Second chance at life means racking up the running miles

Gary Brauchla will be the first to tell you he’s no fan of running.

When he went into cardiac arrest in the wee hours of the morning in September 2012, he had never run a 5k.

After his second chance at life, Brauchla tackled his first, a feat he calls “Death to 5k in 8 months.”

Now 72, he has been a member of Southern Arizona Roadrunners for 4 years and has chalked up 15 5ks to his name including three TMC-sponsored Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crowns.

He also signed up for the Under Armour “You Vs Year” 1000k challenge last year – and ended up surpassing his goal with 1,218 kilometers – the equivalent of 755 miles.

With each step, he’s been waiting to get to that runner’s high kind of zone. Hasn’t happened. “I don’t particularly like running. To me, it’s a chore. But I do it because I like the challenge and I like to sweat.” he said.

And, truth to be told, so he can eat some of the things he’s rather fond of, like the occasional cheeseburger and fries.

Brauchla’s story began when he went into cardiac arrest as he slept in his rural home about 90 miles from Tucson.

Earlier that evening, he had complained of pain in his right shoulder and excessive belching, but shrugged it off. Maybe it was the chili with beans talking.

About 3 a.m., his wife, Kathie, awoke to a loud snort, which she assumed then was snoring but later would realize it was her husband’s last gasp. She nudged him. Nothing. Nudged him again. Nothing. Pushed harder a third time. No response. “Then it all clicked together what was going on,” she recalled. “I flipped the light on and he was not breathing.”

Kathie knew to start CPR immediately, called 911 and sustained the chest compressions until help arrived. A defibrillator restored his heart rhythm.

Brauchla was flown by helicopter to Tucson Medical Center, where doctors induced a coma, put in some coronary stents to reopen blocked arteries and cooled his body temperature through therapeutic hypothermia in order to reduce the brain’s oxygen requirements and reduce the chance of brain injury.

He would remain in a coma for 2.5 weeks, while loved ones wondered about the degree of brain damage he may have sustained. Instead, he had a full recovery.

“By doing everything TMC did, I am still here physically and mentally,” Brauchla said.

When it comes to running, he’s not particularly fast. But for him, it’s enough. Five miles is five miles, plodding or no.

“People need to know they don’t need to give up just because they’ve had some kind of health problem,” Brauchla said. “How many people out there are thinking they will never be strong again, but I’m living proof. It’s not necessarily so.”

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Rd. | Tucson, AZ 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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