By Robbie Owens

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DALLAS (CBS11) – For Bill Ruth, fitness is not a fad.

“We did the Iron Man in Hawaii in 1982 before most people even knew what it was,” he said while gesturing to wife, Sherry.

Even now the 64-year-old runs, swims and/or cycles “two to three hours a day.”

But late last year, after hopping on his bike, “My legs seized up on me,” said Ruth. “[I] never felt that before.”

Days later, when he struggled to run up a hill during a Fun Run near his Colorado home, he headed to his doctor.

“He says, ‘you’re in heart failure’… we looked at each other like WHAT?”

The diagnosis stopped Bill Ruth in his tracks.

He and his wife couldn’t believe a fit, health conscious athlete–who could still bike for 25 miles in an hour–could be, as the Colorado doctor put it, “a walking time bomb.”

Further tests identified a number of cardiac issues including a heart rhythm abnormality and a faulty valve.

The Ruths’ search for treatment lead them to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas where Bill would undergo open heart surgery in April. Baylor doctors called his situation “extremely” serious.

“He had the type of problem that under the wrong set of circumstances, could have led to his having a sudden cardiac arrest,” said Kevin Wheelan, M.D., F.A.C.C.

According to Dr. Wheelan, Baylor’s Chief of Cardiology, Bill Ruth could have died without warning. In spite of his active lifestyle, Bill had a genetic predisposition to cardiac failure that up until that point had gone undetected.  Dr. Wheelan said he’s seen it happen in athletes before.

“A perfectly healthy, world class athlete, jogging, running, running a marathon—and they just drop dead suddenly and everyone wonders why,” said Dr. Wheelan. “In Bill’s case, we were able to figure that out ahead of time and prevent him from ever getting into that predicament.”

Now, the coach and lifelong athlete is back on the mend. “I feel real good,” said Bill, while visiting Dr. Wheelan for a periodic checkup. “I’m doing 40 to 50 pushups.”

That’s what he calls taking it easy! Still, he wants others to take his warning seriously: “When your body tells you something is wrong—listen.”

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