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Health scare became motivation to help others

Thu., Sept. 12, 2013

Julie Pannell owner of Fleet Feet Sport Spokane poses for a photo on Sept. 6, at the store at 1303 N. Washington St. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Julie Pannell owner of Fleet Feet Sport Spokane poses for a photo on Sept. 6, at the store at 1303 N. Washington St. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Pannell opened Fleet Feet Sports Spokane and is sponsoring walk/run

What was supposed to be an ordinary practice swim for Julie Pannell changed her life.

Pannell was training for a triathlon in November 2010. She was getting out of a pool with a friend.

“Suddenly it felt like I had the wind knocked out of me,” Pannell said. “I couldn’t catch my breath, and there was this pressure on my chest.” Paramedics were called, yet before they arrived it became clear that Pannell was having a heart attack. She was 37.

“My friend knew the signs, and she knew what was going on,” Pannell said. “I’m not sure exactly what would have happened without my friend there.”

On Saturday Pannell and her business, Fleet Feet Sports Spokane, is one of the sponsors of this year’s Heart and Stroke Walk and 5K Run, which is organized by the American Heart Association’s Spokane Division.

Many people believe heart attacks happen to unfit people who lead sedentary lifestyles, smoke and eat high-fat diets. Pannell did none of those things. She’d completed her first marathon just one month before the heart attack and she felt like she was in great shape.

“A heart attack was never anything I thought about,” Pannell said, sitting in the lunchroom at Fleet Feet, which she co-owns with her husband, Wade Pannell.

It turned out Pannell had one artery that was 100 percent blocked and another that was 90 percent blocked. As doctors examined and treated her – Pannell now has two stents in her arteries – they discovered that she has Factor V Leiden, a blood clotting disorder that may lead to abnormal blood clots.

“I had no idea. It’s not something you just go in and get checked for,” Pannell said.

Pannell had what’s often called a “widow maker” – a heart attack that strikes out of the blue. She stayed in the hospital for a couple of days then returned home to her family.

That’s when the gravity of what happened set in.

“The whole scenario makes you question what’s important in your life,” Pannell said. “I’m the type of person who wants to take a difficult circumstance in my life and turn it into something good.”

She got involved with the American Heart Association and then decided to open Fleet Feet Sports Spokane. The store on the corner of Washington Street and Sharp Avenue celebrated its first anniversary Aug. 1.

“I wanted to get involved in helping other people do better and stay healthy,” Pannell said.

Aside from running attire and shoes, Fleet Feet also offers training programs for runners of all levels and abilities.

Pannell is back to being as active as she was before her heart attack. She’s become a vegetarian, and she’s given up caffeine.

“I didn’t give up coffee,” she said, laughing, “I just get decaf now. That, and being vegetarian, is two things I can control.”

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