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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New to Spokane, man with chest pains bypassed two hospitals before reaching north side ER

Kelly is now doing well and was recognized at a Gonzaga University home basketball game earlier this season for his recovery as a MultiCare Pulse Heart Institute “Heart of the Zags” survivor.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Moving to Spokane in 2019, Chris Kelly didn’t know many of the area’s landmarks or roads.

He now chides himself that he should have. This past March, Kelly, 53, felt sudden chest pains that proved to be a heart attack.

He has since recovered after a stent procedure, but on that day he drove himself right past the city’s two largest hospitals and toward the ER closer to his home on Spokane’s north side.

His mother-in-law, Laura Richert, retired as a nurse at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital after 26 years, but Kelly still went elsewhere. Kelly is now quick to urge people to do what he should have done: seek a ride to emergency care and look up where to go.

“First, I’d tell them not to drive themselves to the hospital, because of all the wasted time,” Kelly said. “I’ve heard this from four of my doctors that I could have passed out on the road. I wasn’t in the clear. … Second, stop being a man. Look for directions.

“I had my phone and I called my wife, but I didn’t look for directions to the hospital.”

A lifelong athlete, Kelly felt chest tightness March 29 after climbing a flight of stairs to paint at a South Hill apartment complex. But the sensation eased when he coughed. The evening before, Kelly noticed some chest pain after pushing a van stuck on a curb, but he brushed it off as feeling similar to when he had lifted heavy weights.

With the second episode, Kelly knew he should get checked out. He went to MultiCare Deaconess North Emergency Center, at 8202 N. Division. By that night, he was transferred to Deaconess Hospital.

That’s where cardiologist Dr. Joel Galloway discovered that a heart artery was blocked at 75%, Kelly said.

“I had passed all these tests, and Dr. Galloway just refused to let me go,” he said. “He found the blockage in my heart.”

Kelly had an earlier heart problem in 2011 while living in San Diego, but he said after a week of testing and staying at a medical center, doctors there couldn’t find the cause.

Specialists at Deaconess did the stent procedure on March 30 and released him the next day. Kelly has since traveled the road to Deaconess Hospital multiple times, for reasons he describes as life-changing.

He was referred to MultiCare’s Pulse Heart Institute Cardiac Rehabilitation program, also located at the hospital. Kelly and other heart patients went about twice or more weekly to learn in 36 sessions about medications, diet, exercise.

“People think I’m joking, but my life actually started after my heart attack, because my life has changed so much,” he said.

He now follows a mostly Mediterranean diet, and he said the cardiac rehabilitation taught him how to read food labels correctly. At the time of the heart attack, he weighed 217 pounds. He’s at 184 pounds now.

“My weight is under control. My eyesight is better. I don’t sweat as much when I do things, and my blood pressure is down. I’ve gotten off blood pressure medicines. I’m just a lot more healthy since the heart attack with the help and care I received here. It gave me a new lease on life, a way to succeed, just in small daily habits.”

Kelly said he was previously on six medications for high blood pressure and is now down to two. At home, he regularly uses an app and blood-pressure cuff to check.

Blood pressure is reported as two numbers: systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the force of blood in the arteries when the heart beats; diastolic pressure is the force when the heart is at rest. Healthy blood pressure is considered as below 120 systolic pressure and less than 80 diastolic pressure.

“Before the procedure, I was hovering around 180 over 130,” he said. “But now I’m constantly at 106 over 64.”

He’s made other slight changes.

“I don’t lift as heavy of weights now,” he said. “I don’t hold my breath when I’m lifting weights, that was something I did before. I loved lifting heavy weights, and then I found out the strain that was having on my heart, so I learned to do more repetitions with smaller weights.”

Striving to get more daily steps with walking is another focus, in addition to using Peloton and Aeroski machines.

“I was always at about 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day before, but now I’m at 13,000 steps a day,” he said.

“My wife doesn’t understand how I do it in the house, but I can get 10,000 steps without ever leaving. When I do laundry, I put everything away one at a time. I work less efficiently, and it turns out to be more healthy for me.”

During a break in the Nov. 10 Gonzaga Men’s Basketball home game, he was recognized on the court for his recovery as a MultiCare Pulse Heart Institute “Heart of the Zags” survivor.

Kelly, who works with computers and digital marketing, grew up playing basketball, football and baseball. His dad was in the Air Force, and he grew up mostly in Southern California. He previously worked in telecommunications and was a Qualcomm project manager for about 15 years. Then came what he described as “empty-nest syndrome.”

“I was a single father when my son moved out at 18, went to school,” he said. “I started to travel and met my current wife; she’s from Spokane, and it took me six years to talk her into moving here.”

They decided to spend more time with her mom, who was here and now lives with them in Mead. He and his wife, Solia Kelly, have a son, 10, and daughter, 7.

A few months after his procedure in 2019, Kelly returned to coaching his son’s 4U football team. At first, he wasn’t sure he could coach. But as his health quickly improved, his mindset also changed.

“I don’t feel I have any restrictions, and I feel like I can be more involved, more healthy,” he said. “I’m a better person now. I went back to the football field in July. It was awesome to be back out there.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 26, 2024, to correct the year of Kelly’s emergency trip.