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Vickers’ Off Season Was Filled With Trauma, Pain

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 27 2015

After an off season of health woes, Brian Vickers is schedule to be back in his Michael Waltrip Racing car at Las Vegas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Nearly two months after Brian Vickers once again found himself in open heart surgery, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver is focused on his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. However, the 31-year-old driver admitted Tuesday the scenario could have been much different.

“It was a pretty traumatic event,” said Vickers, who returns to his No. 55 Toyota at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the season’s third race. “It was definitely the worst of all the medical issues I’ve had to face. There was a lot of uncertainty going into the surgery from a life-health perspective.”

Vickers was en route to an Aaron’s photo shoot in mid-December when he began having pain. He considered going home to take a nap, but due to previous severe health issues, the 31-year-old Vickers decided to head to the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte. Vickers called ahead to Carolinas Medical Center and headed to the emergency room. The pain continued to worsen. After several tests, doctors diagnosed his problem as the artificial patch that was placed over a hole in his heart in 2010. They immediately began preparing him for surgery.

“When they figured out what was wrong; that the (artificial) patch in my heart needed to be replaced, they were shaving my chest while they were telling me that they were going to go fix it,” Vickers said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ They were like if we don’t, you’re probably going to … well, if they didn’t, it was bad.

“As soon as they found it, it was a full-blown emergency. It was a panic. They wanted to get in and get it out (of where it was located between my left and right atrium).”

In the surgery, doctors used Vickers’ own tissue to repair the hole; a procedure that was very intense.

“They replace it the way they used to do it before they had the artificial patch,” Vickers said. “They cut out a piece of the sack in which your heart sits and that’s what they use to replace the artificial patch. That is the ideal way to do it and that’s the way they do it in a child because it can grow with the child. But it’s a lot more invasive procedure (than an artificial patch). It’s more dangerous.

“The doctors say I will be better than before because of the way the patch was replaced. It’s just the surgery is a lot higher risk. That’s the reason they don’t do it to begin with.”

After a little more than a week in intensive care, Vickers was released, but it took him a couple of weeks before he could get up on his own. He made it to the team’s Christmas party, where Waltrip had him walk up a flight of stairs because he forgot the building had an elevator. Overall, his recovery has been “unlike anything I have experienced.”

“It was painful. It was extreme,” Vickers continued. “One thing I didn’t expect is I can actually feel my heart beat a lot more and they said that’s normal; it’s common after open-heart surgery. I can tell you my heart rate without checking it. That’s subsiding a little bit.”

Vickers is now training “a pretty good bit” and working with rehab.

“My sternum is still growing back together, so I’m restricted in my bench press, pushups, things like that; chest related exercises,” Vickers said during the second day of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. “Everything else I can still do within reason.

“I can’t pick up a certain amount of weight. Swimming is always something I’ve loved to do and I’m back swimming again. I swam 2 miles just a couple of days ago. I was about 15 minutes slower than normal, but I made it; I didn’t drown. I’m going to continue that. I’m going to try and rest as much as I need to and push as much as I can to be in the best shape I can possibly be in.”

Vickers noted there were two reasons he was returning to racing.

“I love to race; I love to go fast,” he said, “but, mostly, the reason I’m coming back to race full time in the Sprint Cup Series is because I want to win a championship.”

Due to Vickers’ medical issue, NASCAR has waved the championship contender rule that requires a Sprint Cup driver to compete in every event. Waltrip will drive Vickers’ car at Daytona and Brett Moffitt will be in it at Atlanta.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 27 2015
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  • GinaV24 says:

    Holy mackerel, that is quite a story. I’m glad that Brian didn’t go lay down & take a nap! Good luck with a complete recovery.