes to recover," said Bohn, who has seen his heart get stronger and stronger with every visit.
The last 15 minutes of each rehab session is reserved for classes dealing with diet, depression and the inner workings of the body's most vital organ. When a patient has completed 36 sessions successfully, he graduates. No cap and gown but he does get a special T-shirt and diploma.
The one thing Bohn learned in rehab is that everyone's story is different. Some have nine or ten stents. Some experienced acute chest pain before the heart attack. Others felt their left arms go numb, another classic warning sign.
And then there was Bohn, who just thought he was tired and out of breath.
"That was what was really mindboggling to me is that you don't know, you don't think, and you just don't expect it, I guess is the whole thing," he said.
"To be honest, had I been 75, 80, and had these symptoms, I think it would have been a completely different story in my brain, the way I would think about it. So I try to tell all my friends ... if you just feel anything that's unique, just go get it checked out."
Among the many cards and letters Bohn received was one from Nancy Brown, who is the CEO of the American Heart Association. She's a golf fan and she wanted to encourage the two-time PGA TOUR champ to keep talking about his experience, emphasizing prevention, of course, but also the need to be aware of your body's cues.
"It's really important because people just need to know that the symptoms might not seem that serious but are very serious," Bohn said. "That will be my goal in everything that I try to do from here on out is to express to people that just to get it checked out. Just do it. I'll be honest, I didn't. I didn't. Maybe I could have prevented it, maybe not."
Already Bohn's message is resonating with his friends and family.
"Guys will come up to him and say, 'Hey, I got a physical because (what happened to) you scared me,'" Tewana said.
The upside of Bohn's ordeal is that he got to spend two months at home with his family, watching the boys play baseball and taking his wife out to lunch instead of heading to the range to hit balls.
"We're going to take the time to really enjoy the things I really kind of took for granted, that like I maybe had that opportunity but didn't utilize that time as well," Bohn said. "... Obviously I want to perform well and do my job well, but I think when your whole balance of your whole life is good, then golf is really good, too."
Of course, Bohn isn't sure how good his golf will be this week as he returns to the TOUR at the RBC Heritage. Not that it really matters in the big scheme of things.
"I just look forward to getting back and seeing all my friends and thanking them for all their good wishes and prayers," said the man who describes himself as something of a social butterfly on the range. "It'll be fun."
Bohn chose the tournament at Harbour Town because it's a shorter course, relatively flat and an easy walk from green to tee. Like all Pete Dye layouts, it's a position course and Bohn has never been one to overpower a course.
Not surprisingly, Bohn expects his game to be rusty, a B-minus at best, probably. Once the inflammation from the angioplasty subsided, he started hitting balls with his coach. But he didn't play his first nine holes until March 29, which is two weeks prior to the first round of the RBC Heritage.
"Everybody says you should play every event to win, and I do believe that, but in my scenario, my first event back, regardless, I'll be smiling the whole time, whether I'm winning or whether I'm losing or whether I'm missing the cut," Bohn said.
"It doesn't matter because I'm back playing golf again."
Jason Bohn expresses his thanks for support following heart attack