When I heard that my friend Melani, who is an ER doctor and triathlete, had saved someone’s life during a triathlon, I KNEW I had to ask her for an interview on ChicFitChef.com. As a doctor, Melani offers a unique look at the importance of health and I’ve always been especially impressed by her commitment to fitness (given her busy schedule) & her humility! Please read on to hear Melani’s fitness story, how she saved a life & learn what you should/shouldn’t do if you see someone collapse in need of medical attention. Learn from the best! 😉 -CFC
1. Tell us about yourself!
I am an emergency physician aka “ER doc” as people say. I’m currently finishing up my residency training in emergency medicine in Ohio. I’m a native New Yorker but moved out here to Ohio for residency. It’s not completely random because my mother’s side of the family is from here. I’ve actually really enjoyed the Midwest because there’s a lot of outdoors things to do such as running, biking and hiking trails, plenty of snow for winter sports and overall a lot of open space and scenic roads.
When I’m not working or studying, I’m training. This is fun to me. I’m a triathlete and marathoner. Working out helps me stay active, healthy and happy. It also helps me function with shift work. For example, I frequently switch from day shifts to night shifts and when I work out in between, I’m always tired enough to sleep so I never really struggle with time changes. I decide what kind of training I will do based on the weather and how much time I have. That tends to change on a daily basis. Usually, I swim 3 times a week, run twice a week and bike once a week. I try to do one triathlon every summer and one full or half marathon in the off season. I have done approximately 12 triathlons, 3 marathons and 5 half marathons. Also I’ve done about 6 open water swimming races around NYC.
2. Were you always into fitness? Why do you think fitness/sports was a part of your life so early on?
I have been active since I was a kid. I think it’s because my parents are active and introduced me to this lifestyle. I have always enjoyed sports. I started in infant swim classes with my parents. By school age I was doing gymnastics, swimming and soccer. I basically did all the sports my older brother did. Then I picked up running after soccer. In high school, I was on the swim team and then track team. I got really interested in distance running, so cross country became my favorite. I continued this in college for a year until I discovered the sport of triathlon and decided to train on my own. I also became pre-med in college so that limited my time. It was more time efficient to train for a triathlon on my own then to stay on a varsity sports team. I’m so glad I made that transition! My other hobbies include snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing and obstacle/mud races.
3. Tell us about how you became a triathlon competitor. Which triathlons have you done & what continues to attract you to triathlons?
My first triathlon was in college. I started off on the cross country/track team but struggled with overuse injuries due to high mileage running such as shin splints and stress fractures. I learned that I am a more balanced and less injured athlete when I cross trained. That meant swimming a few days and running a few as opposed to doing one everyday. This is what keeps me loving triathlons- I love each sport and I don’t get bored with one. I’ve always been a strong swimmer and runner, and I became serious about cycling during college.
Some of the triathlons I’ve done include the NYC triathlon (my favorite), Staten Island triathlon, Philadelphia triathlon, Washington DC triathlon and Cleveland triathlon. Basically, wherever I live, I do the triathlon in that city. My goal is to do an Ironman triathlon when I finish residency and have more time to train. That will probably be in a few years.
4. How does being a physician inform your healthy lifestyle?
I’m a strong believer that in order to help others, I have to help myself and remain healthy. Working in the ER, I see patients at their worst and unfortunately I see people die even after we have tried everything to save their life. It reminds me not to take anything for granted. It pushes me when I’m swimming, running or biking.
As an emergency physician, it’s also rewarding to work with patients at their times of need and hear them say thank you. It’s also an adrenaline rush at work because I have to be ready for anything at any time. It’s almost like the start of a triathlon. It requires determination and perseverance. I have a passion for what I do at work, as well as my hobbies.
5. Given your knowledge as a physician and as a fitness competitor, what is ONE piece of health advice you would give to someone reading this interview?
I would encourage people to get active by starting with something they like and that challenges them. If it’s something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a task on your checklist. It’ll become part of your habits and lifestyle. I also encourage people to start somewhere, even if it’s working out for 15 minutes a few days a week and then building on that. At every race, I see people at different fitness levels and going at their own pace. Finishing the race is what counts. Your a winner as long as you accomplish your goal.
6. Tell us about your experience saving a life while competing in a triathlon. What happened and what made you stop to help?
Last year I did the Cleveland triathlon. It was a 0.4 mile swim, 16 mile bike and 3.1 mile run. The swim part was tough but fun. During the biking portion, I saw a man laying on the ground not moving and someone was doing CPR. I knew this was bad, so I immediately jumped off my bike and identified myself as a physician and helped perform CPR. The other person was a physician too. We both worked on the fallen athlete until an ambulance arrived but I wasn’t optimistic given that we could not get a pulse back. I continued on to finish the race, which required another 6 or so miles of biking and then 3.1 mile run. I kept thinking about the fallen athlete during the rest of the race and days after. A few days later, I found out the man survived and had three daughters. I was stunned and overjoyed. He’s made a full recovery. It’s incredible. I happened to be at the right place at the right time to help him. That day I went to compete in the triathlon but ended up using my knowledge and skills as a physician to save a life.
7. Have you been in touch with the man you helped save?
Yes I’ve become like part of his family. I went to officially “meet” him when he was in the hospital and then also met his wife, children and rest of family at a holiday gathering. He’s a kind, personable guy who I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet.
There was an article in the local paper about his story and my hospital nominated me for the American Red Cross “Act of Courage” award which I won. So there have been several events where we have been together. It really means a lot to me. I do not get to have these experiences with patients who I’ve resuscitated for a cardiac arrest because very few survive.
8. If someone reading this witnesses a person collapse in public, what should/shouldn’t they do?
First step should be to call for help – shout, yell, call 911. I encourage everyone to learn CPR. If you are trained in CPR, you know to check for a pulse on the wrist or neck. If there is no pulse, immediately start chest compressions. Continue this until help arrives or switch if there is another person. What you should not do is ignore it. If u do not know CPR, at least get help as quickly as possible. Anyone can take CPR and basic life support classes with the American Red Cross.
9. Do you plan on competing in any more triathlons soon? If so, which one?
I will be doing the Cleveland triathlon again this year. Because of my award and events at last years triathlon, I’ve been inspired to do more for charity. So I’m doing the NYC marathon this year to raise money for cancer research.
10. Anything else you’d like to add?
Here’s my fundraising page for the NYC marathon. I’m raising money for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Please click here to donate.