Tom Burns jumped in the shower after finishing the 5-mile Shamrock Run in the subfreezing temperatures that are familiar to residents of Buffalo, New York. It’s a race the veteran runner had done a number of times.

But once in the warm water, something didn’t feel right.

“All the sudden I had this chest pain,” Burns said. “I thought maybe it was from being outside in the cold for three hours, a muscle-type thing that would go away.”

But Burns knew this was like nothing he had ever experienced, so he chewed a baby aspirin and called his wife at the grocery store and asked her to come home.

The couple headed to the emergency room where doctors ran some tests and found elevated enzyme levels in the blood indicating a possible heart attack. A cardiologist confirmed Burns had suffered a heart attack and scheduled him for an angiogram the next day to see how well his heart was working. That test showed blockage in an artery and a blood clot, so the doctor inserted a stent to reopen the artery.

Burns, then 46, was lucky. Heart disease had killed others in his family.

His dad died from complications of heart disease at 55. His father’s father died at 48. Burns’ younger brother suffered a heart attack at 36.

“There’s definitely a history,” Burns said, adding he has had a few stress tests since his brother’s heart attack almost 10 years ago and checked out fine.

The cardiologist told Burns there is typically a list of things someone his age needs to change after a heart attack: exercise more, eat healthier.

But the doctor said, “‘We don’t have that list for you,’” said Burns, who already led a healthy lifestyle. “It’s just one of those things. It’s a family history.”

In fact, Burns’ cardiac rehabilitation took less than a quarter of the time it takes typical patients. The nurse cleared him from rehab just in time for a race organized as a tribute to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing that had happened only days before. At that event, Burns completed two loops around the park, logging 3.8 miles.

In 2014, the year after his heart attack, Burns again took part in the Shamrock Run in March, dedicating his efforts to raising money for the American Heart Association. The associate vice president of PR, marketing and communications at Niagara University envisioned raising $1,000. But after interviews and posts on social media, he had garnered more than $5,000 in pledges.

Tom Burns (right) at the 2014 Shamrock Run one year after his heart attack, with New York State Assemblyman Michael Kearns.

Tom Burns (right) at the 2014 Shamrock Run one year after his heart attack, with New York State Assemblyman Michael Kearns. (Photo courtesy of Tom Burns)

“I felt if there’s a way to raise money for people with heart disease, let’s do that,” he said. “I don’t know how far $5,000 goes along those lines in terms of research and that type of stuff, probably a drop in the bucket, but I just felt because of the incident with me and that heart attack, it would be appropriate to choose the Heart Association.”

Three years after his heart attack, the 49-year-old is running 10 to 15 miles a week. He has also completed the Shamrock Run every year since his heart attack.

“In the back of my mind, I have this thought that I’m going to run it every year,” Burns said. “The race that almost killed me is not going to kill me.”