River Oaks race car driver pushes for stress test that saved his life

Posted Sunday, May. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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As a long-time race car driver, Don Istook works hard to keep his sports cars in prime running condition.

Istook started racing sports cars in 1977 at age 25 and since then has raced at 55 tracks across the country, including Daytona, Sebring and Leguna Seca.

A triathlete and marathon runner for years, Istook also treats his body like a machine. So, when he started feeling a strange, unexplainable twinge occasionally in his chest last year, Istook decided he might need a tune-up himself.

“I feel I know my body reasonable well,” said Istook, 61, of River Oaks. “I researched, hoping and not thinking it was my heart, but it was something. I had none of the symptoms to lead me to believe it was a heart condition.”

During an exam in January, Istook pressed his doctor for a nuclear stress test even when his blood pressure, electrocardiogram and most of his other physical results came back normal. Something just didn’t feel right, he said.

That stress test and a follow-up coronary angiogram revealed the bad news – Istook had four blocked arteries leading to his heart. His engine was in trouble.

“I had metal in my oil,” Istook said.

With a family history of heart disease, Istook acted immediately. A little more than a week after the blockage was discovered, he chose Dr. Baron Hamman, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Texas Health Arlington Memorial, to perform a no-clamp, quadruple bypass surgery.

Hamman, president of Texas Health Heart & Vascular Hospital Arlington, patented a technique that allows him to bypass blocked arteries on the heart without the use of a heart-lung machine, which reduces the risk of a devastating embolic stroke in patients during the procedure.

Hamman said Istook was wise to listen to his body and ask for further evaluation even when his physical exam didn’t show signs of a problem.

“A stress test is where you take the car out around the track and see how fast you can go. Under load, you can tell there was a problem,” Hamman said. “He got his engine overhauled. Now he’s back racing, and he’s confident.”

Istook said he has been sharing his story with other race car drivers and crew members to raise awareness about the importance of stress tests and speaking up to your doctor if you have a concern.

“I felt I’ve been pretty healthy. I didn’t think this could happen to me,” Istook said. “It’s listening to your body. You don’t want to cry wolf, but it’s your life.”

Istook, who has owned Istook Motorsports in Fort Worth for 35 years, is a driver with The Arc Audi Racing Program.

He plans to make his racing debut again during the July 4 weekend in Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park. Working with The Arc organization, Istook’s team invites intellectually and developmentally disabled people, such as those with Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome or autism, to serve as honorary crew members during races.

“We may not have crossed the finish line, but we’ve won every race we entered,” Istook said. “We had our Arc group cheering us on, and we felt like winners.”

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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