Richard Cline, a resident of Peal City, Hawaii, will be participating in the 2013 Honolulu Triathlon – his first major triathlon since undergoing open-heart surgery. He shared his story with us and asked that we pass it along, as a reminder of the importance of healthy living, listening to your body, and tackling life’s challenges with positivity and determination. Here is his story:
I have been an endurance athlete for most of my life and recently began focusing on triathlons, completing my first 1/2 Ironman in Hawaii in June 2012. My goal for the past several years has been to complete my first full Ironman at age 40. My fitness goals and outlook on life changed dramatically on August 15, 2012.
As I rolled out of my driveway to ride my bike to work, I became extremely dizzy to a point where I couldn’t see in front of me. Before long, a splitting headache and nausea set in. For several days previous to this morning, I had symptoms that led me to believe that I had a sinus infection (sinus pressure, headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness). Knowing my body like I do, I knew the symptoms had become severe enough to send me to the emergency room.
While in the ER, I began to experience a dull pain in my chest. The ER physician ordered an EKG due to this new symptom. The ER doctor was concerned with the first EKG and informed me they would be doing several more due to some irregularities. The 2nd and 3rd EKG’s were normal and it appeared my decision to head to the ER was an overreaction.
I was given aspirin and nitro glycerin, so my symptoms were subsiding. All seemed to be well until the 4th EKG; I had symptoms of an acute heart attack.
The first of what would be many stops was the cardiac catheter lab. During the procedure, they realized I had scattered blood clots in three coronary vessels of my heart. The good news was that this was not indicative of a heart attack. The bad news was that something was causing the blood clots.
The next test was a sonogram of my heart. I’m no doctor, but it didn’t take long to notice something unusual when the picture popped up on the display. It showed an outline of my heart, along with a tadpole-shaped object that didn’t look like it belonged. This was my first indication that something was seriously wrong.
As the day continued, I was poked, prodded, and scanned using every test imaginable; including an X-ray, MRI, and CT scan to make sure the blood clots didn’t migrate to my brain. After 10 hours, I was finally wheeled back to my room, where my very concerned and weary wife was waiting.
The tests revealed a 7cm tumor in my heart. It was rooted in my left atrium, passing through the mitral valve, and extending into the left ventricle. Surgery was scheduled for early the following morning. The MRI revealed that the tumor was breaking apart, showering my bloodstream and causing blood clots. These clots were causing miniature strokes and this is what caused my random headaches and dizziness. I was placed on blood thinners to mitigate the risk of a severe stroke or heart attack before surgery.
After a restless night, I was awakened at 3:00 am to prepare for surgery. While numerous thoughts crossed my mind, I managed to keep a positive attitude by focusing solely on my postoperative recovery. The morning of surgery is a blur and the last thing I remember is the anesthesiologist telling me he was giving me some “happy juice.”
I remember waking up startled, as if I was waking up in the middle of a bad dream. My next memory is someone telling me the surgery was over and that everything went well. I distinctly remember being elated at this news. After a night in ICU, I was moved to a regular room for several days of recovery.
Once the doctors explained the surgery to me, I began to realize just how lucky I am to be alive. The portion of the tumor that extended into my ventricle was rapidly breaking apart, much like a flag tattered from the wind. While small pieces were already breaking off and clogging small vessels, I was likely days away from a large piece breaking off, which would have caused a massive stroke and, quite possibly, death.
The doctors were astonished that I was able to race triathlon and attributed my survival to the fitness gained from endurance sports.
As the days have passed since surgery, I have a renewed energy for life and a great appreciation for the little things. I cannot begin to describe my appreciation for the medical professionals that cured me, especially for the ER doctor who insisted on conducting more EKG’s.
My motivation to race has always been somewhat selfish, setting personal records and proving that I can meet my own challenges. From now on, I will be motivated by a drive to inspire others and show everyone that anything is possible.
Are you participating in the 2013 Honolulu Triathlon and have a story you would like to share? Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org