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Patient and surgeon run IMT Des Moines Half Marathon

Five months after a major heart surgery, avid runner Dennis Howard and his surgeon Dr. Komanapalli finish the DSM Half Marathon.


Dennis Howard went for a run on May 19.

His goal that day was to complete a few sprints on the bridge and then enjoy a casual run around Gray’s Lake. But just minutes into the sprints, Howard felt so lightheaded he had to stop. He sat on the ground exhausted, trying to catch his breath.

He’d been suffering from general lightheadedness over the last year and noticed it had been getting worse. Left undiagnosed from a previous cardiologist (name not mentioned), Howard thought he was in the clear to pursue his hobby. But on the ground and in obvious distress, a passerby stopped to assist and called an ambulance —which admitted him to UnityPoint Methodist in Downtown Des Moines. After multiple tests, it was determined surgery was a must.

On May 25, Dr. Christopher Komanapalli, a heart surgeon with The Iowa Clinic, completed the coronary artery bypass grafting. The procedure is used to treat coronary artery disease (i.e., a narrowing of the coronary arteries — the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle).

The operation was successful and Howard was relieved. But Komanapalli’s three-month rest and rehabilitation timeline bummed him out. Howard wanted to run again and would often comment to his new cardiologist, Dr. Craig Stark, that he was eager to train and couldn’t wait to get back at it.

After Dr. Komanapalli gave him the clear around Labor Day, Howard was quick to put on his running shoes. He walked a 10k race in Booneville, Iowa that same week and then started training again.

Over the last month and a half, Howard eased his way back in with the intention of ramping up to run the Des Moines Half Marathon.

Walk two min. Run four. Then more aggressive. Walk one min. Run one min.

He joined a running group where he randomly ran into Dr. Komanapalli, also training for the half marathon on October 17. They chatted more and planned to meet up at the race and share stories from the day. And that they did!

Just months post op from a serious heart surgery, Howard completed the Des Moines Half Marathon, running in the same pack as his heart surgeon.

He and Dr. Komanapalli, along with nurses Katie McIntire, RN and Mel Henry, RN met him post-race for a celebratory picture and high five. Mel was onsite at UnityPoint when Howard was admitted downtown on May 19.

For Dr. Komanapalli, there is nothing more rewarding than taking sick patients who are at imminent risk of dying and making them better. Seeing previous patients later out in the community, thriving and doing what they love, makes it all that much better.

Howard is signed up for three more races across Central Iowa before year-end, including two 5ks and an 8k cross country race. He reports his air flow and speed have improved but jokes that he wishes he had the stamina he had 10 years ago.

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