Matt Thomas – Why I Walk
My adventure with heart disease began in 1999 when I was 23. I was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after passing out at work and three days later was the proud new owner of an implanted cardioverter-defibrillator. It took a few months to get back to normal, but when I did, I decided to go to graduate school.
I ran two marathons with the first pacemaker, swam hundreds of miles and got a new pacemaker in 2005 and then again in 2012. In 2014, I got a staph infection and now I no longer have a pacemaker. While it became a regular part of life, I can’t say I miss it.
In 2011, I experienced my first round of pulmonary emboli and had two recurrences in 2012 and 2013 despite being diligent in taking medications. The cause was never determined, but due to the recurrent nature and continued damage to my lungs and heart, I was diagnosed with chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH).
While I was not as critical as many patients, my struggles with athletic endurance and even walking up a flight of stairs became increasingly acute. By the time I had surgery in 2014, I was tired much of the time and would take an elevator up one floor to keep from panting to catch my breath. My open-heart surgery removed scar tissue from my lungs and alleviated the pressure that was slowly and literally taking my breath away. The surgery was a success! I’m not as fast or as strong as I was in my 20s, but I guess the miracles that science and technology can deliver only go so far.
I am participating in the Denver Heart and Stroke Walk to celebrate all the people who have been on a similar journey as me. I am also walking to honor those who never failed to give of themselves to help me. My Mom and Dad, my sweet sister and her children as well as my friends near and far. I could not have done this without them!
The work of the American Heart Association has provided research that made it possible for me to spend the next 40 years trying to repay these people for the love and care they provided to me during the worst of times. It is the smallest possible thing I can do to support the American Heart Association and make it possible for more people to feel this kind of love and support. I don’t know if I can pay it all back, but I can damn sure try. And breathe easily doing so.