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Vickers Q&A update medical condition
Brian Vickers
“Most of you know about the blood clots I had, the pulmonary embolisms, the clot in my left leg and clots in the lungs. During that process, I also had a clot that went to my left finger. The only way for a clot to get there from where they were created was through my heart from the right atrium to the left atrium. It’s called a PFO (Patent foramen ovale). It’s a hole between the two atriums, and it’s pretty common — about 25 percent of people have this hole. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose and very intrusive to diagnose, so a lot of people don’t find it. My clots were bigger than normal and that’s why I had a pulmonary embolism. If you have a clot in the right atrium, it can jump through that hole if the hole is active. The clot can go to your left atrium. The risk with left atrium is it is a little smaller, more confined, the risk of heart attack is increased a bit, but the primary concern is a stroke. After the left atrium, the clot goes to your left arm or your brain, so I got really lucky. Mine went to my left arm, so I didn’t have a stroke. I had a difficult decision to make — whether or not to close the hole in my heart. I met with some doctors at Harvard and some in Charlotte, and we came up with a theory that I had May-Thurner Syndrome. That is when a vein and artery are pinched and slow the blood flow in that region. So there was a third factor induced, which was the racing, whether the carbon monoxide or double duty at Talladega, we will probably never know for sure. During the process of closing the hole in my heart, they looked for May-Therners, and confirmed I did have it. The heart surgery (July 12, 2010) went so well that he decided to put the stint in the next day (July 13, 2010). They put a stint in the vein to open it back up to prevent me from being in the position to have another clot. “A lot has happened since I saw you last. I have had heart surgery and a stint put in — never thought I would have had either at age 26 — and both went extremely well. I am on Coumadin and Plavix still and I will be for the rest of the year, so I am still out of the car. But they gave me full clearance for next year. I will be back next season, and back in the car in January. The doctors feel that I am in the best shape of my life. I’ve got two issues I never knew about fixed, and it has been a breath of fresh air to me to know what caused this, or part of what cause it, because it wasn’t one thing. That was a looming question mark for us. So not only did we figure out what it was, but we were able to fix it. I did clear and pass all the genetic blood testing so that had nothing to do with my clots. I am going to be back in the No. 83 and very excited to be back with Red Bull.”

What have you been doing since you have been out of the car?

BV: “I’ve been traveling, before and after the surgery, come to some races, spending time with family and friends, spending time in Florida boating, some time in Aspen biking through the mountains. Still training every day and loving it — biking, swimming and golfing. I’m trying to make the most of the time off. My main priority is getting back to racing next year. I have been given a gift — things happen for a reason. I’ve had some time to think back and look at my career, both personally and professionally. I don’t think I’ll change a lot when I come back, but I do think I will change some. I’ll going to probably tolerate a lot less, but at the same time there will be areas I will tolerate a lot more, just depends on what it is. I have a new appreciation for life. I’m looking forward to it. I feel great, and can’t wait to race.”

When will you sit in a race car and run test laps?

BV: “Right now it will be January. All related to blood thinner. They don’t see any reason currently that I will not be off blood thinners by January 1 or mid-January, and be able to test.”

Do you have any more surgeries scheduled, and how often do you have to be tested to see if blood clots return?

BV: “I do not have any more surgeries scheduled. I am going back in for an evaluation this week, the first one since the surgery. Unless they see a reason to test me, they probably won’t. The process is you take blood thinners for 3-6 months, ideally six months, and that’s it, unless you have a reason to take them for the rest of your life.”

What has been the hardest thing to come to grips with being out of the car since May?

BV: “What I love to do is race. It is not only my job, but my passion. I’ve been missing that need for speed, the competition, my people and friends in the industry, but at the same time, it has been nice to take a break. There is a lot more to the Sprint Cup Series than just turning laps. T biggest thing is just missing being in the car, going 200 mph, banging fenders with the guys I love and hate. I’ve missed it all, but I still look back at the situation as a blessing in disguise. I think it will turn out being really good for my career.”

How supportive has Red Bull been through all of this?

BV: “When this all happened, one of my main concerns was what is the perception going to be if I don’t show up to every race. So I started off going to races, but my stress levels were getting so high that my Coumadin wasn’t even taking effect. Doctors told me to take some time off and relax. I realized I wanted to participate and help Red Bull in any way possible. I can’t express just how supportive they have been through this process. We all talk about the Red Bull lifestyle and the amount of things they allow you to do, and support you to do, but through this they have been as much, if not more, supportive than anything I’ve ever done. I went to the Red Bull Air Race in New York City, one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life, and went with the Red Bull F1 team to the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. So it’s been cool to support Red Bull in other facets as well. I decided to do what is right for me and Red Bull, so when I get back to the track, racing is the only thing on my mind and 100 percent of my time and focus.”

Did the doctors say there is any risk at all when you start racing again?

BV: “As of now, knowing what we know, my chances of having a clot when I come off Coumadin are no higher than anyone else in the garage. I’m as good, if not better, than I was a year ago from that standpoint.”

Do you have any fear you have lost some edge?

BV: “I feel I have gained some edge. This has given me an opportunity to step back and look inwards and figure out what I really want and gain appreciation for what I do. Sometimes you don’t know how much you really love something until you don’t have it, and I can tell you I really love racing. I think my edge, drive and determination is only going to increase when I come back next year.”

Have you gotten approval from NASCAR to race?

BV: “I haven’t sat down and spoken to NASCAR, but I assume that if my doctors say I’m in better shape that I was before and there are less risks than before, since we have found the problem, fixed it and done preventative stuff for the future. I can’t imagine they would have a problem.”

Most people your age have a since of invincibility. Do you feel as strong now that you are through this process, or does it change your outlook?

BV: “It has been a realization to me, that no matter how healthy you are, anything can go wrong. That since of vulnerability, just walking down the street has gone up. Knowing at any moment something could happen. I think that is where my new appreciation for life comes in. I’m probably more apt to push it to the limit and push it beyond the edge in racing or whatever else than I was before. I think once you have an appreciation for how precious life is and how it can be gone in the blink of an eye, it makes you want to really live life to the fullest in other areas.”

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