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'It's a bump in the road': Byron Center man conquers health and Ironman competitions

Posted at 5:58 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 19:50:13-04

BYRON CENTER, Mich. — A Byron Center man has gone from flatlining to thriving after surviving both a heart attack and a double-lung transplant.

Jim Oldfield has now participated in more marathons, triathlons and Ironman competitions than he can count.

He told FOX 17 it’s all thanks to his family, doctors, and a sizeable dose of old-fashioned grit.

Oldfield calls his small-but-well-equipped home gym his "domain" and is a true testament to his journey that started traumatically in 2003.

He said, “It was 5:35 a.m., because I just put out my last cigarette, just put it out, looked at my watch and I went black.”

Oldfield passed out from a heart attack in his driveway. His wife, Deb Oldfield, rushed him to urgent care. He was then rushed to the hospital via ambulance.

“I wanted her to stop at my office and write a note down to say that I wasn’t going to be there today, or maybe later.”

Deb Oldfield kept driving, something that most likely saved her husband’s life.

The very next day, Jim Oldfield underwent triple bypass surgery at Spectrum Health.

“That hurt like the dickens when I woke up,” he said.

That pain actually ended up being the catalyst for a lifestyle overhaul.

Jim Oldfield said, “I did everything wrong, you know; I smoked, I ate terrible, I didn’t exercise at all, I didn’t even like to sweat. Deb would want to go for walks and I would say, ‘That’s why cars were invented.’”

However, you’d never know he used to feel that way by looking at the dozens of medals and race bibs on his wall.

“Eight Ironmans, full Ironman distance, 15 halfs, which seems like a lot after I looked it up,” Jim Oldfield said.

He competed in more Ironman races than he can count from 2007 to 2015, but it’s a streak that was broken by more bad news in 2018.

Jim Oldfield had gone to his pulmonologist after noticing he was having more and more shortness of breath during cycling class.

“He diagnosed me with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. A long words for a bad situation,” Jim Oldfield recalled.

For a second time, doctors told the Oldfields that Jim wouldn’t survive without drastic measures.

Dr. Reda Girgis, M.D., the medical director of Spectrum Health’s Lung Transplant program, said Jim Oldfield’s condition was rough.

“His disease was very advanced, and his prognosis was quite poor,” Dr. Girgis said.

He said that the only option to survive was a double-lung transplant.

“His motivation, his desire to want to do this, his confidence that he could handle it, and his caregiver that was going to be at his side helping him out--those things gave us tremendous confidence that he had what it takes to be successful,” Dr. Girgis recalled.

Jim Oldfield spent 54 days on the waiting list and remained active, even in the hospital. He asked the nurses to put a recumbent bicycle next to his bed so he could still work out.

After nearly two months, he learned that his new lungs were ready.

He said, “There’s nothing like having someone else’s body parts in you; there just isn’t. There’s no way to describe it other than it’s a gift that you can take care of.”

Deb Oldfield said, “We could never thank them enough; I mean someone lost their daughter and that’s always been--it’s so emotional for me, because having kids ourselves, I don’t know what we would do if we lost one of our kids.”

The family remains humbled by the gift of life, even as more setbacks are thrown their way.

Jim Oldfield said, “Last year, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. That was the third time some doctor said, ‘Jim, you don’t have long to live.’”

He’s now on week eight of chemotherapy and still exercising the weeks when he’s not undergoing treatment.

Jim Oldfield said, “It’s a bump in the road.”

It's a bump the family is used to navigating together and undoubtedly will overcome.

Deb Oldfield said, “Just keep going; don’t stop because, you know, Jim is a good example of what you can do. Just because you have a bump in the road doesn’t mean you can’t get back on your feet and keep going.”

Jim Oldfield is now 69 years old and started his marathon and Ironman training in his mid-50s.

He’s an active volunteer for the American Heart Association and Mended Hearts organization.

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