Getting to know Randall Milstein, you might be surprised as conversation reveals a wide variety of vocations, passions and talents – so many that you may wonder, how does he do it all?
He is an Oregon State University instructor in the Physics Department, the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and the University Honors College, and is the Astronomer in Residence for the NASA Oregon Space Grant Consortium. The OSU website lists his technical specialties as planetary astronomy, stratigraphy, geophysics, subsurface mapping, scientific communications and photography, and that seems to be just scratching the surface.
He was highly sought after for scientific presentations on the solar eclipse of 2017. He is popular among students and science fiction buffs for his presentations on Star Trek and Star Wars and the visions for society each fandom embraces.
He is a respected professional photographer of modern dance and ballet and – in line with his interest in science fiction – portraits of costumed characters known as cosplayers at Comic Con conventions.
A dedicated athlete, he has decades of baseball, competitive running, biking, swimming and other sports under his belt, including many years taking part in the Scottish Highland Games. He is a dancer with Corvallis’ Regional School of Ballet and has danced in their production of The Nutcracker 19 times.
The list, literally, goes on.
“I was raised in a family that really prized education and multidimensionality,” he explains.
In the winter of 2018-2019, he found another thing he was good at, though not by choice. He has excelled at recovering from open heart surgery.
That November, walking around campus and carrying a backpack, he started having intense pain in his shoulder and back.
“I’ve had broken ribs multiple times, so I figured that was acting up,” Milstein said. “It got so bad, I couldn’t carry the backpack.”
When he went to the urgent care, the doctor saw in his electronic medical record that he’d had a stent put in, in 2012 when a ruptured artery was discovered when he’d been training for a race. The urgent care doctor sent Milstein to the cardiac catheterization lab at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center where he had an imaging procedure done
“They told me my stent had scarred almost completely shut,” said Milstein. “There was only 2% blood flow through the artery.”
Milstein met with Edward Bender, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Samaritan Heart Center who came to Corvallis through a partnership with Stanford Health Care.
“This kind of scarring or in-stent blockage can occur in about 5 out of 100 people over five years after the stent is placed” said Dr. Bender. “For all his activity, Randy has a heart like a brick fortress, he just had a bad piece of plumbing.”
The bad plumbing required a double bypass, and Milstein did not think twice about the surgery.
“Let’s fix it,” said Milstein. “I’ve got people who care about me and who I care about. I want to be around at least into my late 90s like everybody in my family, and Dr. Bender said ‘Well, let’s get you to 90.’”
As fit as he was, recovery was still a challenge, but Milstein was determined to get better as quickly as possible. His surgery occurred a couple of weeks before final exams at OSU, and he wanted to be there for his students.
“The recovery is tough, but it’s better than option B,” he said. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
Fortunately, while he began his recovery at the home of his sister, Sheila Johnson, he had a strong support network of family, friends and colleagues to help him recover and help keep things on track at OSU.
“He had a steady stream of friends and work colleagues who would come by almost every day and sit and chat,” Johnson said. “I know it meant so much to him.”
He stayed with his sister for five weeks, spending a lot of time on the couch with her cat, Hoopdie. He did not want to take pain medications, other than Tylenol.
“Not moving is what I did,” he explained. “I would just go into something like a yoga state, just not move, except my finger to turn a page of a book.”
He would stay like that for hours at a time, with Hoopdie laying across his lap.
“To have my sister’s care and the company of her cat was incredible,” Milstein said.
A little less than three weeks after his surgery, he made it to his students’ final exam.
“I was barely able to move, but I got there, just to assure them I was OK,” he said.
When he started cardiac rehabilitation at Good Sam his recovery went well because he had been pretty fit to start with. He regained his strength and lost 35 pounds, and credits the discipline he’s developed as a scientist, competitive athlete and dancer.
“He really worked hard,” Johnson said. “I was very proud of him.”
Milstein points out that with cardiac rehab, you might end up feeling even better than before.
“You’re going to learn you have a new 100%,” said Milstein. “You thought you were at 100% before, but you weren’t. All of a sudden, you’re back to where you should be and you’re saying ‘Holy moly! It’s like somebody put a new engine in!’”
He finished cardiac rehab just as the spring weather started getting nice enough to start exercising outside. He walks 7 to 10 miles every day, and also goes to the gym where he rides a stationary bike and lifts weights. His healthy habits include watching what he eats – lots of vegetables, fruit, poultry, salmon, eggs just once a week – and eating smaller portions.
“Rather than eat a whole sandwich, I eat a half a sandwich,” he said.
Milstein hopes his experience will inspire people to pay attention to how they are feeling and to gradual changes.
“In my case, there was no signal,” he said. “I was not symptomatic – no pain, no palpitations. If you think you’re slowing down, or if you think something’s not quite right, the biggest thing is to let other people know. Your mind or your body is giving you subtle clues that you might want to go get checked out. I thought I was just getting old and running down, but I really wasn’t. I am still as lively as ever.”
See more pictures of Randall and a gallery of his photography.
Your body is complex and when a heart issue occurs, it takes a team of professionals working for you to help you get better. Heart surgeon Edward Bender, MD, and Cardiologist Matthew Lindberg, MD, discuss the importance of patient-centered care in this videoin this video.