Smith’s heart attack proved value of wrestling

Updated: September 25, 2017

By Sandy Stevens, WIN Magazine columnist

(The following column appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine (V23I11). Click here to subscribe to WIN Magazine or call 888-305-0606.)

Trim and active, Pat Smith does a lot right: no smoking, doing drugs or drinking, and — as college wrestling’s first four-time NCAA champ from Oklahoma State and current head coach of the Arkansas Wrestling Academy — he definitely exercises.

It took a near-fatal heart attack on July 4 to show him what he wasn’t doing.

That day, Pat and his wife Chelsee and children Gus, 9, Boone Patrick, 7, and Justine, 4, made the 45-minute drive from their home in Little Rock to Hot Springs. They would swim, water ski and enjoy the evening’s festivities at the Lake Hamilton home of Greg and Lee Hatcher and their family.

“Early that evening,” Pat recalled, “I was slaloming for probably 15 to 30 minutes, which takes a lot of energy. I felt totally fine.”

Then everyone returned to the lake house by boat. “Five minutes after I’d been skiing, I got off the dock and immediately felt pain,” Pat said. “I felt like I’d been kicked in the chest by a mule.

“I walked to the back yard by the pool and by that time, I felt like there was an elephant on my chest.”

Pat laid down poolside and after a minute passed, he was spotted by those inside.  Chelsee immediately went to her husband, who told her, “Something bad is happening. We need to call an ambulance.”

Because the Hatcher lake home sits so far back on the backside of the lake, the women put Pat in the car to meet the ambulance halfway. Lee, the daughter of a doctor, pulled into a gas station on Hot Springs’ main street, ran inside and grabbed two packets of BC aspirin powder.

“She told me to put my tongue on the roof of my mouth and poured the powder, which is a blood thinner, under my tongue,” Pat said.

Pat told the medics, “I know what the problem is. I pulled a muscle in my chest while water skiing.”

Thirty seconds later, hooked up to monitors, he heard, “No, you’re having a full-blown heart attack.”

What he had was a 100 percent blockage in the “widow-maker” artery, with a two percent survival rate.

“Basically, I had the ‘big one,’” Pat said. “About 10 warning signs take place two to three weeks leading up to a heart attack. I did not have any of them.

“Three things happened that night that saved me: I have a strong heart, the BC powder and quick-thinking friends who didn’t doubt what’s happening.”

The Smith family also came to the rescue. After his mom, dad and sisters arrived, Pat’s sons went to Stillwater, Okla., for two weeks to play with their cousins.

“They’re strong kids,” he said. “I’m very proud of how they handled it.”

John Smith, Pat’s brother and current Oklahoma State head wrestling coach, his son Joe and fellow OSU wrestler Gary Wayne Harding ran Pat’s wrestling camp, which began three days after his heart attack.

“I’m blessed to have family members to step in,” Pat said.

Pat was able, however, to personally surprise the Arkansas national team at the end of their Fargo camp, an emotional send-off for the wrestlers and coaches.

Pat now realizes, “I do not drink or smoke, but there were things I didn’t do. I knew I had high cholesterol and not enough (appropriate) exercise.

“If I can help someone else, I want to be brutally honest,” he stressed. “I’ve heard so many times, even from cardiologists, ‘You don’t look like a person to have a heart attack,’ but I’ve learned that sometimes your insides don’t match your outsides.

“For me and my disease — coronary artery disease — I need to do two things each day: eat a healthy diet and exercise to get my heart rate up 30 minutes a day. Lifting or going to yoga is not (that kind of) exercising. I need exercise that makes your heart rate go up and get the blood flowing fast out of the arteries and lowers the cholesterol.”

Before the attack, Pat was on a Western-style diet. “Now I’m on a plant-based diet,” he said. “If I don’t put cholesterol in my body, it won’t be there.

“I’m not trying to promote a vegan diet. I realize this type of living won’t help everybody, but these two (changes) will help me keep this from happening again.”

“God wants me to run a finer line than most people,” he said. “It’s an event that happened in my life that will make me a better person and help to touch others in my life, and I’m excited about it.

“Go to the doctor and get a checkup for your cholesterol and blood pressure. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.”

He will have a stent in his artery the rest of his life, and he takes seven pills a day. “My goal, with diet and exercise, is to someday narrow that to two,” he said

This Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame also knows that having been a wrestler has made a difference in his present and future.

“I feel like my positive attitude just got taken down and I’m coming back up,” Pat said. “I’m so lucky to have been a wrestler. I feel my attitude — to never give up — comes out in life. Those are the life skills that wrestling brings to you that are priceless.”  n