David Watkins - Ironman Life - Racing with a Big Heart

Kevin Mackinnon talks about David Watkins and his journery to get to Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

David Watkins gave CHD-UK permission to post this on their website.

Published Friday, June 23, 2006
Kerri Watkins had just received the words she’d been waiting anxiously for. The six-hour heart surgery scheduled for her husband, David, had turned into a 16-hour ordeal. Sitting in a waiting room at the hospital, with her two children, Maya and Maddie, waiting at home with Grandma and Grandpa, Kerri finally got called up from the waiting room by Dr. Christopher Salerno.
As Kerri walked towards David’s room, she could see him through the window … and as she walked closer, David “flat lined.” Salerno, who had stayed around the hospital to transcribe some notes, flew into the room, ripped her husband’s chest open, and started to manually massage his heart.
The heart issues had begun weeks before after David finished a sprint triathlon. After the race, he ended up at the hospital with an abnormal arrhythmia. It turned out that he was born missing a third of his aorta – instead of the three cusps that most of us have, he only had two. “They told me that there was more of a chance that I would die than live,” he said.
He went home to put things in order – made sure the life insurance policy was all set and checked his will. It was a good thing he did. When Salerno started operating he quickly realized that his patient was in much more trouble than he thought. In the end, he replaced one of the valves in his heart with an artificial one made of pig tissue.
It looked like Watkins was going to be OK – well, until he flat lined in front of his wife, that is. Once Salerno was able to get Watkins’ heart going again, he told Kerri he was going to take him back into the operating room, and asked her if she had any last words she wanted to say to him.
“Fight and be strong,” she said to the father of her two children.
Watkins came around as he was being wheeled back into the operating room. If you ever have the chance to meet him, he’ll show you the huge scar he has in his leg from the coronary artery by-pass they did during this round.
Yes, David Watkins made it through all the surgery. It turns out that all of this was just the beginning of his battle, though. A week after being released from the hospital, he convinced Kerri to take a break from taking care of him. For the first time in weeks, she took some time to herself and went out for Chinese food. She brought some home for her husband.
After eating it, his body suddenly bloated up. His heart raced at 160 beats-per-minute for 48 hours. As far as doctor’s can figure out, one of the many transfusions he’d received during his surgery had come from a person who was allergic to shell fish. This time it was back to the hospital for shock treatment to deal with the “atrial flutter.” The shocks left burn marks on his chest. In addition to the shocks, they put him on blood thinners.
Which were likely the cause of the stroke he had on Father’s Day of 2005.
As far as everyone can tell, there were no lasting effects of said stroke, other than the “brain damage” (his words, not mine!) that led him to call his close friend Rick Armiger and tell him that they were going to enter the 2006 Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene race.
“I kept asking myself, ‘What’s my legacy to my girls?’” he said in an interview here in Coeur d’Alene. “I want to give them some life lesson that I’ve taught them. I wanted to show them that no matter what obstacles you’re faced with, if you’re determined enough you can do anything.”
That legacy is important to Watkins because he’ll have to go through much of the ordeal again in ten years – the artificial valve in his heart only lasts a decade.
“If I do Ironman, nobody will ever be able to take that away from me,” he said. “If I do Ironman, everything else will be a piece of cake.”
All this from a man who’s triathlon career consists of about 10 short course events. A man who played baseball and football in high school and college – sports which demo’s his body so much that he had to have four knee surgeries and double back surgery.
“I tell people that I was made out of spare parts.”
Now, at 35, he gets to add that they’re replacing those with artificial ones.
Whatever might be in that heart, it sure is full of courage and determination. Watkins will do this race by himself on Sunday, but he is quick to praise the extensive team that has made it all possible.
There have been weekly phone calls to Armiger. His coach Kainoa Pauola-Roth has provided the training plan to get him here. Even Medtronic, the company that produced the artificial valve that has saved his life, came on board as a sponsor. A neighbor, Aaron Karls, bought a bike and trained with Watkins – which was probably a good thing since Karls is a paramedic.
“I was given a chance to have my life back, but there’s no way I’d be here at all without all of them,” he said. “It’s going to be their race, too.”
From near-death to an Ironman … in one year. That’s a race to remember. We’ll all look forward to seeing David Watkins cross that line on Sunday.

Ironmanlife: Hello from Switzerland Jet lagged Kevin Mackinnon files this week’s column from Zurich

Published Friday, June 30, 2006

I did want to follow up on the Dave Watkins story I told you last week.

Watkins, of course, was the gentleman who suffered through an incredible ordeal of surgery and complications round an aorta problem that eventually required that he have a replacement valve placed in his heart.

A year later he took on the challenge of Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and on a day where a lot of people didn’t make it to the line because of the heat and the wind, he managed to complete his dream.

He completed that dream despite the fact that his bike computer broke, his left bike shoe jammed and he was unable to clip in for more than 20 miles of riding (a stretch that included the steepest and longest hill on the course). He was able to complete the distance without the use of his heart rate monitor, which never worked throughout the day. (Hey, if you had a heart that one year ago spent 48 hours at a heart rate of 164-and-above, how would you feel if you couldn’t gauge your HR?)

While Watkins made the swim and the bike cut off times, he didn’t finish the marathon until 12:45AM … yes, that means he missed that final cut off time. His wife, Kerri, was with him through the final miles of the run, walking along side him in the same way that she vigilantly waited by his side during his long hospital ordeal last year.

“A few people stayed around and a race official greeted me with a shirt and medal regardless of my time,” he wrote in an e-mail. “There’s no doubt it was the most rewarding moment in my life … wept like a baby!”

David Watkins cheated death last year – Kerri actually got to see a surgeon jump on his chest and rip it open in order to manually pump his heart. This is a guy who decided he wanted to prove that he could swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run a marathon, all at once.

I was busy loading pictures and doing some final tweaks to the site when he came across the line last week, so I missed that finish. I’m sorry I did.

“Regardless, I did the distance and feel like I beat the demons I’ve been battling for the past year,” he wrote.

You sure did, David. For a guy with spare parts in his heart, you sure have a big one.

Photographs to be added soon.

To read it in the full context with pictures: http://sites.google.com/site/ironheartwatkins/
David is also on the Board of Directors for http://www.achaheart.org/