EVERETT — Tara Polk’s husband was digging in the yard with a pickax in April 2021. His upper back was bothering him, and he was out of breath. He was angry to be so winded, thinking he was out of shape.
Robert Polk went upstairs to take a shower, and his wife heard him throw up. This was unusual. He told her his upper back was really hurting.
“He was like a crazed animal, desperately trying to walk away from the discomfort,” Tara Polk said. “I thought he was having a muscle spasm.”
He went to lay down, then stood up and collapsed to the ground.
Paramedics pronounced him dead from a heart attack only a couple hours after his symptoms started. He was 54.
Everett Memorial Stadium hosted a heart health educational event Saturday, honoring the memory of the former Everett Public Schools athletic director.
Robert and Tara were both college athletes, with Robert getting his master’s degree in physical education. He was a football coach who set up CPR classes, but he was still not aware of his symptoms, Tara Polk said.
“I don’t believe he would be alive today had we really caught it,” she said. “But now I’m thinking if I had really been aware, maybe he would.”
The event, held in collaboration with the Everett Aquasox and other vendors, educated dozens of people with the hope of saving lives.
Providence Regional Medical Center Everett hosted a booth to tell people about how to keep the heart healthy and recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pains and shortness of breath.
“A regular physical is important, and once you hit 50, going in for a heart screening,” Tara Polk said.
The Nick of Time Foundation was founded by Darla Varentti after the unexpected death of her teenage son. The foundation brought a truck inside the stadium, with mannequins to practice CPR on.
There were also activities meant to increase your heart rate, like walking around the track and a Zumba class with the Everett Aquasox mascot. Afterward, people could get their heart rate taken.
Robert Polk died a few months shy of the couple’s 30th anniversary. The pair met in college at the University of Puget Sound. They had two children. Their youngest is getting married next summer.
“We explored all of Washington,” Tara Polk said. “I saw a travel ad of top 10 things to do in Washington — Robert and I had already done all of them.”
Tara Polk hopes eventually this kind of event will be held annually.
“His name is on a lot of different scholarships now, and those of us who knew him know he would be shaking his head, like, ‘Why are you putting my name on things?’” Tara Polk said. “He just didn’t want the limelight on him. As an educator, he’s still educating.”
Here are signs of a heart attack:
Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath: This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort. But it can occur before the chest discomfort.
Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Heart disease affects women as much as men, as it is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Women are “somewhat more likely” to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain as symptoms.