Runner who suffered heart attack and nearly died meets woman who helped save him

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An avid runner on the brink of death was saved by another runner with just minutes to spare. On Wednesday, that runner met his lifesaver for the first time since the half-marathon that nearly claimed his life nearly a year and a half ago.

“It was definitely not anything that I had anticipated,” 54-year-old Tom Groninger said. “My body was sending me signals I wasn't listening to, the cramping in a few races prior to this I hadn't experienced before.”

Groninger describes himself as an avid runner and a typically healthy person.

But during the Running with the Cows half-marathon a year ago, he suffered a heart attack.

“Some chest tightness, that was a new feeling for me, so I thought I`ll just walk for a little bit,” Groninger said. “The chest tightness kept getting tighter and tighter. At mile 10, I had a cramp that came on really strong, and it dropped me to the ground, and I just couldn't go on any more.”

That's when Melissa Hart, who Groninger calls an angel, stopped to help.

“When I was running that day, Tom was a couple hundred feet in front of me, and I watched him crumple on the side of the road, and at that point I knew I needed to stop,” Hart said.

Melissa Hart and Tom Groninger

Hart has been running as a pacer in races since 2014.

“I knew that an aid station with medical assistants was less than a mile back, so I just turned around and sprinted back to the aid station,” Hart said.

“When they put the EKG on, they said you`re having a heart attack. We have to go right now,” Groninger said.

Groninger, who never had a heart attack before, had minutes to spare.

“Some plaque had broken loose in my heart and it caused a blood clot in an area they call a widow-maker,” Groninger said. “The cardiologist told my wife in the ER they`d never seen anyone survive with the kind of readings I came in with.”

Tracy Stevens, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, said heart attacks in people who otherwise seem healthy aren't uncommon.

And although we can`t control the genetics we`re given, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

“Basic strategies are eat healthy, stay active, ideal body weight, don`t smoke, limit alcohol, and avoid prolonged sitting. None of those require a doctor`s visit or prescription. They require discipline,” Stevens said.

She said don`t underestimate what you can do as a bystander to save another person`s life.

“Resuscitation is key. Time is muscle,” Stevens said.

“I was very lucky that Melissa came when she did and stopped and gave me help,” Groninger said.

Groninger and Hart are both coming back to run in the Running With The Cows half-marathon this year. It's on May 12 in Bucyrus, just south of Overland Park in Miami County.