After mild heart attack, Salisbury's Berkman says 'rest of my life should be getting back to normal'

Five days after suffering what his doctor called a mild heart attack Sunday, Salisbury coach Jim Berkman has only the tender area on his leg where a catheter was inserted as physical evidence of that procedure.

“I feel all right,” Berkman, 52, said Friday morning from his home. “Actually, I’m a little antsy here. I’m not a guy who can sit around a whole lot. So I’m kind of getting stir-crazy right now.”

The NCAA’s all-time winningest coach with 395 victories, Berkman has not been allowed to return to the top-ranked Sea Gulls, who have captured nine national championships, including last year’s title, under Berkman.

But Berkman, who exercises routinely and prefers salads over meat, conceded that his accomplishments took a back seat after his doctor delivered the sobering news when he woke up from surgery.

“When I woke up, I felt fine,” Berkman said. “There was nothing wrong with me. But [the doctor] said, ‘Well, you got two stents put into your heart because there was a 100 percent blockage.’ And you’re like, ‘Holy cow.’ And then when he said, ‘The enzymes indicate you had a mild heart attack,’ it’s like somebody just punched you in the face.”

Berkman said the first signs of health problems actually began the week before the heart attack. He said that when he was exercising and pushed his heart rate to 160 beats per minute, he noticed what he called a cold feeling in his throat. But the feeling would dissipate after his rate dipped below 160.

On Sunday morning, Berkman said, he woke up with the cold feeling in his throat, but it went away again. But after about a minute on the treadmill at his local gym, Berkman said the feeling returned and did not dissipate, and he had trouble breathing. While changing in the locker room, he broke out into a cold sweat and drove himself to Peninsula Regional Medical Center, which is 400 yards from his gym.

At the hospital, an EKG didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, but once Berkman began telling his doctor about an older brother who died at 44 because of a massive heart attack and another older brother who suffered a stroke at 52 and died six years later, the doctor ordered a cardiac catheterization, which involves inserting a catheter into the heart to investigate the problem. That’s when the blockage was discovered.

Berkman said the health scare has reminded him of the value of life and the insignificance of some matters.

“Hopefully and subconsciously, I’m going to maybe take a deep breath and not overreact to some things that that I’ve overreacted to before,” he said. “I needed to lay real low for the first week, and then I can kind of ease back into things. I’ll be walking for a while under supervision and everything, but I plan on getting back on Monday for practice and getting going here again.”

Berkman plans to coach Salisbury when the team opens its Capital Athletic Conference schedule at York on Wednesday, but he enjoyed a 7:30 a.m. visit Friday when players and coaches stopped by his house while completing a run.

“It was just a welcome relief,” Berkman said of seeing the players and coaches. “I think it was a relief for them to see me, too. … Things are going to be back to normal next week as far as lacrosse goes. Obviously, I won’t be jumping onto a treadmill for an interval workout or doing any of those things for a little while because I’ve got to ease back into it and let my heart heal. But the rest of my life should be getting back to normal next week.”

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