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health as it happens

Local attorney helping others become aware of heart health dangers after his own health scare - Jackson Sun

James Krenis has always tried to enjoy life and experience as many different experiences as he could.

“I think it’s really the only way to get the most out of life – to experience new things and not the normal or usual way of doing things,” said Krenis, an attorney and sports agent based in Jackson. “I’ve traveled all over the world and try not to stay in the hotels, but find an Air BnB or something out of the way to really experience the culture of wherever I’m staying.

“I get a lot of enjoyment out of that.”

Krenis experienced an ordeal this year that helped him find out monitoring heart health is more than diet and exercise.

Seemingly healthy

One key to enjoying life for Krenis is staying as healthy as possible, and it seemed to work as he medaled this year in the Senior Olympics in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter runs in addition to the work he puts in year-round in playing pickleball and tennis, long distance running and trying to do anything to physically exert himself for at least a couple hours a day.

“I was so confident in my own health and my own efforts to stay healthy – including diet, because I’d say I eat 90 percent healthy and stay away from fat – that I went years without having a family doctor or even having check-ups or doctor visits,” Krenis said. “It turns out, I needed to be having check-ups because I don’t know how close I was to things turning badly quickly for me.”

Krenis did say that he has taken medication to manage a hereditary cholesterol issue for more than 20 years and has his blood checked once a year, but those have been the extent of his hospital visits until this past summer and fall.

Wake-up call

Krenis also plays senior softball at the West Tennessee Healthcare Sportsplex, and he saw a friend and teammate have a heart attack and die on the field this past season. That got him to thinking of his own mortality despite his constant fitness efforts.

He began to notice fatigue coming on more quickly, and he talked to a couple of physician friends about it, who suggested he go get his heart checked out. Krenis had the exam done and then took a trip to Europe.

“I was in Europe when I got the call, and the results prompted me to go outside and cry a minute,” Krenis said. “And then I had to call my wife to tell her, and it was one of those calls when she asked if everything was OK, and all I could say was no.”

Results showed Krenis had multiple arteries including having at least 70 percent blockages, and some up to 90 percent, including the left anterior descending artery, whose blockages cause the heart attacks known as the widow-maker because that’s such a key point in the circulatory system.

Fortunately, he was able to schedule triple bypass surgery to open the vessels up once he got back home, which happened on Sept. 21.

Recovery was difficult but steady as he began as soon as he could at getting back to being able to run, but that took a few weeks.

“I couldn’t even cough or sneeze or laugh without holding a pillow to my chest, and I couldn’t do other simple things like open a cabinet or hold a plate,” Krenis said. “But that comes with having your sternum sawed through for surgery inside your chest.”

New view of life

Krenis thought he appreciated life before his health scare, but that appreciation has increased a lot over the last few months.

“Of course I’ve always appreciated time with my wife and daughter and doing what I love doing in law and sports, and I love being active and feeling great,” Krenis said. “But starting with that exit out of my house at 3 a.m. to get to the hospital for my surgery and my daughter wanting to kiss me goodbye and then laying on that hospital bed waiting for the surgery and not knowing how it would go or if I’d wake up from it.

“It puts things even more into perspective.”

Krenis tries to do what he can to help others at any opportunity, and that’s increased, particularly in awareness of heart health.

He’s connected with the local non-profit, Friends of Heart, and has helped coordinate a ping pong tournament scheduled for Wednesday at Hub City Brewing at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s Wednesday night and it’ll be a fun time to play ping pong with hopefully someone of similar abilities as you,” Krenis said. “But I found out about Friends of Heart and the work Tracy (Case) is doing in making Jackson a four-minute city, and that’s something we need here and I immediately signed up to train for.”

Four-Minute City is a program Case and Friends of Heart have worked with local leadership to make sure there are portable defibrillators stationed throughout the city so that no one is more than four minutes away from one and enough people in the city are adequately trained to use them because the first four minutes are crucial when a person’s heart stops suddenly.

“We need to know that this is a real danger for a lot more of us than probably what we think,” Krenis said. “It’s not a certain age group or a certain body type of certain lifestyle choices because this can happen to anyone.”

Krenis is appreciative of everyone who helped in his care.

“I’ve got friends in Minnesota and Los Angeles and New York, and I could’ve gone to any of the hospitals in those places including the Mayo Clinic for this when other people choose Nashville or Memphis,” Krenis said. “But I chose to stay right here in Jackson because it was people that I knew that they knew what they were talking about and what they were doing.

“And I got the best care I could ask for right here in Jackson at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. They tend to get a bad reputation because sometimes a hospital stay won’t go as planned, and the internet trolls go wild on social media when someone posts a bad experience. But I’ve got nothing but good things to say in the initial exams, surgery prep and the post-op care. It was second to none.”

Krenis is working his way back to full health. He’s back on the road traveling with his sports agency, Accel Sports Management.

“I was always grateful for every opportunity before this, but I am even more so now,” Krenis said. “And if I can help one person see that staying on top of your heart health – and health in general – is important because you never know when a routine checkup could turn into a life-saving conversation.

“That’s what happened to me this year, and I’m glad. It was a horrible experience, but it’s one of the best things to ever happen to me.”

Reach Brandon Shields at [email protected] or at 731-425-9751. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at editorbrandon.