Tag Archives: cycling

Ride

I want to tell a story about my friend Matt.

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Matt and I at the starting line

When I first made this blog, a guy named Matt from Santa Rosa, CA sent me a message. Matt is a fellow cyclist who, when he was 19 years old (about 16 years ago), received the Ross procedure, a type of open heart valve replacement surgery. He wrote me because he found out that he needed to have another operation to replace the valves that were implanted years ago (biological valves often need to be replaced, but do not require blood thinners). He was following this blog, and challenged me to sign up for the Levi’s Gran Fondo ride in Santa Rosa. A Gran Fondo is a type of bike ride that often involves thousands of riders of different abilities. The riders are timed and while some people race; many take a more casual approach. The ride was a little less than a year from my initial surgery, and 8 months after his. The Gran Fondo was going to be a great goal for both of us on our ride to recovery, a celebration of our lives as cardiac athletes.

I had my complication and needed a reoperation in March of 2014. That was terrible, and it set my recovery back, but I was still ready for the ride, which was in October 2014. Matt had some complications during his surgery, which made his recovery a little rough in the beginning, but like me, he was ready for the ride.

My roommate John and I drove up to his house the night before the ride, and I chatted with him for the first time in person. Matt and I compared battle scars, and discussed the challenges that we both faced throughout our recoveries. We both had extra loud valves that could be heard across the room. We were both thankful for our lives, and our ability to ride our bikes.

In the morning we suited up and rode to the starting line. We snapped a few pictures as thousands of other cyclist trickled in until the starting line was just a hoard of riders. The ride was 67 miles, and when I finished, I was overcome with many emotions, and tears. I remember just saying to myself, “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you….”

Fast forward a few months to February of this year. Matt called me from a hospital bed. He had pain in his leg, which indicated a blood clot. Matt has mechanical valves (like me), and takes Coumadin as an anticoagulant. If the level of anticoagulation (or ‘thinness’) of the blood gets too low, clots can form, The clot forms on the valve, and can break off and get lodged in the leg. The other possibility is that there is an infection (endocarditis) of the valve, and a clump of bacterial vegetation breaks off and gets lodged just like a clot.

My second surgery was caused by endocarditis. Bacterial endocarditis can be very fatal, so I was so scared for Matt. I really hoped that he did not have an infection. The doctors ran their blood cultures and echocardiograms and determined that he did not have endocarditis!  This was great news! The clot in his leg was treated with heparin, and he was released.

A week or so later I received a call from Matt’s sister. Matt talked about our friendship with her and she got my number from his email. She told me, “Matt passed away.”

Though Matt did not have an infection, he was having chronic clotting issues, and a clot dislodged from his heart, and went to his brain. I was driving when I found out. Alone in my car, I cried and screamed.

Matt’s death hit me hard because he was my peer. I saw myself in him, and I saw myself in his death. “That’s me,” I thought to myself.

This journey has brought me many new friends. Through my blogging, I have met others who have been through, or are going through valve surgery. We share a common bond, and through the internet we connect and share our experiences with each other. It is difficult to talk about our journeys with family and friends who have not gone though it themselves. Even though they empathize and care, they do not fully understand the emotional and physical baggage that comes with heart surgery.

I am so thankful to have met Matt and shared this experience with him. Like me, all he wanted was to recover, and get back to the sports he loved. He was a cyclist, a skier, and a great man. I wish we could share a beer and ride together again. Here’s to you Matt. Cheers.

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3 Months Post Surgery: BIG Milestone

Recovery is more than getting back to physical health. I am psyched that I have been able to get back to where I am now, however there are some challenges that linger.

  • Emotions: I have noticed significant emotional changes since my surgery. I am not suffering from (cardiac) depression, which happens to many heart surgery patients, but my emotions are extreme. I feel greater joy, and greater sadness in my daily life. The extremes are more present than they used to be.
  • Pride: I feel like I have something to prove. I feel the need to be stronger than I ever have been before. I’m afraid that I am sometimes overdoing it.
  • Physical strength and endurance. Some stronger, some weaker.
  • Occasional PVC’s (premature ventricular contractions): though these have decreased dramatically.

Cycling

Cycling on Feb 22, 2014 ‘Greenspot rd route’: http://my.digifit.com/site/share/workout/c5906ac59bf911e395a409b929907b9a.html My restrictions have been dropped, so I do not need to keep my heart rate under 140 BPM any longer! The cool thing is, due to my beta blocker medication, my heart doesn’t really go above that anyway. We will see once I’m taken off the, hopefully this week. If you are looking at my heart rate chart, don’t worry about the extreme spikes above 200 BPM, I am pretty sure that those reading are errors due to the wind when I go very fast downhill. I think the wind vibrates my jersey against the heart monitor. Those spikes only occur when I go downhill, which is when I am exerting myself the least.

Climbing

I feel that I am back to my normal climbing strength. Now I am training to climb harder and better than I ever have in my life. I have begun a 3 month training regiment that will put me in the best shape of my life. I’ll be sure to post my progress on this. There are various climbing competitions in southern california that I will be competing in. It is time to get strong. I wish I had a recent picture of me climbing something cool to show you, but I don’t.

Personal Life

This one is tough. Refer to my first bullet at the top of this post.

SO anywayz here’s a picture of me with my shirt off!

Scar Shot!

Scar Shot!

Goals (and Fundraising)

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Now that I am starting to feel a little more nimbly-bimbly on my feet, I thought that it was due time to set up some goals for myself. Maybe it was chance or providence, but when I made this decision I saw that my friend Dave over at The Ironheart Foundation set up a nifty way for heart surgery patients to simultaneously raise money for registration costs of races, and for the Ironheart Foundation itself. The program is called Kickstart Your Heart through Active.com’s Active Giving Network. The way it works: Ironheart will reimburse me for my registration fees for whatever races and athletic events that I enter, if I raise double that amount on my Kickstart fundraising page.

Click here to donate to Ironheart and ME!:  http://www.active.com/donate/kickstartyourheart/robovalve

A little bit about Ironheart’s Philosophy:

Many of us have gone through serious cardiac issues/surgeries and use endurance sports as a way to stay healthy and inspire others. Some have simply joined Ironheart to help spread awareness of congenital heart disease and healthy heart living through exercise and competition. We are a team made up of patients, family members, physicians and healthcare providers, young and old… We participate in everything from 5K runs/walks to marathons, triathlons and beyond- all to support the Foundation, raise awareness for healthy heart living, and to support those we love, including ourselves! – http://ironheartfoundation.org/about
FINALLY, my athletic goals for 2014 are:

  • San Diego Half Marathon on March 9th (less than 4 months after open heart surgery)
  • San Luis Obispo Marathon on April 25th
  • Levi GranFondo 100 mile road bike race on October 4th
  • Various bouldering (rock climbing) competitions
  • A Possible Triathalon if I can learn how to swim
  • AND more (hopefully if I can hack it)!
My first race after surgery.

My first race after surgery.

 

The Athlete’s Heart

cycling red rocks

cycling red rocks

The different opinions coming from different patients and doctors about how much exercise is appropriate for someone with BAV can be a little frustrating. There are various camps out there on this matter, and I will attempt to break it down here. Keep in mind that recommendations can vary depending on severity of regurgitation & stenosis, and the presence/ size of an associated thoracic aortic aneurysm. My current status is Bicuspid Aortic Valve with mild-severe regurgitation and 4.6cm ascending aortic aneurysm. Here we go:

1. Doctors and patients who see the potential of dissection and rupture, even though it might be a small risk. If there is a possibility, then why risk a catastrophic event with the stress of exercise? These opinions stem from the recommendations made at the 36th Bethesda Conference in 2005. Walking, bowling and golf are ok.

2. Doctors and patients who take a cautious yet more liberal approach. This is where I’ve been hanging out for the past few months. I continue my normal forms of exercise, yet I do not push myself. Keep BPM under 140, avoid the Valsalva Maneuver while exercising, and listen to your body.

3. Patients who say, “Screw what anyone else says, I’m doing what I want!” I seriously considered this for a while. Not the smartest move, but potentially liberating. Potentially liberating from life as well.

I just recently had a cool email correspondence with Dr. Larry Creswell, from a blog that I’ve been following called athletesheart.blogspot.com. His blog is exactly the resource that I need. He is a Cardiologist who cares enough about people like me to make his knowledge available to the public. He also responded to an email of mine in full detail. I asked Dr. Creswell about what he thought I should be doing in regards to exercise right now, and he definitely falls under category #1. His response was, and I quote:

“…You ask about my thoughts about exercise between now and 11/25.  I’d be very cautious.  Guidelines developed by an expert panel can be found online in the Proceedings of the 36th Bethesda Conference.  Athletes with BAV and aortic diameter >4.5 cm should participate in only low-intensity sports (eg, golf, bowling).  I know that’s not what you’d like to hear.      On the brighter side, once you’ve recovered from operation you should be good to go.  I’m aware of a bunch of young athletes who’ve returned to their sports after operations like yours.  You might check out Ironheart Racing online; their founder, Dave Watkins, had your operation and is back at triathlon.  Climbing El Capitan would be awesome.”

Dr. Creswell is right. That IS NOT what I wanted to hear, though it is important for me to hear these second opinions. His thoughts will definitely help me shape the next couple of months. Maybe I should scale back a bit. More yoga. Less climbing. Less hills while cycling. More patience.

Ima still jump off cliffs though

Digifit Testimonial

About a month ago, I posted about how I was using Digifit to continue exercising while keeping my heart rate low. The editors over at Digifit contacted me about doing a little testimonial for their blog. Check it out!:                           http://blog.digifit.com/2013/08/digifit-helps-anthony/

It is just really incredible (and strange) that, so far, this has been one of the most positive experiences of my life. I know there is a hard road ahead of me, But I can also see some rewards up ahead as well. I have many ideas that I can’t wait to explore and share with you.

I really don’t know when I was happier than now.

happiness

happiness

cheers!

Anthony

Just an Update

The Margarita Throwdown Winners!

The Margarita Throwdown Winners!

I haven’t posted in a while. Work started a few weeks ago, so I’ve been super busy starting the year off right with a new group of 8th grade science students. I’ve been continuing my workout plan, so cycling, climbing, and light weightlifting/ core workouts, all while keeping my heart rate under 140 BPM. In addition to keeping my heart rate under 140, I also make sure that I do not ever strain. With weightlifting, it is easy to be straining under too much weight and still have your BPM low, so I must manage both. BTW, when I say light weightlifting, I really mean light. I have always been more into light weight, high rep anyway.

Bike BBQ/ Inland Empire Bicycling Alliance Margarita Throw-down Victory! Redlands is graced with a pretty cool cycling scene. Behind Augie’s Coffee Shop (where I write most of my posts) is Bike BBQ, a place where people can use tools and seek expertise from volunteers on how to fix and maintain their bikes. They even sell bikes/ parts for a very good price. These two cycling organizations threw a contest where cyclist teamed up with bartenders and used stationary bike-powered blenders to make margaritas. I am proud to say that my bartender friend Bryan Bruce (From Caprice Cafe in Redlands) and I won with a very interesting jalapeño/black sea salt/pineapple foam Margarita concoction. Check out the video at the bottom of the post to see how it went down. The quality isn’t too good, but you’ll get the idea.

Inner Evolution Yoga: My friend Phil owns Inner Evolution Yoga in Redlands, CA. We used to climb a bit together. When he opened his studio a few years ago I helped him paint the ceiling. I even worked there for 2 weeks as the front desk guy while he was away on a retreat. When Phil read my blog and saw what was up with my life right now, he gave me 10 passes to his studio. Yoga is a fantastic form of exercise that will also aid me in breathing and relaxation techniques that will be very useful leading up to my surgery. Thanks Phil, and if any of my readers live near Redlands, check out his studio.

False Alarm: The other day I had a little false alarm. I had a sudden onset of a sore throat thursday afternoon, and being the researcher/ hypochondriac that I am, I googled it and found this article, and this one too. In my head I understood that the chances of an aortic dissection with only a sore throat as a symptom is possible, yet extremely rare. I also knew that if it was a dissection, and I ignored it, I would die. As I was freaking out, some people said, relax it’s nothing, others said that I should go to the ER just in case, and I just didn’t know what to do. I realized that If I didn’t go to the ER, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I just drove myself to the ER thinking that I’d be home by midnight if everything was okay, and that’s exactly what happened. It is a little embarrassing that I freaked out so much. I did learn about how Aortic Dissection can be diagnosed with a blood test called D-Dimer. Really interesting actually. This is what they did for me. The other option is a CT scan, which subjects the body to a large amount of radiation. I’m calling this experience ‘My Dry Run’.

C.R.E.A.M. (A Man with Plans and a Dream)

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Just me and my bicycle

I had a little bit of inspiration today. My buddy Mark (at around 3:30am) adapted the lyrics of C.R.E.A.M. by Wu Tang Clan for me. It was both hilarious and touching to wake up to the message. The message from Mark got me out on my feet and on my bike. I rode my bike up the Redlands, CA classic route ‘Sunset Loop’. It’s just about 12.5 miles, but lots of hills. I usually hit it as hard as I can, so I’ve been avoiding it lately because I was unsure if I could keep my BPM under 150. I did it, with the exception of one big spike, which I hope was a glitch because it came out of nowhere. I’m getting much better at focusing on my breathing. I usually average 15-17 mph on this ride, but today did it in 12.5 mph. It’s all about getting on the bike and riding right now, not how fast it is done. Thanks Mark, and Thanks to everyone else in my life who have been so supportive and inspiring.

Adapted C.R.E.A.M. lyrics by Mark:

Cash rules everything around me
C.R.E.A.M get the money
Dollar, dollar bill y’all

It’s been thirty some long hard years of still struggling
Survival got Tony bugging, but he’s alive on arrival
Tony grew up with a coronary crime side
The aint got much time side and you aint heard half of it yet
Tonys got bulging arteries, and crunked up valves
Stayin alive was no jive
Times for Tony was ruff and tough like leather
Doc figured out Tony’s blood went the wrong route
So Tony went callin up this one, meeting with that one
So then Tony hooked up with sick ass plan and went all out
Under the knife to install a kick ass robo-valve

They say that writing blogs can help you maintain to overcome all the heartaches and pain
Leave it up to Tony to be living proof
To kick the truth to the hip blogisphere
And stay awake to the ways of the world cause shit is deep
But shorty’s running wild,learning science, drinking juice
And ain’t trying to hear what Tonys kicking in their ear
Neglected for now but yo, it gots to be accepted
That what, that life is hectic