Northwest Colorado multi-athlete Mark Satkiewicz back home and alive after near-death experience
November 21, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For 20 hours each day over the course of a month, Mark Satkiewicz dwelled over the possibility of dying.
“It was really scary,” the Steamboat Springs resident said. “The unknown is tough.”
Mark had just earned a podium finish at a cycling race, and on April 10, he went on a recovery ride on the streets of Los Angeles.
Suddenly, something was not right, and the 49-year-old pulled over. All he could think was “what is going on?,” especially to an elite athlete who, at that point, was cycling 300 miles per week.
“I thought I was fit as I ever was, and it looked like it,” Mark said.
Two men stopped to see if Mark was OK. He told them he was not sure, and then he tipped over.
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“The situation I was in has only a six percent survival rate,” Mark said.
Paramedics quickly arrived, and 25 minutes later, Mark learned he had been resuscitated.
The men who found him looked for information on Mark’s ROAD iD bracelet and called his wife, Amy, who was in Portland, Oregon. “Do you know Mark?” the man asked Amy?
Amy immediately got on a flight to Los Angeles and went to the ER to learn what happened to her husband.
Marina Del Rey Hospital doctors at that time did not have any answers. “He was really confused when I got there and kept asking the same questions,” Amy said.
Community in the dark
The Satkiewicz family has many ties to the Steamboat community, and the family is well known. Together, Mark and Amy have two daughters raised in Steamboat. Olivia is 17, and Mia is 11.
Mark joined the Smartwool merino wool apparel company in Steamboat in 2006 as vice president of sales and marketing. He became president in 2009. Amy had been working as the national sales manager for Big Agnes.
In August 2016, Mark left Smartwool to join the TOMS footwear company based in Los Angeles. This meant relocating the family, but they always had plans to return to Steamboat.
Mark left TOMS in August 2017, eight months before he collapsed on the side of the road. The Satkiewicz family moved back in August, but Mark said most people in Steamboat do not know the whole story behind his near death experience.
Finally a diagnosis
While traveling back from Portland, Amy was still trying to figure out what was going on. “Here’s Mark, 49 years old and the fittest he’s ever been in his life,” Amy said.
Amy called her daughters.
“That was definitely a hard call,” Amy said. “You start out with, ‘He’s Ok.” After a battery of tests, doctors still did not know what was going on. Was it a heart attack? Or maybe a stroke? “They were all baffled,” Amy said.
There were talks of doing a procedure to install a pacemaker. “That’s when I think I was freaked out,” Amy said. Mark’s heart was pumping at 35 percent of capacity.
Finally, an MRI provided a diagnosis of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart in this case caused by a virus.
“It’s not super common, but it’s certainly not rare,” said Mark’s doctor, Tim Henry, the chief of cardiology at the Cedar Sinai Heart Institute. “Then you have this issue about what to do.”
Mark spent seven days in the hospital with an alarm regularly going off because his heart rate would drop below 45 beats per minute. As an extremely healthy elite athlete, Mark had low blood pressure and a resting heart rate of 38 beats per minute.
This did not allow doctors to use medications they would normally administer because they would drop Mark’s vitals to dangerous levels.
Mark was given instructions to rest completely, and he was allowed to go home wearing a life vest that would deliver a shock if Mark’s heart needed it.
The hard part
There were more scares at home.
While at a movie with Mia, Mark had another episode and had to return to the hospital. “That part was really scary,” Mia said.
The moment that scared Olivia the most is when Mark had an episode at home and had to go to the hospital. The biggest battle Mark was facing were the thoughts going through his mind and the anxiety of not knowing.
“I thought about me dying for 20 hours a day for a month,” Mark said. “Anything that kind of moves in your body, you think my God, am I having another incident? Am I gonna die.” Mark said it was the most adversity he had ever faced.
Medically, only so much could be done. “All you can do as a physician is try to reassure and give people numbers,” Dr. Henry said.
Mark was allowed to ride a stationary bike for 30 minutes per day with no resistance. His reading habits changed. “I consumed books about the heart, but I couldn’t read anything else,” Mark said.
He started doing puzzles. “It was just mindless enough to have me think a little,” Mark said.
Finally, Mark was cleared medically in July, and the most serious of the anxiety disappeared. “When I got the answer that, ‘yeah, you are better,’ it went away,” Mark said.
With a good prognosis, the Satkiewicz family moved back to Steamboat in August.
“Going to L.A. was fantastic for a variety of reasons, but we’re happy to be back,” Mark said. “We really wanted to pull the trigger on it faster when I got sick.”
Amy is working in sales for Nike and Mark does some work on company boards. One of his primary projects is helping organize a gravel bike race in Steamboat next year that could attract up to 1,600 people.
“I wanted to come back and come help Steamboat from a variety of angles,” Mark said.
Mark, now 50 years old, is back on the bike and says that he is again in the best shape of his life. “He’s doing great,” Dr. Henry said. “He is a high-level athlete, and he’s back to doing high-level stuff.”
Mark said the whole ordeal has taught him to appreciate what is important during a life with no guaranteed duration. “I’m happy it happened, as goofy as that sounds, because I didn’t die, and it allows you to assess what matters,” Mark said.
He said the biggest takeaway was the importance of mental health when something traumatic happens to someone.
“Say what’s on your mind, and reflect on all those things,” Satkiewicz said. “I found out a lot about who my true friends were because I felt really alone, and you’re really scared. You need to be able to talk to people about that, and it’s a huge deal.”