Last year, Jim Sobel had a major heart attack at his home in Burlingame. His breathing stopped.

“At the time of the heart attack, I technically had died,” Sobel says.

Sixteen months later, Sobel completed the grueling, 1.5-mile open water swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. I spoke with him on Saturday after he completed the swim.

Tell me a little bit about your journey over the past year.

“About a year-and-a-half ago, I had a major heart attack in my house. At the time of the heart attack, I technically had died. And my younger daughter, she performed CPR and saved my life. As a result of that we got to the hospital. And then I had three additional heart attacks during the course of the evening — all of which I ultimately survived. And that was a year-and-a-half ago. Now, I’m swimming Alcatraz and completing this goal that I set out for myself.”

Was Alcatraz always your goal throughout the recovery process?

“No, actually, that was not the goal. My youngest daughter — the one that actually saved my life — happened to be out of the country this spring. She sent me a note and said, ‘Hey, you wanna swim Alcatraz with me?’ And I obviously immediately said yes. So that set me on the course of learning to swim. Of course, I knew how to swim, but not anything like this. So I started practicing to do it with my daughter for obvious reasons. Then it turns out, she bailed on the project, and I ended up swimming on my own. But she’s here to congratulate me.”

What went through your mind while you were in the water today?

“I would say the experience itself gave me a sense of confidence. Quite honestly, this is pretty minor in the scheme of things. This is just one stroke after the next. I feel like this is a little bit of an encouragement for other people who have challenges in life — that they can overcome them, too.”

What advice do you have for other people going through a difficult recovery process?

“Set a goal. Stick to the goal. Enjoy it. Every moment is precious. You know, these things — this is what makes life so enjoyable.”

‘I Technically Died’: Man Swims From Alcatraz to S.F. 16 Months After Massive Heart Attack 2 December,2017Jeremy Siegel


Jeremy Siegel

Jeremy Siegel is an anchor, editor and producer for KQED News. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduated from UC Berkeley.

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