When Roy Hahn crossed the finish line of the 1988 Boston Marathon, he assumed it would be his last time running the legendary race — his fourth finish in four years.
But the April 15, 2013, marathon changed that.
“I was never in any shape to run it again,” Hahn said. “But when I saw the Boston bombing in 2013, it gave me a real strong desire to get back.”
Hahn thought it would take him a couple of years to get back to the Boston starting line. But he never expected his journey to include a near-fatal response to an antibiotic medication that left him in a coma and on a ventilator.
But in two weeks — five years after the bombing and 30 years after he last ran the Boston Marathon — Hahn, 72, will toe the line once again.
“It means the world to me,” Hahn said. “Especially at this time in my life.”
After the bombings, Hahn got to work on his marathon training. He ran a half marathon in Palm Springs, Calif., and felt like he wasn’t too far from where he needed to be.
But after doing some charity work in the Bahamas in February 2016, Hahn came down with pneumonia. He checked into a Palm Springs hospital. Things went downhill from there.
A few years earlier, in 2011, Hahn was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, which is characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of any of muscles under one’s voluntary control, according to the Mayo Clinic. Eye, face and throat muscles are among the most common muscles affected by the condition.
When Hahn checked into the hospital in 2016, he disclosed his diagnosis and his current symptoms: cough and shortness of breath. He was put on a powerful antibiotic, levofloxacin (brand name Levaquin), that stops the growth of bacteria. Hahn says the drug nearly killed him.
A decade ago, the Food and Drug Administration gave the antibiotic — among a class of drugs known as fluoroquinolones — the highest level warning, a black-box warning, for increasing the risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture. Since then, the FDA has added several more conditions to the list. In February 2011, the FDA warned the drug could worsen symptoms for those with myasthenia gravis.
Despite that warning, the Vancouver man was put on the drug. What exactly happened to Hahn is unclear; the medical records are vague and, at times, contradictory. They were also amended by doctors a month after his stay.
From what Hahn can gather, though, he experienced either cardiac arrest or a severe allergic reaction. Health care providers administered epinephrine and may have used a defibrillator to revive him.
Hahn’s daughter, Marni O’Neill, who is a registered nurse, flew down from Vancouver to be by her dad’s bedside.
“When I got there, he was restrained in bed and on a ventilator,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill was preparing herself to say goodbye to her dad. But, slowly, Hahn began to improve; he was released two weeks later. But Hahn was sent home with a seven-day course of levofloxacin. He was back in the hospital within 48 hours.
“They do the complete same process,” Hahn said. “And I go down again. Intubated for three days again.”
Weeks later, Hahn was released again , still with no understanding of what happened. Back in Vancouver, Hahn saw his primary care provider. He described the ordeal and his physician immediately suspected levofloxacin. Hahn scoured his medical records and realized he had been given the drug. He and O’Neill began researching the drug and were horrified by the search results: FDA warnings. News stories about deaths. Lawsuits against the drug manufacturer.
“This medication is killing people,” Hahn said. “And it almost killed me.”
Two months after leaving the hospital, Hahn stepped on the treadmill for the first time and once again began his quest to get back to Boston.
During the week, Hahn runs long, slow miles on his treadmill. On weekends, he hits the streets. Hahn pushes the pace and climbs hills, rewarding himself at the end with a cappuccino and a croissant.
Since June 2016, he’s logged more than 3,000 miles.
On Feb. 24, Hahn ran the DuPont Trail Marathon. He finished in ninth place, with a time of 4 hours, 13 minutes — 12 minutes faster than the qualifying standard.
Finally, in two weeks, Hahn will run Boston for the fifth time, with O’Neill and his grandson, Nick O’Neill, among the cheering crowd of spectators.
“The bombing and the stories that came out of it, that’s inspiring,” Hahn said. “I’m not going to try to qualify (for next year). I’m going to try to enjoy myself.”