Messing Up my knee back in February was a blessing in disguise, maybe even a life-saver. My knee and ears hurt bad enough that I went to see my primary doctor, with whom I had not seen in five or so years. My knee hurt from the bike injury and my ears hurt from hearing my incredible wife wanking everyday about me needing to go have that looked at. Instead of looking at just my knee, my doctor insisted on doing a full workup as if I were a new patient. After reviewing my medical records, she took note of a diagnosis of a faint heart murmur about 20 years ago. She referred me to a Cardiologist.
After my initial visit with the Cardiologist and an EKG (A bunch of wires, pads and holes in my man sweater afterwards), I was called back in a few days later for an ECG (ultrasound of the heart). A few days after that my Cardiologist called me and informed that my faint hear murmur had degraded into moderate to borderline severe Aortic Stenosis with regurgitation. Basically, my Aortic Valve was not opening and closing properly and it was allowing non-oxygenated blood to backflow into the chamber where the oxygenated blood is at. This is causing my heart to work harder than it should. I was not having any of the typically symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and numbness in the extremities at the time. My Cardiologist was quite the straight shooter with me in that the only way to fix my particular condition was with surgery and it would most likely need to happen within a year or two max. He set me up for a six-month follow-up with a stipulation that I should call him if any of those symptoms develop.
Between then and now I became more self-aware that I was having some of those symptoms. Fatigue, well I’m not a spring chicken and getting old sucks. Shortness of breath, well yeah when I’m climbing a steep hill on my bike and …I’m no spring chicken. Now for chest pain, I cracked my sternum in 2004 in an MTB crash and I was chalking that slowly growing discomfort up to being visited by the ghost of bike injuries past. (Which is a thing…when you are not a spring chicken.)
In late September, I had that follow up round of testing with my Cardiologist and things had continued to degrade. I was not completely surprised when he told me it was time to take care of this. Failing to take action now could result in permeant damage to my heart beyond the valve and put me at escalating risk of an “unscheduled” cardiac event in the next 1-5 years.
On November 11th, I had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve (with an bovine valve #prostethitic_heart_valves). I had already had a cardiac caterer procedure and no other work was needed such as stints or bypasses. I spent five days in the hospital and I am now recovering at home. Currently I’m in the “sucks to be me” level recovery at home which should glide slope into “does not suck as bad to be me” recovery for a total of two to three months. If all goes well, I’m expected to be able to resume normal life (to include mountain biking) around mid-February.
After the initial diagnosis back in March, I made a serious commitment at eating healthier and getting fit beyond just mountain biking. I feel like I was pretty close to the fittest and healthiest I could possible be going into the surgery. I was working on the premise that the “Stronger In…Stronger Out” mantra would apply for my recovery. Between all of my fitness recording devices (fitness watch, heart-rate monitor, Peloton) I have a good set of baseline metrics of where I was at pre-surgery to geek out on as I work my way back to where I was and beyond. Right now the focus is on letting the heart fully heal. The big stick in this recovery tent is going to be my sternum healing up.
I had to give my primary doctor a huge Thank You. I know myself well enough (now) to realize that if she had not sent me to that cardiologist, I would have continued to press on with my life and chalking up those sneaky symptoms to just having a tough time staying in shape as I age. I think we as mountain bikers are often limit pushers. We push ourselves to be fitter, faster, more skilled, or at any number of aspects of the sport that we love. I think along with that goes a bit of just suck it up mentality and push on through. I recommend that as your vintage starts getting interesting, you should not assume that fatigue, shortness of breath of just generally having a tougher time being able to do what you used to do is related to just the date on your birth certificate. It would be better to be on the safe side with a check up, because it is always better to out on the dirt than be under the dirt!
The knee is all better by the way. #AfterMarketHeartParts