Patient Success Story: An Ironman Comeback

October 2, 2020

It was Easter Monday of 2015 and I was woken up by what felt like weird heart beats - like my heart was skipping a beat every so often. I asked my wife to 'listen' to my chest and she concurred. We both got quite worried and she rushed me to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. During the drive there I was wondering what was going on as I have always been a very active person and an avid cyclist, I had even cycled the day before. However, looking back on some of my rides I recalled that lately my heart rate would climb quite fast at the beginning, and then after a couple of minutes it would drop to a more normal rate and it would stay like that for the rest of the ride. If I only knew what that meant!

After arriving at the hospital, I was rushed to the triage area and received an EKG followed by a CT scan of my heart. As I was hooked up to a heart monitor and other equipment, several doctors and interns came to see me and look at the heart monitor, until the cardiologist came. I could see that he didn't have good news for me. He put me at ease by chatting about our mutual interest in cycling and then explained that I would have to take a break from my sport because I needed heart surgery due to bicuspid aortic valve stenosis.

I learned that I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve and it got calcified which prevented it from opening properly. My heart had to pulse a second time to push the accumulated blood out through the partially opened valve, and my aortic valve had to be replaced. I was in shock and anger. “Why me?”, I thought. I always stayed active, watched my weight, monitored what I ate, didn't smoke or drink, and I was only 47 and my daughter was only 6!

I was referred to a cardiac surgeon to discuss the possible types of heart valve replacement procedures I could pursue, each with its pros and cons. My options included a mechanical valve, pig valve, human cadaver valve, and a biosynthetic trifecta valve. Various factors played a role in my choice. My first choice was a human cadaver valve, but the size I would need was unavailable in a reasonable timeframe. The option that I ultimately pursued was a biosynthetic trifecta valve, it offered 20 years of longevity, no blood thinners would be required, it had great hemodynamic performance, and since it is manufactured, it was available in my size.

On December 7th, 2015 my surgery went according to plan. After four days in the hospital I was sent home for a two-month recovery period. On Christmas day, 18 days after surgery, I was back on my cycle trainer for my first post-surgery easy ride! I was on the road to recovery and I felt great. From that point on, I knew that I was better than before and was determined to make the most of my circumstances. Six months after surgery I participated in a 45km bike race at Mt. Tremblant with the original cardiologist that discovered my defective valve. We have become very good friends.

Since my procedure, I have continued to participate in cycling and athletic events, including various cycling races since 2016 and in 2018, I had my greatest sport achievement when I completed the 70.3 Ironman race at Mt. Tremblant in 6 hours and ran the Toronto Half-Marathon in under 2 hours. In 2019, I finished 1st at the 125km race at Mt. Tremblant and participated in the 114km Defi du Parc race and had the honor of cycling alongside Hugo Houle, who participated in the Tour de France twice. While there haven’t been in-person events in 2020, I still train and was able to participate in two virtual Ironman events.

I don't take any medication, exercise almost daily, and pay attention to what I eat. I have yearly routine visits with my cardiologist and I'm in my best shape ever and am trying to do more.

As per the Ironman motto: 'In life nothing is easy but everything is possible'.

One important thing I’d like to mention is this: Listen to your body. If you feel that something is not right get it checked right away. I was lucky to be diagnosed early which likely prevented a sudden heart attack. This 'hiccup' made me realize how valuable life is and now I have to make the most of it. I experienced the support of my wife and family, and I made a lifetime friend along the way that saved my life twice: once for diagnosing my heart problem and secondly for encouraging me before and after surgery. I must say thank you to them all.

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