LAST MAY 6, on the day of the annual Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk, Tim Weinfeld awoke at 5:30 a.m. feeling punk. Still, he began to prepare for the walk. He had recently reckoned with "heredity and the sins of the past" and the trek was to celebrate his passage from a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle to one free of cigarettes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
But Weinfeld, 57, continued to feel worse. And soon, his wife, Rebecca, a psychiatric nurse and ballroom dance instructor, recognized classic heart attack symptoms: a hot and hard feeling in the center of his chest, nausea, headache, numbness and a tingling sensation.
They rushed from their home to Good Samaritan Hospital across the street, where Weinfeld later suffered a second heart attack and nearly died.
Thanks to a drug administered during the course of the seconattack, Weinfeld was stabilized. His recollections of those early hours, when he was stoked with morphine and had not yet come to grips with his condition, are hazy. He does remember watching a grim team of surgeons and nurses bring another patient back to life.
Sunday, Weinfeld will again awake to walk the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, along with at least 60,000 others expected to cross the 4.3-mile span. This year, he will do it. "I'm really excited," he says. "I've been looking forward to it, since I began to feel good again. It's . . . almost a compulsion at this point."
After that first week in Good Samaritan Hospital, Weinfeld was transferred to Union Memorial Hospital for further tests. An electrocardiogram did not show serious damage to Weinfeld's heart muscle. His cardiologist was optimistic that medication or angioplasty, a process that cracks open the plaque within the coronary arteries, would be adequate treatment.
But another test revealed severe blockage of the main arteries leading to Weinfeld's heart muscle. Immediate quintuple bypass surgery was necessary, the cardiologist told them. "That felt like a death sentence," Weinfeld says.
He was transferred to Washington Hospital Center. With no promise of a cure, he "immediately started preparing himself for worst-case scenarios," Rebecca says. "I didn't want him to go into surgery that way. I flipped into my professional stance, stayed until 2 and 3 a.m. and worked on his mental attitude. Some part of him believed he'd survive and have a life after this."
It was not until she left the hospital on the eve of her husband's surgery that she fell apart, she says.
Weinfeld was released from the hospital on May 29. His strong, undamaged heart muscle had pulled him through. But complications, including a severe infection in his leg, kept Weinfeld immobilized. He had to give up directorship of the University of Wyoming summer repertory program. And he could not begin a prescribed therapy program at St. Joseph Hospital ** until August.
Weinfeld returned to his teaching position at Western Marylan College for the fall semester; perhaps a little too early, he says. His journey back from pain, depression, surgical complications and fear had not yet ended.
Around Christmas, Weinfeld finally began to feel markedly better. He continues to walk two to three miles several times a week, has cut out red meat and claims to have gained a waddle from all the low-cholesterol poultry he has consumed.
Triumphant hikes across the Bay Bridge aside, Weinfeld says he is not cut out for such physical discipline. "I want to smoke. I want to eat all those foods. I want to be sedentary. I don't want to take all those medicines. I don't do it because it's fun," says Weinfeld, a wiry man with wiry gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses, whose trim physique does not belie the ravages of heart disease.
This spring, in addition to his teaching duties and free lance career as a theater reviewer for the Carroll County Sun, Weinfeld is directing "Saddam." The new play about the Persian Gulf war by Gary Perloff premieres at the Fells Point Cabaret Theatre May 17.
Weinfeld will also get to Wyoming to assume the job he missed last summer.
Today, he feels better than he did before the heart attack, and life is "much more fun" because he came so close to losing it, he says.
And whenever he has the gall to complain, Rebecca tells her husband, "You could be dead."
So look for Weinfeld on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Sunday and shake his hand.
The first Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk took place in 1975, when about 25,000 participants strolled across the span. Last year, some 60,000 people took part in the bridge walk. "Everybody seems to enjoy it," says Lou Kelley, Bay Bridge superintendent. "There are very little problems in terms of control of the crowd. When you think about how many years we've had it, it's commendable."
Bridge walkers can conclude their day at BayFest, an environmental fair promoting Chesapeake Bay clean-up that takes place at Sandy Point State Park. Both the walk and festival are free.
The bridge walk begins at 9 a.m. when MTA buses shuttle participants from designated parking lots at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis and Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold. Eastern Shore residents may park at the Chesapeake Bay Business Park in Stevensville. Shuttle bus service operates to the bridge until 1 p.m. or until the lots are full. Return service is provided. Call (800) 541-9595.