Monday, July 13, 2009

After running the Vancouver Marathon in May I began training for the Great White North 1/2 or 70 series which is to mean 1/2 the distance of an Ironman. I had aspirations of completing the event in 5 1/2 to 6 hrs. but ran out of energy the last 1/3 of the ride and the run. I ended up coming in around 6:20 which was only a few minutes faster than my first Great White North event. There seems to be a stop point about 3 1/2 hrs. into an event when I simply can't push myself to go any faster or even maintain the race pace I had set at the beginning. My heart rate reaches a certain point and that is where it stays (e.g. 133bmp). I ran into it during the Marathon and then again during the Great White North. As a result,my coach is changing up my program to increase distances and push me in the latter stages of my workouts to somehow teach my body that I can run faster during the final stages of a long run. We'll see if it works. I have really been pushing myself to show that I can change up my effort levels during a swim, bike, and run to drive my heart rate up and perform at a higher level. I will be competing, maybe participating is a better term, in the Canmore Triathlon this weekend. Colleen will be doing the sprint and I will do the Olympic event. It should be fun and I am looking forward to really pushing the limits of what I should be capable of doing.

Well I am sure that people get tired of all the exercise and training talk. On a different note, I am still involved in various transplant awareness groups (e.g. GoodHearts and Canadian Transplant Association). Silvio is the president of GoodHearts and has been doing an excellent job in promoting organ donor awareness as well as raising the profile of GoodHearts and raising funds for the transplant house. Unfortunately we have not been very active in mentoring other transplant recipients primarily because this type of service needs to be promoted and run through the Transplant Services at the University of Albert Hospitals. Without their support there are only limited opportunities to meet and work with other transplant recipients and their care givers. I am also helping the Alberta CTA with various events such as the fall picnic they have every year. Last year I organized a mini-triathlon. This year we just plan to have some field games and activities. Nothing too elaborate.
The Transplant World Games is being held in Sydney Australia this year. I was hoping to go and am sure that I could raise enough funds to go but I really wanted my family to be able to go as well butcan't afford it at this point and really don't want to go on my own.

Still struggling with muscle soreness from the effects of Lipitor (Statins). There have been reports that there is real uncertainty around the long term effects of statins on the muscles. I just know that the drug makes it very difficult to run. I have ordered a book about preventing and reversing heart disease which deals with lowering cholesterol levels through diet. I am hoping that by following the dietary plan in this book I will be able to manage my cholesterol naturally without the Lipitor.

Signing off for now; happy swimming, riding and running.


JaeAna said...

Wow! What an incredible accomplishment you have achieved!
I was your student at Westwood Christian School in Phoenix, Az. some 23 years ago, give or take a year.
I had always wondered what happened to you after you received your heart transplant.
I'm so happy to hear you are doing so well.
I would love to catch up with you. Please contact me at my e mail address.
Continued blessings to you and your family.
JaeAna Bernhardt (Gurule)

Janis said...

Hello Dwight and a million congratulations on becoming an Ironman!

I am the mother of a now nine year old boy who was the recipient of a heart transplant almost 4 years ago.

I found your site to be so encouraging and full of hope. I have truly been blessed by reading your story.

My son swims on a swim team. I still fight tears of joy when he competes. I can't imagine the joy you and your family feel with each finish line you cross. I cried tears of joy watching a CNN video clip of you at the Ironman finish line.

Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging others! What a blessing you are. May God continue to bless you and your family.

Sincerely, Janis Swart

My Story

What stories inspire men to dream and more importantly inspire them to achieve their own dreams? Are the stories that attract and inspire men so exceptional and so far beyond the grasp of human ability that men can only dream without the hope of ever achieving?

It has been said that exceptional men are simply common men that find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Every day men all over the world (e.g. military personnel) find themselves in situations where they must either perform beyond their physical, emotional, and mental abilities, or die. Few men willing put themselves in situations where death, for the purpose of proving themselves extraordinary, is imminent.

What makes this story different than all the other stories of human will, faith, desire, determination, perseverance, strength, survival etc.
Why would anyone want to read my story? Is it any different than a 100,000 other stories of men that have overcome the odds in order to achieve their dreams. Maybe what makes a story unique and inspiring is not so much what was done in the face of overwhelming odds but the why and how any man, finding themselves in the same set of circumstances, has the potential within them self of achieving the same success.

It is my hope and prayer that my story will inspire people to not only dream but more importantly make their dreams a reality. It is faith in action that results in greater faith and action.

What did I do to deserve this?

I must have done something terribly wrong to deserve what happened to me on August 4, 1986 and which I have now had to live with for the past 21 yrs.
What did I do to deserve such a fate?
Was I abusive to my body?
Was I abusive to my wife?
Was I an evil man that God decided to punish?

A better question might be why not me?
I was no different than any other North American male. You will have to forgive me for labeling males in the same category of what I would describe as the typical North American male. I was egocentric in that all I wanted to do was enjoy life even if it meant taking time away from my wife of 3 yrs. so I could do those things that would provide the most excitement and self fulfillment in life. Week nights I was either, catching up on work, playing community league sports, or watching sports. Weekends, I was either, water skiing, playing football, camping, or playing golf. There was very little time for much else. Of course where I could I included my wife (Colleen) and those students I taught. Although I was not a partier in that I did not smoke or drink, I had an addiction to busyness and sport. Unless someone, or something, was to slow me down my life as a husband and future father was headed toward disaster. Then it happened.

What Happened?

In April of 1986 I came down with what I thought to be the flu. I had all the flu symptoms plus a few besides (e.g. aches, pains, nausea, migraines, fatigue to the point where I didn’t have enough energy to brush my teeth, lack of appetite, constant thirst). Common flu symptoms right? What I couldn’t figure out was why it was taking so long to get rid of this flu bug. Besides that when I laid down at night to sleep I felt as though I was suffocating and ended up having to sleep sitting up. After a couple weeks of nagging from Colleen I had finally had enough and went to the doctor. A doctor’s examination proved Dr. Dwight’s prognosis, as suggested to Colleen, was right, there was nothing wrong. However, the doctor did say that if I had difficulty sleeping that the evening I was to come in the next day for a chest x-ray and further tests. Wouldn’t you know it I ended up in the doctor’s office the next day. Upon further examination Colleen and I were called in for a private consultation with the doctor where he shared that there was something wrong with my heart. My response was “either fix it or just tell me what I need to take or do to fix it”. After all I was a fit and active 26 yr. old with a belief that all problems have solutions. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple.

After being admitted to the Hospital and having two cardiologists provide their diagnosis of the situation I was given the news that no person wants to ever hear; your condition is terminal and there is nothing that can be done to reverse it. You will not live beyond your 28th birthday. If you have ever felt total hopelessness where you suddenly realized that there is nothing humanly possible that can be done; that was the feeling I felt for two days. If you have never had a sense of real hopelessness, I liken it to being dropped off, by your parents, at a camp where you don’t know anyone and the resulting feeling of loneliness that is felt in the pit of your stomach.

After a couple of days I had come to terms with the fact that I had a very short time to live and was ready to make the best of it. Knowing and sensing that there were hundreds of people praying for me throughout North America resulted in a peace that could only be described as the hand of God. My faith was still in tact believing that whether God wanted to take me or spare my life was ok with me. Then one morning the Cardiologists paid me another visit where they suggested that I consider a treatment that could result in adding years to my life. How many years they could not tell me. When I heard their suggestion I thought they were crazy. Why would I consider such a ludicrous option. Their suggestion was something that only happened in science fiction and horror movies. The cardiologists still encouraged me to consider the option and take a trip down to Tucson Az. where, at the Tucson Medical Center Hospital, they were performing, what in my opinion, was experimental research on human subjects. Who could imagine, 21 yrs. ago, that doctors were actually taking out a live people’s hearts and putting in dead people’s hearts. In any case since we were living in Phoenix at the time we would make the trip and meet with the people that were performing these “experimental” procedures.

When we met with the transplant team coordinator I made it clear from the start that I had no intention of agreeing to such a procedure unless they could prove to me that I would have every opportunity to live a normal live. Of course normal to me was the ability to do all that I had ever done before the transplant. They assured me that I would and showed me pictures of a transplant recipient that was doing triathlons. It seemed us that we were being given a lot of attention but didn’t give it much thought at the time. We were introduced to the head transplant surgeon (world renown Dr. Copeland) and other transplant recipients that were doing well. We were strongly encouraged to consider the option of a heart transplant and at least go through the “work-up” to determine if I would qualify as a candidate. We went back to Phoenix still believing that transplantation was not an option and that we would simply trust God to work things out. Over the next week after discussions with Colleen and continued deterioration of my health Colleen checked with the insurance carrier for her group plan and miraculously found that they had just determined transplantation to be clinical and would cover the entire down payment and transplantation costs. This was confirmation to us that we should go ahead with the work-up. The results of the work-up were, on the positive side, that I was a good candidate however the bad news was that it was estimated that my condition was more serious than first thought and had only 2 months to live.

To make a longer story shorter, with lots of patience, faith and prayer I received the call that a heart had been donated and was given new life 4 days short of 2 months on August 4th, 1986. Over the past 21 yrs. there have been many challenges as well as blessings. Colleen and I have 3 healthy boys, which we were told was a real miracle since there were issues around the effects of the medications on our ability to have children. All three boys have grown to be fine young men with whom I enjoy many outdoor and sporting activities. Colleen has been a tower of strength through all this and continues to show great patience and love for me during those times when I am moody and irritable. For the past 3 yrs. I have been training and running triathlons with a life goal to be the first Heart transplant to complete the Ironman which I hope to be realized August 24th, 2008.

Why the longevity?

What do I attribute my longevity as a Heart Transplant to:
· A faithful, loving God and family
· The transplant team of the University of Alberta that has taken care of me for 20 out of the 21 years post transplant.
· Dr. Mark Haykowski friend and researcher of the effects of exercise on the transplanted heart.
· Ken Riess friend and triathlon coach who inspires me to push the limits of a Heart Transplants physical fitness.
· GoodHearts Mentoring Foundation members that inspire me, in spite of the physical challenges they face, through their perseverance, determination, and desire to live healthy and productive lives.
· The organizations that promote donor awareness and support my efforts in becoming an Ironman.
Without these people in my life I would not be alive today let alone training and believing that I have the ability to complete an Ironman.

Final Questions

Two final question remain to be answered.

What motivates me to keep pressing on?

Does a Heart Transplant recipient have the ability to meet the requirements of both a physically and psychologically demanding exercise program in preparation for and completion of an Ironman event?