Atlanta man undergoes quadruple bypass at just 38

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When Joshua Saunders thinks back on the last few months, it's hard to find the words for how he feels.

"I am grateful," he says, tearing up.

Grateful because the 38 year old Kirkwood attorney and his husband Brian now realize how much they have, and how quickly it can all be taken away.

"I think I have an incredibly community," Saunders says.  "I don't feel extraordinary. Except that I just feel extraordinarily blessed."

Saunders medical ordeal began in October of 2017 with a routine eye exam.

"I actually was feeling fine," he says.  "And, I went to my eye doctor,"

The optometrist noticed something off in the way Josh's eyes were tracking.

Soon, he was seeing one doctor after another -- a neurologist, oncologist, then, a cardiologist. 

By mid-December, Saunders found himself on a table in a cath lab, staring at the images of the inside of his heart.

"And it kind of thought it was overkill, honestly," Saunders remembers.  "Because I didn't feel badly."

But just 20 minutes into his  heart catheterization, the cardiologist stopped, telling 

Saunders there were too many blockages.  

He would need heart surgery.

"I thought he meant place a stent, so I said, 'Okay, fine, go ahead and do it.'" Saunders says.  "And he said, "'No, you have to have open heart surgery.  Probably triple or quadruple bypass.'"

The next day at Emory St. Joseph's Hospital, Saunders was rolled into the operating room.  

He had 4 blocked arteries, and he hadn't had a clue.

Fresh out surgery, with his chest split down the middle, Saunders says Dr. Miller asked him how he was doing.

"I said, 'I feel amazing.' And I did. Because I didn't realize it, but I could actually feel my heart beat. In every part of my body. And I hadn't felt that, I guess, in a really long time."

And Saunders had a goal.

He wanted to get through his recover and get back on his bike.

For months, he'd been training and raising donations for the AIDS Vaccine 200, which was just  6 months away.   

The 200 mile, 2-day ride raises money for the Emory Vaccine Center.

So, 12 weeks after his quadruple bypass, Saunders went for his first post-surgery training ride.

"It was slow," he says.  "I was terrible at riding a bike; I was not good at it at all. I fell off and sprained my ankle. I fell off while clipped in."

But Saunders kept riding, logging 10, then 20, then 30 miles.

On May 20, 2017, Saunders joined about 100 other riders outside the Emory School of Medicine.

Together, they had raised close to $300,000 for the Emory Vaccine Center.

In a single day, they rode all the way to Eatonton, planning on riding back to Atlanta the next morning.   

"It was hard, but it was also incredible," he says.  "It was just this incredibly positive, just affirming, very hard experience."

These days, people tell Josh Saunders his story is incredible.

He's just grateful he lived to tell it.

"I don't really feel amazing," he says.  "I feel like the people around me, they're the amazing ones."