A YEAR AFTER WIDOWMAKER HEART ATTACK, LEE RETURNS TO FUNNY CAR
The way Paul Lee sees it; he's playing with house money.
In December 2016, Lee, who had just been announced as a third driver for Kalitta Motorsports, suffered as severe of a heart attack as imaginable. He was diagnosed with a 100-percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery, otherwise known as the Widowmaker.
Such a condition generally results in dire consequences.
After three stents and a year of recuperation, Lee is showcasing what many around him already knew as fact. Lee has a heart and soul which is incredible.
"I believe there’s a reason why I’m given these other chances, and I’m still looking for that, and I’m here for a reason," Lee said. "I’m just doing the best I can and living life to the fullest, so I’d been given another second chance."
Saturday, during testing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park, the man with whom doctors initially diagnosed out of driving forever, defied the odds making his first runs since the medical procedure behind the wheel of a Kalitta Funny Car.
“It’s like I never left,” Lee said after his first run, a half-track pass.
Indeed the road has had a few potholes, but Lee’s positive energy GPS has always steered him in the right direction.
"It’s been a long road," Lee said. "When I first had the heart attack, a very serious one with a lot of damage, the doctor pretty much said that you’re lucky to be alive, forget about driving a race car."
The one aspect heart doctors haven't been able to measure one hundred percent is the level of determination. In this case, Lee wasn't about to accept his dream was over before it officially reached the pinnacle.
"In the course of the last 13 months, I worked with Dr. Kelly Tucker of the Orange County Heart Institute," Lee explained. "He is on the cutting edge of heart rehabilitation and always likes to try new things. And of course, I was ready to try anything.
"He had me do some rehabilitation. So within the last six months, my heart has increased 10-15 percent, which is a lot in the heart world, so to speak. My blood fow from the heart was down under 30 percent. "
In his rehabilitation within the last six months, the volume in Lee's heart has gone from 29 percent to 40-45 percent; a pretty large increase by any standard.
The increase has been enough to convince Lee to take a spin at driving a 10,000-horsepower, fire-belching Funny Car again. Lee is counting his lucky graces to be alive, and the attempt to resuscitate his driving career is icing on the cake.
"I just remember the feeling when I had my heart attack, I just wanted to be alive," Lee confided. "And, I was given another chance to be here again."
Lee might be cleared to do just about anything, even jumping from an airplane if he so chooses. Understand the heart attack is his second near-death experience.
Before driving a Funny Car, Lee was a skydiver.
"That was my other adrenaline rush," Lee admitted. "You could either find me (on a) weekend at the parachute center or at the drag strip. I was at one or the other every weekend. So I’ve made over 1,500 skydives in my life."
On a routine jump, Lee's parachute collapsed 100 feet from the ground, and didn’t re-inflate before he hit the ground going about 50 miles an hour. To this day, the memory of the accident is nonexistent. If not for the quick thinking of a fellow skydiver, who happened to be a nurse, Lee might have perished.
"Now I go through this heart attack, where I almost lost my life," Lee added. "I’m lucky to even be here. So, for them to say, forget about the race car, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve been racing my whole life. It wasn’t like I’d just started, and I was okay with it.
"Now that I know that I have the chance to do it again, well now I’m going to do it. If I can do it, that’s my passion, so I’m going to do it again.”
After all, playing with house money, is never a gamble anyway.