“I think the big thing, like being told any news of this type, is the sheer disbelief"

Congratulations on a fantastic site, thank-you!!
I live in Northern Ireland and underwent open heart surgery (triple bypass) in Sept 2012 at aged 46. The following is a recent extract which goes some way to telling my story. I managed to complete the cycle challenge back in July and a subsequent Heart CT scan two weeks later revealed that two of my bypass grafts had been completely blocked during it, but ignorance is bliss as they say. I had my original left main stem 90% blockage stented two weeks ago. Next year I hope to do a longer cycle for charity.
Stephen McKeown

One Man and his Bike
CYCLING enthusiast, Stephen McKeown, is preparing to saddle up for an epic charity ride that will see him pedal 550 miles around the province in July. Stephen, who works in Tesco Extra at Bridgewater Park, Banbridge will be raising money for a cause that is extremely close to his heart - quite literally - the Children’s Heartbeat Trust.
The Northern Ireland-based charity provides emotional and practical support to families with children and young people born with heart disease. Stephen underwent a triple bypass in 2012 and, while it has left him with certain physical limitations, he is determined to complete the cycling challenge to help others affected by cardiovascular conditions.

“Having heart disease, and coming out the other side of heart surgery, I can fully appreciate the impact it has on the patient and their family, but to have a child in this situation must be an absolute nightmare,” Stephen said.

“My Tesco colleague Aron McKee’s young daughter, Grace, was born with a serious heart condition and the charity have been a big help not only to Aron and his family, but also to other families who are in a similar situation.” It was back in the winter of 2011/12 that Stephen started to experience chest pain while he was in training for a charity cycle. There were none of the classic symptoms like crushing pain or shortness of breath, just a sore point in the same place on his chest.

“I was certain it was a chest muscle playing up and just cycled through it which, with the benefit of hindsight, wasn’t one of my better moves,” Stephen recalled.

“But, after becoming aware that my heart was ‘missing’ beats, I decided to get things checked in the spring of 2012.

“A few tests were carried out and all seemed ok, but alarm bells were still ringing and a treadmill stress test was booked for the beginning of September in Lagan Valley Hospital, Lisburn.

“I was plodding away on the treadmill and very soon the same pattern arose, pain in one part of my chest which, as usual, wasn’t bad enough to make me stop.

“I was asked to rest while the findings were shown to my cardiologist and, to cut a long story short, I found myself admitted to the Coronary Care Unit there and then.”

A week later Stephen was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for a cardiac catheterisation (angiogram) to see precisely what the extent of the problem was. It transpired that his left main artery stem had a critical distal lesion (90% narrowed) along with a severe distal left artery-descending lesion.

“By all accounts, two rather important pieces of plumbing!” Stephen quipped.

“I remember lying in the recovery room waiting to go back to the LVH and, to pararaphrase Oliver Hardy, thinking to myself ‘well this is another fine mess you’ve got yourself into!’

“I was given a couple of treatment options and I immediately asked the consultant specialist what my best plan of attack was. Without hesitation, he recommended heart bypass surgery. The guys in the Royal never pulled any punches when telling me the score and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One likened me to a ticking time bomb, so I really was in no doubt as to the seriousness of the situation.”

Just over two weeks later, Stephen returned to the Royal where he underwent a triple heart bypass. The intricate procedure went according to plan, apart from a collapsed lung in the Intensive Care Unit, which was quickly dealt with, and some fluid on the left lung for a few months afterwards. Although Stephen could barely walk 50 yards in the beginning, he set himself a goal to be back on his bike within a few months.

“The pain management and care I received in both hospitals was second to none and I’ll always be grateful to everyone who looked after me so well, as well as the love and support of my family.” Stephen added.

Stephen offers hope to others facing heart surgery
It's almost three years since Stephen underwent major heart bypass surgery, and he has had time to reflect and put things into perspective. He said: “I don’t take life for granted, or too seriously, and silly things that used to seem important, well, I no longer even give them any thought.

“I think the big thing, like being told any news of this type, is the sheer disbelief.

“I literally went from cycling 100-200 miles a week over the course of the past 35 years, to being told I had a very serious cardiac problem.

“My diet had always been decent enough and I don’t smoke or even drink; I’m told it was a case of simple genetics.

“I’m not going to pretend the whole experience has been a picnic, it hasn’t.

“Post-operative chest wall pain and left leg problems still persist daily to this day, and I often get incredibly fatigued, but it is what it is and I’m ok with this.

“I can’t stress it highly enough - this really is life-saving surgery and, but for it, I wouldn’t be here today.”
In October 2014, Stephen started working in the new Tesco Extra store in Banbridge, the first employer to take a chance on him since his surgery.

“My Tesco colleagues have been absolutely brilliant and I really can’t praise highly enough my Line Manager Natasha, who has helped and supported me and been in my corner from the second we met.

“And Tess, Sharon, Sonya and also ‘Auntie’ Brenda and the ladies in the customer service team, as well as the lads in the warehouse, look out for me more than I do myself.

“I still continue to cycle almost daily and eat as sensibly as I can. Many people think that heart bypass surgery is a cure - it isn’t.

“The underlying heart disease is still present and it’s important to make the necessary lifestyle changes to look after your heart and the coronary arteries.”

Determined to give something back, Stephen has set himself an epic cycle for charity, which he will undertake in July. His challenge is to cycle around Northern Ireland, with a day in Donegal, on his trusty Raleigh - somewhere in the region of 550 miles - over six days on the bike. Taking on board medical advice, the option of a rest day has also been pencilled in. Stephen’s cousin David Bruce has kindly taken time off work and agreed to drive a support vehicle, while his wife Pamela and daughter Amy will also accompany him. The keen cyclist added: “Tesco Extra at Bridgewater Park are generously helping me with fundraising and supporting me in other ways, and I’d particularly like to say a big thanks to Customer Service Manager Natasha Blundell, Community Champion David McKay, Customer Experience Manager Robert Mullen, store manager Stephen Magill and Personnel Manager Tess Osborne.

“Mr Jim Brown, the principal at my daughter’s school (Fairhill Primary, Kinallen) has also very kindly agreed to donate the proceeds from the end of term non-uniform day to the cycle fundraising.

“I’m also very grateful to Morgan Fox, Director of Planet X Ireland, who has offered to support me with equipment including tyres and tubes, as well as promoting the cycle on their social media outlets, and to Seamus Downey (Downey Cycles, Dromore).
“I have received good luck messages from folks as far away as the USA, people really have been so kind.

“In addition to this, I have been contacted by people, many with their own health issues, who are taking lot of inspiration and hope from this bike ride, and for me this has been extremely rewarding.

“So, in addition to raising money for this wonderful charity, hopefully, if I complete this cycle challenge, it will offer some hope to others who have also had, or are facing, heart surgery, and that it will give them encouragement to live their lives as fully as possible afterwards.”

"...My first reaction....was: disbelief, denial, anger...."

Benjamin – Thank you for the web site and your book Barefoot in November. My sister Claire came across your web site last week and ordered your book for me which I received yesterday.  
I stayed up last evening to read your account of your surgery and post-op recovery.

Amazing how similar our stories are and the feelings I am experiencing of late. Just a few weeks ago, during my annual physical, an abnormality was noted by my primary care physician during a routine EKG test. His office set-up an appointment with a cardiologist here in Kansas City.  Sure enough, they discovered an aneurysm in the ascending aorta.  The ironic part of this is that the only reason I showed up for the cardiologist appointment? -- I felt an obligation to  for my family doctor who made the appointment for me. Otherwise, procrastination would have taken over and I would have gotten to it whenever. Which on my end, would have been – never.

How in the world could this be happening? It was surreal to think that without any pre-existing symptoms, I would have to have open heart surgery. I am 58 years old, fit, eat well, not-smoker. I have run numerous marathons, triathlons, etc… Workout on regular basis and have recently dropped body fat to 10%. Feeling great. This is a joke right?  Not so much.

My first reaction, similar to yours as noted in your book, was: disbelief, denial, anger.  Following a very informative & insightful consultation with Dr. Gregory Muehlebach, University of Kansas Hospital in KC, I am becoming more accepting of reality. Fact is, I have this condition and am taking action to rectify it in the near future. We have set surgery date for Wednesday May 7, 2014. I am very grateful that several folks referred me to Dr. Muehlebach. He’s top shelf.

I’m struggling with the emotional side of things including the time away from the office plus having to go to the bench for several weeks/months. Good news is, I’ll have several of my children coming into Kansas City for the surgery and recovery period, along with my siblings. Plus, the folks at work are very supportive and we’ll have a few weeks to get organized prior to surgery date in early May.

Very much appreciate you making the effort to create, and keep this web site active. It has been a terrific source of information, inspiration, and knowledge. Most importantly, it has allowed me to realize that I am not alone in this situation and many guys like me have gone through this situation and are alive today because they opted for surgery versus waiting.

I may not be ready to do 26.2 miles post-op on my one year anniversary. May settle for a 10K as a goal this October and consider that a major victory.

Rich Mcardle
Kansas City

Dr. Allan S. Stewart has Joined Mount Sinai Hospital

Dear Readers,
I frequently receive inquiries about my heart surgeon Dr. Allan S. Stewart. He left New York-Presbyterian last fall, and is now heading up the Aortic Surgery and Valve Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. He's a Professor, a Surgeon, and an Innovator who has published approximately 30 peer-reviewed research publications. He was one of three surgeons who operated on President Bill Clinton, and is frequently called upon for challenging surgeries. His surgical reputation precedes him, but it's his larger than life character that separates him from his peers. In a world chock full of doctors that are going through the motions and talk "at you" not "with you", Stewart is the extraordinary exception. You may reach him at Mount Sinai hospital. As a former patient, I'd be glad to answer any questions you might have.
Benjamin J. Carey

Dr. Allan S. Stewart
1190 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029
Tel: 212-659-6807

I was diagnosed to have an ascending aortic aneurysm (5.2 cm wide)

"...Thanks for the website and book! It helped during the dark moments..."  
-V-P Larivaara  


I’m a 37 –year old male from Finland. Last September 2013 I was diagnosed to have an ascending aortic aneurysm (5.2 cm wide) just two days prior I was supposed to run a marathon. What a shock it was  but afterwards it seems like stroke of luck! I could have been one of those who fall down dead without ever knowing what hit them.

 "...I could have been one of those who fall down dead without ever knowing what hit them..."

I did not have symptoms of any kind. I was in the best shape of my life having started excercising about two years prior (then having been overweight). I have a genetic blood pressure problem but it had already been controlled with medication for 10 years.

They performed me a David’s procedure at the University Hospital of St Luc in Belgium (by Professor Gebrine El Khoury) on January 8 th and everything went great. My recovery was rapid. After having returned back home to Finland I went jogging after six weeks of the surgery (very slow and very short distance) and mainly excercised by walking. Other than having a slight fever for couple of weeks after the surgery I have not faced any problems. At first I of course could not walk long distances etc. without getting tired but I mean that I never had eg. arrhythmia.

In May I went for my first longer distance (30 km, roughly 20 miles) trail run between two hills and it was awesome! That inspired me to train a bit harder and during the summer I run about 40+ miles/week. Two weeks ago October 5th I run a 50 mile race (2,300 meters ascending) on technical trails and finished in 13.20 hours, at the back of the pack but definitely the happiest man on earth! J Just less than 9 months after the surgery.

Anything is possible and one should not think life is over should one get this diagnosis but get it over with and go on with normal life. I realize I’m one the lucky ones but I want to share my story to inspire others.

Thanks for the website and book! It helped during the dark moments/months I had waiting for the operation and not knowing what life would be after the operation.

Best Regards,

V-P Larivaara

...74yr old male who thought he was in great shape...


I am a 74yr old male who thought he was in great shape. I play hockey 3x per week and collapsed during a tournament. Ten days later 5|23|12 I had extensive open heart surgery.  One valve replacement, descending aneurysm, and repair of one blocked artery. I returned to work in 4 weeks. I began to skate after 3 months., and now I bicycle 62 miles. Feel fine with my new pig valve and other corrections. I feel that my pre-surgery fitness helped in my recovery.

Richard E. Cote
New York