Alex's Story

Area man has much to live for and miles to ride

You could say that Alex Murnyack is a pretty active guy. He was a three-sport athlete in high school at Bald Eagle Area, a three-sport athlete at Clarion University, a coach for football, baseball, and wrestling throughout his 37-year teaching career, and was inducted into the Clarion University Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. Today, at 74 years old, Alex bikes and swims for several hours each week.

Alex 0409 715x1000Having been involved in athletics his entire life, there’s not much that can keep Alex down — even something like aortic stenosis. Aortic stenosis is a medical condition that denotes a narrowed aortic heart valve, which obstructs blood from flowing fully into the heart and to the rest of the body.

Although he knew he would likely have to have surgery at some point, Alex’s family doctor at Mount Nittany Physician Group Internal Medicine referred him to Mount Nittany Physician Group Cardiology in 2011 for monitoring of this condition.

“When I was swimming or biking, there were times I could feel my chest tightening, but my cardiology team watched me very closely, so I always felt safe,” said Alex.

Alex says that he was monitored so closely, in fact, that on a Friday in June 2014, he was having a routine echocardiogram and was asked to come back the following Monday.

“I remember riding my bike 15 miles on that Saturday, 15 miles on Sunday, and then I had just finished riding 20 miles on Monday when they called to see me about my echo results. They said, ‘It’s time,’ and I knew I was due for surgery,” said Alex.

The following week, Alex had a heart catheterization and transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) test at Mount Nittany Medical Center to get a closer look at the valve and make sure his other arteries were in good shape for surgery. He was then scheduled for open heart surgery at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to replace his aortic valve on July 2, 2014. Alex remembers the day well because his first great-grandchild, Maverick, was born the same day. When he was discharged a few days later, on July 6, his 14th grandchild, Vance, was born.

“Look at what I had to live for,” said Alex. “Yes, it’s open heart surgery, but I trusted my doctors and knew that I would be okay.”

The challenge

Biking when it’s nice outside and swimming during the colder weather is Alex’s routine. By bike, he covers about 15 to 20 miles each day and delights in the time he is able to spend out on the open road.

A little trouble with his heart surely wasn’t going to hinder Alex’s active lifestyle. In fact, when it was time for surgery, he also had a challenge up his sleeve.

“I’m a competitive individual,” said Alex. “I knew that my heart valve would eventually close, and I’d need surgery. When the time came for a valve replacement, I was given a challenge — to log the same number of miles it would take to travel the circumference of the earth.”

In case you weren’t sure, that’s 24,901.5 miles. And, of course, Alex was up to the challenge.

“I had already put about 21,000 miles on my previous bikes, but knowing that my cardiology team thought I could get back on my bike after heart surgery gave me so much more confidence,” he said.

And, after only two months and two days of recuperation, Alex was indeed back in the saddle and logging miles.

Alex’s wife and greatest support system, Sandie, couldn’t believe the quick recovery. “The team at Mount Nittany Physician Group was so great with Alex. He was relaxed and confident going into surgery, and his recovery was so smooth. It’s great to see him back out there and doing what he loves.”

On August 24, 2015, Alex completed his goal of figuratively circumnavigating the earth on his bike, clocking in at just under seven years of total bike time. Alex also estimates he has already put about 6,700 miles on his new heart valve.

“Being active is who I am, and in telling my story, I just want to inspire people. Every day, people have major surgeries, but it’s not the end.

You can still keep going. I want to show people you can still move forward no matter what.”