A Return to Form
A Houston criminal defense attorney is running again after surviving a heart attack.
Interview by Eric Quitugua
Above: Rand Mintzer has completed 24 marathons, including the Brazos
Bend 100 in 2015. Photograph courtesy of Rand Mintzer.
Inspired by a college roommate and a sappy made-for-TV movie, See How She Runs, Rand Mintzer took up running when he was 19 and attending college in Jonesboro, Arkansas. More than a decade ago, he began entering marathons, with 24 under his belt—of which eight were ultras (more than 26.2 miles). But this year, while running his 25th—the Chevron Houston Marathon in January 2017—the 58-year-old criminal defense attorney suffered a heart attack that left him clinically dead for eight minutes. With the help of a nearby nurse, firefighters, medical staff, and others, Mintzer’s heart was revived. He has since returned to his passion and now encourages others to be more health-conscious.
On the day of the Chevron Houston Marathon, when did you feel things weren’t going right?
When I woke up that morning, I had terrible heartburn. I thought that was from having to eat dinner the night before in a rushed manner, so I stopped and picked up either Rolaids or Tums and actually consumed two rolls before I got to the starting line. The whole time I was very hot. I was nauseous. Every runner basically knows that when the wheels are falling off the wagon, if you can make it to mile 20 before the four-hour point, you can basically walk in the last six. So I just thought that I was having a bad day and that’s what I was going to have to do.
At about mile 15, I did something that I’ve never done before—I threw up. I learned later that is your body’s way of trying to do CPR on itself. Then I started running again, and all of a sudden, I got very lightheaded. My field of vision started to fall out in black, irregular rectangles. You know what I’m talking about? It was almost like a television going out. Things started to black out. And then I woke up in the ambulance. I thought I had heat stroke. I had no idea I had a major cardiac incident and died. While I was on the ground, they did CPR on me for eight minutes, and then someone came out with an automated external defibrillator and restarted my heart.
How long was the recovery? How long until you felt comfortable running?
I went in the hospital on a Sunday and I was out on a Wednesday. They had me walking—I believe it was a mile a day—by that Thursday. I waited until I got cleared by the doctor to run, which I believe was in May.
Since then, how has it been running again?
I’ve been walking, but I’ve been building up my running slowly—two miles a day. I actually wrote a book on running and I am training how I would instruct a beginning runner to do it, someone who was just starting new.
Was it a hard decision to start running again? What drew you back?
It really wasn’t. That was part of my life. I just enjoyed it so much, and I’m fortunate that I was medically cleared to be able to return to it to some degree. Obviously it’s slightly stressful. It probably took a month or more until I started to feel OK, like I’m really running and relaxing again.
Mintzer crosses the finish line with his daughter, Hayden, during the
2016 Chevron Houston Marathon. Photograph courtesy of Rand Mintzer.
Has your approach to or philosophy on running changed?
No. I’m a big advocate of watching what you eat and eating a plant-based diet. I’m still a big advocate of regular exercise. I don’t think I would have had the result I had and the recovery I had if I had not been in great shape before this incident occurred.
Running is a personal thing. Many people equate running with being punished. I was fortunate; I literally enjoyed it every time I went out. It was kind of funny because at this point in my life—I was 57 when this happened—I came to grips with the fact that there may be one day when I stop running, so it really made me enjoy every time I went out. Some people run in their 70s and their 80s. I didn’t know if I was going to be one of those people. I was at a point where I really enjoyed it.
Given what’s happened, what advice would you give to a runner?
I lost the genetic lottery. I say educate yourself more about what you can do if there is heart disease like there is on both sides of my family. Educate yourself more about what tests should be run or what tests you should have done to detect early onset of heart disease. The truth of the matter is when everyone gets a new car, they read the manual from front to back so they know how to operate their car and all the cool things they have and what the car does. But no one really invests that time in their health to find out what tests should be done, what their optimum diet should be, and if they should be engaging in exercise. People invest much less in themselves than they do in an automobile. If heart disease is in your family, educate yourself on the matter because the medical professionals don’t always catch it.
From what I understand, you’re now teaching CPR classes? How often do they happen?
No, I’m not qualified to teach CPR, but along with Judge Paula Goodhart and fellow criminal defense attorney Chris Tritico, we put on a class where basically the Harris County criminal bar—judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys—could learn CPR. And, of course, Memorial Hermann was helpful by giving us free instructors.
I really would like to do whatever I can. If six people didn’t know
CPR on January 15, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.TBJ