Cardiac triumph

They wanted to cross the finish line together. Hand in hand. Arms raised to the sky in victory.

John Dunn and Michelle MacIntosh competed in a half marathon in Ottawa the last weekend in May.

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — They wanted to cross the finish line together. Hand in hand. Arms raised to the sky in victory.

No matter what happened along the 21-km route, they would end it together. As a team. Stronger for the experience.

If someone had to walk, they would walk it together. If someone couldn’t walk, which was pretty unlikely, one would carry the other.

That was their plan.

So, on a sunny Saturday the last weekend in May, 46-year-old John Dunn and 39-year-old Michelle MacIntosh, partners in running and in life, ran the Ottawa half-marathon.

Not to win, mind you. Not even to achieve a personal best time.

The St. Catharines couple ran, instead, to conquer fears. To take a risk. And to show everyone that they were choosing to live life with passion.

For Dunn, the run represented a journey to closure. An end to recovery. A beginning to being healthy once again.

The night before the race, MacIntosh took out a black marker and wrote these words on the back of Dunn’s green T-shirt: Nov. 1st/08

DEAD May 24th/09 Ottawa 1/2

“I wanted to honour his journey,” says MacIntosh.

“I’m so proud of John.”

Six months ago Dunn was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

It was Halloween night 2008. He played hockey, came home, watched some TV in bed to find out the latest scores, then drifted off to sleep. That’s all he remembers. Around 3:15 a.m., for reasons doctors can’t explain, Dunn’s heart stopped beating. Cardiac arrest.

Dunn was healthy. Fit. He’d been a volunteer firefighter. He and MacIntosh led running clinics. Every Tuesday and Thursday, 10 km. Longer runs on the weekend. And beginner groups too.

MacIntosh woke up. She called 911, then started cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

Paramedics arrived. His heart was in ventricular fibrillation, shaking like a bowl of Jell-O. They shocked him with a defibrillator. His heart began to beat on its own again.

A defibrillator is now implanted in his chest. If it ever stops beating again, the device will shock his heart.

Just before Christmas, still healing from the surgery, Dunn and MacIntosh started running together again.

So when they decided to run the half-marathon, they knew they would run it together. Side by side. No matter what.

And for over 20 km, everything went as planned.

They had just 250 metres to go.

Then something happened.

Dunn turned to MacIntosh. He was barely audible above the cheering crowd.

“I’m done,” he says.

But she knows him better. “Oh no, you’re not,” she says.

MacIntosh grabs his hand. “I felt her energy,” says Dunn.

They cross the finish line, two hours and 22 minutes after their race began. Together. Hand in hand. Arms raised to the sky in victory. As planned.

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