Tag Archives: congenital heart defect

Heartbroken!

3 May

To some people ironman is stupid. They can’t understand why you’d want to do something which takes over your life, causes so much pain and requires so many sacrifices.  To me, it’s what kept me going when I had to deal with a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect and subsequent surgery. I achieved my goal of completing an Ironman and I’m so grateful I got the chance to. It really was the best day of my life!

Today, my chances of doing another have been taken away. I’ve received the official ‘no’ to another half or full IM from my sports specialist consultant cardiologist. Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced symptoms including chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, wheezing – all not exactly confidence building with a race next week! I made the decision to stop and get it checked.

My VO2 test revealed figures that meant enough is enough. I am fit, healthy and I want to say that way. My heart, with years under a lot of pressure per-operation, just doesn’t like ironman training.  Carrying on now would risk shorting my life and heart failure. That’s good enough for me. It’s not me giving up….

I made a deal with him that if I quit ironman, he will give me a place, support and monitor me to attempt the London marathon one more time next year! I will still love all things swim, bike and run and will never give up but I need to have a break from it for now. I think it will take time to process, giving up a total of 6 races, including my two iron distances is heart-breaking (!), I am totally devastated to miss Mallorca 70,3, Roth and IM Western Australia, amongst other races, but I know it’s the right decision.

I will be back!

Tyres, Tears, Tickers and Chips!

16 Mar

February was spent geared up for a big training week in the Canary Islands. After lots of family problems and busy work schedules I had finally managed to increase my training and was feeling pretty good. I faced a week in Lanzarote with three boys, all who were bound to whip my ass around the island. Time to be tough!

Bring on the hills!

When we first arrived the wind was blowing but the sun was out. We headed out for an easy 5k run, followed by a dip in the sea. Most of the day was spent trying to sort out our bikes. We made the decision to hire bikes and whilst they were decent bikes, we had many a drama with puncture after puncture plus several blown-out tyres. All good experience for people such as me with very limited bike maintenance experience!

The second day started from Puerto del Carmen where we picked up the hire bikes and headed out on a scenic 60 mile ride. Strong headwinds made some stretches of the ride very hard work, even drafting at the back of the boys. I gave myself a stern talking to – HTFU! A couple of hills along the route nicely tired out our legs just in time for a 2 mile run off once back at the apartment. Considering I had only covered this distance once before, I was pleased with the day.

I was super excited about our ‘sandwich’ day on the third day – this involved a 25 mile ride to Club La Santa, an amazing resort which is an athlete’s dream and includes an Olympic sized outdoor pool. We arrived at lunchtime and had a lovely 3k swim in the sun. Not only was this a great experience, it was my first ever swim at this distance! A quick athlete’s lunch of, erm, chicken burger and chips, then we headed back off on a hot, hilly 26 mile ride back to Costa Teguise. Total of 51 miles today and whilst I was started to feel a bit tired, I was buzzing.

Because the wind can be so brutal in Lanzarote, we closely watched the weather and planned in our long ride day for the Saturday. Warm weather was forecast and the wind was down – perfect. My friends I was out with knew the island well and had plenty of Ironman experience. This meant that their aim for the day was 100 miles. Another dodgy tyre meant an unwelcome detour back to Puerto del Carmen and the bike shop in the morning. By mid-morning, we were out and covering mile after mile. A climb up Haria really took the wind out of me and I struggled to catch my breath at the top. For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t stop the tears. Luckily, no-one saw them! I was feeling tired by 50 miles in but was so determined to complete the distance that my legs kept pedalling. The guys were so patient and waited for me whenever necessary. Once the main hills were out of the way, I got my energy back and we cruised back reaching just over 80 miles. I was so pleased. A celebratory milkshake was in order!

After such as long day on the Saturday, I decided to take Sunday off riding. The guys went off on a tough ride themselves and Damon & I headed out for a run along the coastline. 90 minutes off-road and in the sun was tougher than I expected and I withered a little! After some lunch, we got back in the sea and after 35 minutes, I felt exhausted and dizzy. Time for more chips.

Monday was especially hot and we made the most of the weather with a hilly day, attempting Tabayesco and Mirador – two big climbs. I was pleased that I managed them, despite at a very slow speed. Another 56 miles in the bag and very tired legs. As we are training for triathlon, I decided to pipe up that I thought it would be good to run off the bike. So off we trotted for an hour. The only training that did was practising my Ironman shuffle, I had no speed left at all! The following morning, we rode over to La Santa again, quick swim of 1500m then headed back. Towards the end of this 50 mile ride, I was pretty tired. So tired that I felt as if I was hardly moving. About 10 miles from home, I began to notice a heaviness in my chest. Not painful but enough for me to be aware that it was there. It was a familiar feeling, the same as before I had my heart surgery. A noticeably cardiac pain that until you have experienced it, you couldn’t put your finger on what it is. It kind of ache that grips you and you can’t focus on anything else. I deliberated about telling anyone and didn’t for about 15 minutes. It went off and I tried to focus on getting home as quickly as possible!

 

That night I thought over the holiday and started to wonder if I had been more breathless than I should have been on the hills. The terrain out there was tough, the conditions hot and windy and I am nowhere near as fit as the guys I was with. Maybe that was the explanation. In the evenings, I had been unable to sleep well as I had been noticed slight palpitations or just an awareness of my heartbeat in my ears. Alarm bells started to ring, very quietly, in my head. Was I just over tired at a successful but extremely tiring week?

Back home, I went for a short easy run to test myself. My legs felt fine, my body did not. Hmmm. Another day off, followed by the local parkrun on Saturday. I went on my own and I was glad I did. I was so out of breath the whole run, finishing feeling deflated and with the starts of chest pain. This got worse and I walked until it went off. I made my decision then and there to go to my GP and get the pain checked out. Getting pain and breathlessness when exercising is something not to ignore and my nursing voice told me there could be more to this than just Lanza tiredness.

An agonising wait for the doctor’s appointment three days later meant I worried non-stop. I had started to get pain during the day, even when doing nothing. I made the decision not tell anyone about the appointment until I had a plan. The GP was mildly sympathetic and referred me back to a cardiologist at the hospital for an exercise tolerance test. This could take two weeks but I figured something was better than nothing. A chat the following day with a friend lead me to the decision that this wasn’t good enough, considering my symptoms and continued pain.

Going to A&E as an A&E nurse has to be one of the hardest things to do. Luckily, they were lovely, sorting me out quickly and painlessly (well, nearly, after several blood tests!). Before I knew it, I was admitted on a ward, with the promise of further tests the following day. Nothing sinister had showed up on my ECG or chest xray so an echocardiogram was required. Knowing that there was a possibility that the patch in my heart had a leak, I fought hard to stay positive and focus on what needed to be done.

As it goes in the NHS, progress was slow and I had to wait patiently to see any doctors or get my tests requested. Once I had my echo, more waiting ensued and it was pretty painful! Not knowing is difficult. I was kept occupied by other women in my bay, qho couldn’t understand how I could have heart problems ‘being so young and pretty’ – haha (“don’t think so love!” was my reply).

The results were finally in and I was informed that I had a slightly leak on my mitral valve which might or might not be causing my pain. There was a possibility that scar tissue was also a factor, as could be muscular skeletal pain or even stress. The final test of a CT of my coronary arteries to check that they are in the correct position after my surgery which I will  have next week will be the last option to rule out. After 3 days,  I left hospital a little fed up and uncertain of what to do next.

Speaking with other members of the Ironheartracing team help, as did chatting with others I know who have had similar surgery. I owe a special thankyou to my always supportive coach and a new friend who has helped me out massively over the last couple of weeks – you know who you are!

This morning I was back to the hopsital for an exercise tolerance test on the treadmill. This went well and I was reassured by the cardiologist that there was no evidence to suggest my heart was under stress when exercising. A chat with the consultant confirmed that I was ok to continue training and still race in July. Luckily he called me to say this – otherwise I might have kissed him! :)

At this stage, having had two weeks off training has felt like forever. As I am continually reminded by friends and family, health always comes first. That voice in your head that tells me to forget all the advice and get back in the pool, on my bike or in my trainers will have to be quiet for now. Now’s the time to reflect, recover and be patient. Maybe it’s nothing and my body is just telling me to have a break. What’s important is that I stay strong and don’t let a hurdle get in the way of my long term goal. Heart surgery to Ironman was never going to be an easy journey but after a week in Lanzarote and two weeks of uncertainty, I feel ready for anything!

 

 

12 Weeks Ago Today My Heart Was Stopped For 39 Minutes

15 Sep

12 weeks ago today, I had heart surgery for a large hole in my heart. My heart was stopped and I was put onto a bypass system during the operation. I woke up in intensive care sore and feeling very sick. I spent 8 days in hospital before returning home to spend the next 12 weeks recovering.

35110_10150228719590343_694765342_13471606_5284038_n

Last night, re-running this in my mind kept me awake. Since my operation, all my focus has been on getting better and the future. I never let myself think about the lead up to surgery, my time in hospital or any pain during recovery. I can now admit it wasn’t easy. It hurt. I was scared. I saw my cardiologist last week who told me I would have died in 8 -10 years if I hadn’t had the surgery. At the time, I laughed this off. Afterwards I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach! This information has only made me more determined to achieve now. Achieve in business, in triathlon, in running and my life in general.

Niggling fears and doubts are starting to bug me! Two of my hospital consultants have told me that it is ok for me to train again. They both know my aims to return to triathlon and running (ironman hasn’t been mentioned though!). Both were quick to tell me I wouldn’t be able to be an elite athlete. This hasn’t been an aim of mine but why is it when someone tells you you can’t do something, it makes you want it even more!! I am now questioning why not. Physiologically, can my heart not stand intense exercise? I’ve been told my heart is as good as new now so this doesn’t make sense. Should I be scared to push it on a lone 20 mile run or 50 mile bike ride? What if I feel like I did after the Berlin marathon last year (hideous!). Feelings of sadness have filled me this week. Sadness at what I have missed in terms of races and at what my body has gone through.

There I’ve said it. I admit to feeling rubbish this week. However, I have had the best training sessions. Running on the treadmill with the occasional 1 minute walk have felt great.  Cycling on the spin bike at the gym was such as relief to get back on the bike. The best feeling of all was getting back in the pool. Lengths felt so easy, I was shocked! No breathlessness or chest pain, not so much as an ache in any of my chest muscles. My sternum has now healed, yipee!! I am finally at a stage where I am going to overtake my progress before my operation. With some trepidation I am starting to believe in what I may be capable of. I  am excited to think of the personal bests that may be ahead. All the frustration of not achieving the times I thought I should in relation to my training is now behind me.

Although my heart was stopped 12 weeks ago today, it has never worked as efficiently as it is now. For that, I am very grateful! Coming soon is my list of 2011 races :)

35110_10150228719560343_694765342_13471600_3506420_n