"...my wife was crying, I still did not understand, I was like a deer in the head lights, stunned..." -Doug Mackenzie, Ironman

"Great Web Site! I wish I would have known about this site prior to my experience."


In 2005 my wife and I were in Las Vegas for a business conference, a couple of weeks prior to leaving I had booked a CT scan for both of us in Las Vegas at a radiology clinic, just as a preventative check. We are both in the mid to upper 40’s and I thought it is a good time to get checked out. We live in Canada and getting a CT scan is not a choice, it has to be booked through a physician.
We had asked the radiologist if he would go through our scans with us, my wife is a nurse and has a good understanding of the medical terminology. The radiologist went through my scan on his computer and we were discussing the pro’s and con’s of getting these scan as a preventative measure, he moved up through my core area to my chest and zoomed in on the heart for a closer look. I noticed a concerned look on his face and some medical terms come out, I did not understand, my wife did she also looked concerned. As he took actual measurements across my ascending aorta his concern got greater and my wife was crying, I still did not understand, I was like a deer in the head lights, stunned that something was wrong especially in the heart area, a 5.2cm ascending aortic aneurysm.
"The reason I was stunned is my life style, I have been involved in sport my whole life, hockey, football, 12 years of rugby and for the last 20 years doing marathons and triathlons. I had completed over 20 marathons and at that time 11 Ironman triathlons, how could something be wrong with my heart!" This rocked my world, I thought that was it, no more sport, but it is so much a part of who I am, how will I change.
For me this was another challenge, I was not going to let this change me, it may slow me down for a while, I had a new hurdle in front of me and that is ok, these things define you.
We flew home and started getting educated, of course the Internet is the first place you go, lots of information, some good some bad, it is reality. We were referred to a local cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. J. Tsang, we had copies of my Las Vegas scan and he also requested another scan to confirm. He did confirm the aneurysm and the size, now the discussions start as to how to deal with this. We were very fortunate that Dr. Tsang is a great communicator and my wife understood the terminology, it was very important to have a second person at those meeting, being the patient you miss a lot. He felt that due to the size being just under recommended surgical size (5.5cm) and we had no history to know how rapid the aneurysm would evolve we would wait and monitor every 6 months to see if there was change and he put me on a beta blocker to govern my blood pressure, it was not high, just a precaution, I was in perfect health other then the aneurysm.
I was ok with that, my question was how much activity can I do, I was booked into a half Ironman in 3 months and a full Ironman in 6 months? He was very hesitant to give me an answer, he knew how important it was to me, he did say I could do activity that would not build up my blood pressure. To me I heard I can do Ironman slowly, my wife did not hear that and off we went. We both knew I had a very serious weakness of tissue in my aortic wall and I have to be careful. I continued to train, very easily, no weights, no hills, swim, bike and run easy.
We had discussed the surgery option and that my valve which was also dilated would have to be replaced, my valve was a tricuspid so that was good, he said it would still require replacing. I did not like that answer so I started researching and found that there was a AAA repair and a valve sparing technique called the “David Method”. I was determined to not have that valve replaced unless totally required. I contacted Dr. T.E. David, the surgeon that this technique was named, he is a Canadian and works out of the Toronto General Hospital. I did get a reply that he would look at my case, he review my file and confirmed the diagnosis, he also stated that I was a good candidate for the valve sparing technique. He was ok with my wait and watch approach, I would continue to be monitored at home and when we decided to proceed with surgery to contact his office.
I continued to train easily, I did complete the half Ironman and also the full Ironman that year, continued to get my CT scans, no change. I completed 2 more Ironman’s and many other events over the next 2 years, but there was always this burden of worry. In 2006 a close friend passed away from a heart issue at the age of 40, my wife and I both decided enough was enough get this repaired. It is a hard decision to volunteer for open heart surgery, the alternative is not an option. We book the surgery for October 2007 with Dr. T.E. David, I had just completed 2007 Ironman Canada in August and now open heart surgery on Oct.
The whole surgery experience was better than I had hoped, surgery went well and recovery went well I got to keep my valve. I could not exercise for 3 month, just go for walks, so I would head out for 2 or 3 hour walks. Exactly 3 months to the day I was on the treadmill trying to run, I had to start from scratch but I was determined. I completed a 35km cross country ski race 45 days post 3 months and in August 2008 I completed Ironman Canada again for the 15th time and I am off all medications. I did not miss a year, it may seem ridiculous to some but for me I wanted to get myself back to who I was again. I continue to make sport a big part of my life, I appreciate it a lot more and I am still cautious. I have completed a total of 18 Ironman triathlons now my best time when I was 40 years old was 10:55 and I have finished in 11:26 at age 53 post aneurysm repair. I now get an Echocardiogram every year and meet with a cardiologist to review, so far so good.
I am a strong believer in getting scanned, we had no family history, my dad will be 90 this year, my mom is 81 and both active, I am 5’10” tall, no Marfan Syndrome or any other reason I would have this tissue disorder and "I had no symptoms, just got lucky on a CT scan."
Saved my life! I hope this story helps inspire someone that there is light at the end of the long journey, this is a repairable disorder and life will continue, you will appreciate it a lot more now.

Thank-you,

Doug Mackenzie
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
doug.mackenzie@mackenzieplumbing.com





2 comments:

Polly said...

Doug,
Interesting story; you were lucky to have found the AA when you did! I am also originally from Regina, now in Toronto, and seeing a vascular surgeon at TGH - it's a wonderful facility. I have a AAA that was diagnosed 4 1/2 years ago - out of the blue as I was also a good runner. It is being monitored; last year I did 4 triathlons and a duathlon (up to Olympic distance) - after informing my doctor that a triathlon was an easy swim, followed by an easy bike ride, then an easy run. That's all it needs to be if you are north of 50. It is wonderful that you have recovered so well and are training/ competing again!

Kevin Morgan said...

Yep! Great story, and you got it in time as did I, fortunately, for my AAA. I'm still competing but I wonder how long my stent will last and then I think of the old bumper sticker - 'eat well, stay fit, die anyway' - and I laugh and get on with my life and my training. Congratulations on staying alive, my friend. -k @FitOldDog
PS I wonder if we'll get those Heartosaurus NYC marathon slots, and then I'll get to meet Pauline and Benjamin.

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