Open-Heart Surgery Patient Tackles 35th Consecutive Boston Marathon

Northwestern Medicine
Cardiology April 21, 2014
Mark Buciak at the age of 53 runs marathonOn April 21, Mark Buciak, 53, of Chicago, runs his 35th consecutive Boston Marathon, an amazing feat that is even more so considering Buciak underwent open-heart surgery eight years ago.

Buciak’s team of Northwestern Medicine physicians include Dr. Patrick McCarthy, director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, who replaced Buciak’s leaky aortic heart valve with a cow valve; Dr. Pablo Denes, Buciak’s cardiologist; and Dr. Nadim Khoury, internal medicine, who ordered the initial physical with an EKG that discovered Buciak’s heart defect.

Buciak runs the Road to Boston marathon training group and is also a Northwestern Memorial Hospital volunteer with the hospital’s Mended Hearts Chicago group, supporting heart patients through a number of different programs.

He is often on the run — literally — but he took some time out to answer questions about his running career, his heart surgery and his thoughts on running the 118th Boston Marathon one year after the tragic bombing at the race.

Tell us about your first Boston Marathon after your 2006 heart surgery. Were you nervous?

I was nervous. I was probably fearful at that point. I had been running since 1974 when I joined the cross country team at Gordon Tech High School. I ran a lot of races and a lot of miles but never under such conditions. I had a fear of the unknown. What got me through it was not only my faith but also my strategic plan. If it could start the race, great. If I could continue and finish, that was all the better. I adjusted my goals and objectives strategically.

This year's race is the first one since the bombings. What are you feeling going into the race?

Physically, I’m fine. I routinely get checked, twice a year, with my doctors at Northwestern. One time a year I have an EKG with Dr. Nadim Khoury and then I have a check-up with my cardiologist, Dr. Pablo Denes. It is and has been and will be a highly emotionally charged year because of last year's unfortunate occurrences. There's going to be emotions and you’re going to have to know how you deal with them when it comes time to focus and run. I guess that’s easier said then done. We run and we run because we're patriots, we're Americans and there wasn't even half a second of deliberation of considering not going back. This race is special more so than ever. My Road to Boston training group runners and I are going to make sure good and goodness wins by being out there running and supporting the people of Boston.

What does your running career demonstrate to heart patients?

I think several things. First, in part I’m able to do this because of Dr. McCarthy and his world-class team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here today. Second, Dr. McCarthy and his team were able to correct my genetic defect because I picked up the phone to have my annual physical even though I wasn't feeling any pain. If I didn't go to my annual physical and Dr. Khoury didn't give me the EKG we never would have discovered the heart problem. It shows no matter who you are, a marathon runner or someone who doesn't exercise, if you don't go for annual physical what you don't know what can kill you.