Guest Blogger – “Old Runner”

“Old Runner” is a seventy five year old well seasoned runner still running marathons with atrial fibrillation. I find him to be truly inspirational.

 

 

It was November, 2002, at the NYC marathon. I had previously run 15 marathons over a period of eighteen years, none slower than four and ½ hours.

This one was going to be five hours and 15 minutes!

I experienced shortness of breath while running to the side of the street and high-fiving the kids watching from the sidelines. I had to walk the bridge decks (the only change in elevation on an otherwise flat course.)

Suffering no ill effects from this race, I kept on running over the years, experiencing occasional periods during a training run where I had to slow to accommodate perceived extra effort without any change in actual pace. These episodes would pass after a few minutes and I could resume my normal pace again.

Then, in 2007 I passed out in the bathroom while urinating (the doctors have a word for this phenomena which I can’t recall). I went to the hospital for observation and after a stress test was diagnosed with right atrial fibrillation. An ablation procedure changed nothing.  Another doctor I visited said he would not have performed the procedure; when I asked why he stated, “too many trigger points”.

Today I’m seventy five years old, a veteran of 37 marathons. I haven’t run a marathon for a couple of years, my most recent half marathon was last year. I’m still running but most of my runs include some walking. My A-fib is on and off, meaning I go in and out of fibrillation, I have no idea when this occurs any more just that it does occur. A stroke is the biggest danger I face with this form of a-fib so my cardiologist prescribed “warfarin” a blood thinner.  At 75 years of age my pace is closer to twelve minutes a mile, which is a bit depressing, but it is what it is and I know moving is the most important thing I can do for my health – so I keep moving.

Signing out,

“Old Runner”

 

 

Advertisements

Guest Blogger – UK AFib Runner Mike Munson

This is an amazing story from a British AFib Runner, Mike Munson. This guy is truly hard-core and persistent. Non-runners who read this will be shocked, but I think most endurance athletes with atrial fibrillation will “get it.” Mike has been a gifted athlete over the years – his times when he was having to walk and jog because of an AFib attack are probably faster than my PR times! He initially dealt with attacks of atrial fibrillation, and eventually had to deal with (probably unrelated) cardiac arrest and coronary artery disease. Please feel free to comment. Thanks for sharing your story, Mike!

 

I had run regularly since about 1964 when I won my local district schools 1 mile in 5m 4secs (aged eleven) on a grass track, bare footed (the school did provide spikes but they hurt my feet). I joined my local Athletic club at twelve, running Track & Field in the summer, Cross Country in the Winter at County & National level. After University I worked in Africa but ran hard most days and started running slightly longer distances in hot climates in Central Africa (ie 10km & 10 Miles). I didn’t race much but did my first 10k in Lagos, Nigeria.

On returning to the UK in my mid 30’s and just starting a family I eased up on the intensity of my training but still ran most days and competed regularly for my local Running Club. As a club we had an internal “Grand Prix” where we competed against clubmates of similar ability.

In late 2000 (aged 50) I was taking part in the last 10km of the year, a relatively easy course that would normally have taken me about 40 mins to compete. I was a very consistent runner and usually started slower and ran negative splits. On this occasion I found myself collapsing for no apparent reason within a few hundred metres of the start. As it was the last run of the series (& I am not one to give up anyway), I picked myself up and initially started walking then broke into a jog, but very quickly had to stop again. I had no idea what was happening but by stopping and walking and jogging very slowly I eventually got round but really collapsed at the finish in around 60min . I went to see my GP the following morning and she sent me straight to Hospital. On doing a test on the treadmill they noted I had an irregular heartbeat, but didn’t do anything about it.

Over the next few years the attacks increased from every few months to every few weeks and seemed to be quite random, although I tried to work out if by running at a particular pace or warming up longer would help. If an attack occurred in a race I tended to stop  and walk to the finish as I was coaching youngsters and didn’t want them waiting around too long for me  if I ran to collapse .

In 2006 I moved to Suffolk and introduced myself to my new GP who happened to be a runner. He immediately referred me to a Cardiologist at the local Hospital who had me tested immediately and then transferred me to Papworth (Our Regional Cardiac Centre). They carried out an ablation which unfortunately didn’t work and I still have AFib. However I was given medication (Flecainide ), this had side effects of dizzy spells and blackouts which became very regular. Some of my friends found me a bit blasé about my collapsing and I was often heard to say to a fellow runner who might have stopped to help me, “Oh it’s no problem, I just have a heart problem.” Sometime they would be very shocked but would still try to encourage me to get up quickly and run fast to the finish but all I ever wanted was to get to the finish at my speed, which sometimes could be quite fast and sometimes I would be walking through the line. I became incredibly inconsistent. Over the past 25 years I have been in clubs that had 5km handicap championships each summer. Previously they would very by under a minute over the season but latterly on a good day (prior to going on beta blockers) I could vary from 22 to 31mins, depending how many times I collapsed.

All this time my pace was getting slower as I was unable to train properly (ie more than I would have expected due to my getting older), although one time I spoke to my GP about it an she said “don’t you realise you are getting older” to which I replied yes but I am slowing down too much!

 Therefore I turned to trail running with self navigating. This became very enjoyable and I particularly enjoyed the refreshments at check points, however by 2013 I was getting concerned about my ability to compete longer events and started collapsing and feeling sick if I tried pushing the pace at all. I spoke to my GP who arranged a 24 hour monitor. During this period we had our club 5km championship so I was happy to test myself with the monitor on. Please bear in mind I had been assured that  Afib wouldn’t kill me by my GP.  About 400m from the finish I had a black out  and I went down. A friend was just behind me, checked on me, I had come to and told him I was OK and would walk to the finish. He informed the next official who advised him I was now just behind him. In fact I recovered so quickly I actually overtook him before collapsing again near the finish. I returned the monitor to the Hospital the following day and soon after getting home a Consultant called me to come in immediately but I shouldn’t drive. I was kept in for tests, but in the end they changed my medication to a Beta blocker, which did stop the dizzy spells and blackout, however, my pace in training immediately slowed further from around 8 minute mile to 10 minute mile.

I was then doing more Trail Marathons as it didn’t seem to matter what pace I ran and was good fun, whilst still a challenge and hopefully keeping me fit. 2016 & early 2017 I found when doing easy Trail Marathons increasingly I was struggling over the last few miles, even contemplating taking short cuts, not wanting to cheat but just to finish. I did actually collapse twice at the finish and on one occasion the paramedic suggested going to A&E but I felt I would be OK in the morning (and of course I was).

Then 4th June 2017 I was in the 25th mile of the Stour Valley Trail Marathon (a fairly tough race with several long hills which was my 7th Marathon of the year) on one of the warmest days of 2017 in England, when I collapsed with an SCA (sudden cardiac arrest). Apparently this may be nothing to do with my Afib.

I had an ICD fitted and it has triggered twice since (during runs/ long walks as I am supposed to be taking it easy) and I have now had a double bypass as 2 arteries were narrowed. I am now doing Cardiac Rehab and hope to get back running soon, but will be patient (especially after dying last year for 25 minutes). However the Afib is still with me and I am still on 3.75 mg Bisoprolol.

 However now my wife carefully vets anyone giving me a lift. The guy who gave me the lift on that fateful day is still not allowed to drive me.

The local running community have been great. As I lost my driving licence friends have driven me around. As I could run last winter the local Cross Country League have let me walk the ladies distance. Unfortunately my last collapse meant I missed the penultimate race as I was in Hospital, so as race Director I was busy sending messages out to get the race on. At the Presentation night I was given a special award which was very humbling. I was the first recipient of this award named after a regular runner who had passed away in the previous season.

This summer as I have not been allowed to run I have been raising money for local cardiac charities by organising 21 Trail runs in my County on Wednesday evenings, starting at a Village Pub and using Public Footpaths. It is a simple concept whereby we sell an instruction sheet for £2 and runners self navigate round one of 2 routes either short (maybe 3-4 miles) or longer 6 + miles and then finish at the Pub. We sometimes put on additional things, like one night we tested people for AFib before they set off. This was well received and 120 people turned up; however I was the only person testing positive for A Fib! It created a fair amount of awareness and we managed an article in our Regional Daily.

Is this the sort of thing you wanted to see?  My family have been very supportive of me as they saw me in Hospital with tubes in me etc and where told that maybe I wouldn’t survive the induced coma and if I did as I was out for 25 minutes I might have brain damage but I seem to be very lucky!

Best Regards Mike Munson (aged 65)

Guest Blogger Request

Note: This is a post I made on a couple of atrial fibrillation Facebook groups – specifically:

Healthy Hearties

and I’m including it here in the hopes that readers will be inspired to write and share. Thanks!

Joey and I hiking on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail

I write and maintain A Fib Runner (afibrunner.com) – a blog about atrial fibrillation and trail running, ultra running, mountain biking, and other endurance sports. Studies have shown that atrial fibrillation is much more common in middle-aged athletes than in non-athletic individuals of the same age – doesn’t seem fair, does it? I’m a marathoner, ultra-marathoner, hiker, mountain biker with permanent atrial fibrillation – and I blog about it.

I would like to request guest bloggers to submit articles. I’ve written a lot about *my* experience; but your experience is going to be unique and will be of great interest to readers of the blog. At this point I have had several people send me articles and they have been very popular – some of the most popular articles on my blog.

So here’s how it works: if you’d like to submit and article let me know via comment or message. I’ll send you my email and we can get started. If writing intimidates you that’s fine – just right it in your own voice, like you are writing a letter to a friend.

If you want to use your full name – great! A lot of athletes with atrial fibrillation come from a generation that values privacy a little more than millennials – that’s fine. My 58 year old life is an open book, but maybe yours isn’t – a first name or even a pseudonym is fine. I’ll edit the article for spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., and send you a revised copy (if there any revisions) for your approval.

If you’d like to send photos I’ll let you know how I do that. Blogs need photos – but if you have none to share I will provide appropriate photos.

The article should be about your experience and NOT about giving medical advice. Personally, I try very hard to write as an A Fib Runner and not as a health care provider. If you are a cardiologist, or other type of health care provider, and would really like to make suggestions we can discuss that. Clearly there are some real liability issues with giving medical advice over the internet.

Any topic involving atrial fibrillation is appreciated, and I especially would like to hear from people who have had various treatments like ablation, a watchman device, or an Atriclip, as well as the various medications that you’ve used for atrial fibrillation. How did you find out you had a fib? What did it feel like? What is your emotional reaction to a fib? What is your psychological response to the new normal of a fib? What was your cardio version like? What are your triggers? What things did you change after the diagnosis was made? Did a fib destroy you or did it strengthen you?

And so on.

Please let me know – THANKS!

Reversal Agent for Eliquis and Xarelto Receives FDA “Fast-track” Approval

 

This is great news for people with atrial fibrillation (AF) who take the newer anticoagulants Eliquis or Xarelto. According to a recent article in Cardiology News the FDA, in early May 2018, approved Andexxa (Portola Pharmaceuticals), the first reversal agent for the popular newer anticoagulants Eliquis and Xarelto.

I think runners and mountain bikers, correctly, worry about problems with excessive bleeding while on anticoagulants because we are certainly at increased risk of falls or of being hit by a car, and many have hesitated to transition from warfarin (Coumadin) because of the lack of a reliable reversal agent.

Pradaxa (dabigatran) and warfarin both already have reversal available reversal agents.

Andexxa acts as a decoy molecule and essentially binds to the drug preventing it from interacting with clotting factors.

Terrific news, right?

According to drugs.com “In the U.S. alone in 2016, there were approximately 117,000 hospital admissions attributable to Factor Xa inhibitor-related bleeding and nearly 2,000 bleeding-related deaths per month.” 

But wait – there’s catch!

Andexxa has been approved but as the writing of this blog post (May 23, 2018) it is not yet available. It exists, but you can’t get it!

I called one of the pharmacists at our hospital (Sky Lakes Medical Center) and asked if it was going to be readily available at our hospital – that’s when I discovered that it wasn’t yet being distributed – but she told me that our hospital plans to have it in stock and available for use.

She also said that once Andexxa is actually available our hospital would then develop guidelines for usage of the new drug. These have not yet been declared but she expects that it will be similar for guidelines pertaining to the reversal agents for Pradaxa and warfarin which are 1.) Patients with serious, life threatening bleeding and 2.) Patients who need emergency surgery.

I think that means that people having elective surgery (like a knee replacement) will not be eligible and will have to taper off their anticoagulant and bridge with Lovenox, just like they do now. I imagine that emergency surgery refers to surgery that is necessary to save your life, not necessarily surgeries like fracture repair, where it would be possible to wait a few days.

As far as my personal experience – I take warfarin and don’t intend to change. I had taken Pradaxa for several years and was very happy with it until I had a mini-stroke and a trans-esophageal echocardiogram revealed that I had a blood clot in my left atrium.

The next big question, of course, is how much will Andexxa cost? I have no idea and I can’t find any information about cost – but I’m guessing it will be really expensive. But then again – people who are anti coagulated and have life threatening bleeding or need emergency life-saving surgery can just go ahead and get Andexxa and worry about how to pay for it later.

 

Any comments are appreciated! Thanks for reading.

Atrial Fibrillation Podcasts?

 

For many years I’ve been running with an iPod and truly enjoy listening to music while running – I wrote about it in a previous entry about Runner’s High – nothing like some nice stoner music to listen to while you’re high on life, right?

I realize that listening to music while running is controversial for many people; but I am an unabashed YES when it comes to running and music. Because I live in rural, mountainous Southern Oregon I do 95% of my running on trails of one sort or another – and yeah, yeah – bears, mountain lions, dogs – I get it – but I’m not changing anything. I’ve been running with music ever since my first Walkman cassette player in 1984!

Even worse – I’m Mr Bad Example and ride my bike with an iPod going, and again 95% trails but still not really a good idea.

Lately, with my atrial fibrillation requiring more and more medication to control (the high dose of the beta blocker carvedilol really takes the wind out of my sails), I am doing more hiking and less running – but still with an iPod.

Since “runner’s high” is a rare event with hiking compared to running I’ve been listening to more podcasts than music playlists. Podcasts are sort of like radio shows, either professional or homemade, that can be downloaded from the iTunes store and elsewhere, in MP3 format to be listened to using an iPod, smartphone, or even on your computer. They are mostly free, but many have commercials, and there are a few podcasts that cost money.

There are millions of them. Over the past couple of years here are the ones I’ve found most entertaining:

All of these recommendations are unrelated to atrial fibrillation

Dirtbag Diaries – a “dirtbag” is something along the lines of a Yosemite rock climber who lives in his or her car and lives for climbing. The term has a broader application and this excellent podcasts primarily deals with outdoor adventure, mostly done econo!

Outside Podcast – if you like Outside magazine you’ll like the podcast – the Science of Survival episodes are particularly great.

My Dad Wrote a Porno – The funniest podcast I’ve ever encountered – but truly dirty and probably offensive to most people – you’ve been warned. A young British man discovers his dad wrote a clueless porno novel so he reads it with his two friends and they basically give it a sort of Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – probably my favorite podcast ever – fascinating and detailed episodes about various historic eras like World War I, Genghis Khan, the Roman Empire, etc. The episodes are long – like four or five hours long – and never boring. The narrator reminds me of Steve Dahl (only other Chicago natives will know who that is) merged with a historian who loves guy movies. Okay – if that doesn’t make sense just try an episode or two – it’s a great show.

Revisionist History – a Malcolm Gladwell podcast – very thoughtful and as with all his work always an amazing twist near the end.

The various NPR podcasts (Snap Judgement, TED Radio Hour, Radiolab, Invisibila, etc.) are consistently excellent, maybe a little too slick.

I think most people who listen to podcasts have already listened to Serial, Dirty John, and S Town. If not, what are you waiting for? They are among the best ones out there.

Others I’ve found interesting include Rich Roll Podcast, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, Judge John Hodegman, WTF, and the Nerdist.

Actual running podcasts include Trail Runner Nation and Ten Junk Miles.

But what about podcasts specifically about atrial fibrillation? It seems like any topic, no matter how esoteric, has a number of podcasts. If you don’t believe me do an iTunes store podcast search for your hobby, your favorite TV show, favorite band – and you’ll see what I mean.

I was surprised when I did an iTunes store podcast search on “atrial fibrillation” I found zero podcasts that were anything like this blog – that is to say produced by somebody with atrial fibrillation for non-clinicians who deal with their own AF. All I found were atrial fibrillation episodes for technical medical podcasts directed toward clinicians. Just have a look at the screenshot at the top of this post. It amazes me that with all the people dealing with atrial fibrillation none of them seem to be podcasting about it, although, as you know, several people blog about it.

Rich Roll Podcasting

If you know of any atrial fibrillation podcasts, or if you just want to discuss podcasts in general, please comment. Thanks for reading.

A Casualty of My Atrial Fibrillation: My Single Speed Cross Bike

I miss my Bianchi San Jose.

It’s true that a person could easily get by with one bike – most people in the world do just that. If I only was going to have one bike it’d be a nice mountain bike – because it could be ridden in all conditions, four seasons, on or off road, and it’s usually a comfortable ride.

But I’m a typical middle aged (employed) male cyclist – I have three bikes – a mountain bike, a road bike, and a cross bike.

Okay – I‘ll admit it – I actually have four bikes. My fourth bike is my “legacy” bike – the first fine bike I ever owned that I had to  save up for about a year as a poor graduate student – my 1981 Trek 930 Sport Touring road bike with the Columbus tubing and the mix of Campy and Sun-tour components. I haven’t ridden it in nearly twenty years but I just can’t part with it – we had so many incredible road rides back in the eighties! My old bike is actually featured on the Vintage Trek website.

Alright – full disclosure – I still have the frame and (non-suspension) fork from my 1990 Fischer Supercaliber – still my favorite mountain bike of the several I’ve owned for the past thirty years.

But out of the three bikes I actually ride the most frequently ridden is my full suspension cross country 29er mountain bike – a real beast built for the clydesdale that I am.

I also have a carbon Giant Defy (their knock off of the Specialized Roubaix) that I bought as a retired rental fleet bike from the local bike shop. Yes – I know that you’re never supposed to buy a used, god forbid a former rental fleet carbon framed bike – but the extra large sizes are so infrequently rented that it had very few miles on it.

But my Bianchi San Jose is the one that was a casualty of my atrial fibrillation (AF). A single speed cross bike – perfect for cruising on our local Rails to Trails (OC&E and Woods Line State Trail) geared perfectly for the relatively flat trail (Trains can only handle so much steepness – no more that a 2% grade) and because it was a cross bike it was ideal for the nine miles that are paved as well as the ninety unpaved miles. Although it’s a single speed it had brakes – it wasn’t quite a hipster messenger fixy. I think those things are nuts – especially now that I’m anti-coagulated.

If you’ve never ridden a single speed – give one a try – a very smooth and quiet ride. My San Jose was a little tricked out. I upgraded the tires to a more aggressive set, and I had a beautiful Brooks Saddle (which I kept) and some matching but really over-priced Brooks leather handle bar tape. That bike just had a terrific look and feel – the most comfortable bike I’ve ever had. I could ride in the drop position for a long time without getting sore.

But regrettably as my AF got worse and the medications were going up to higher dosages (Thanks, Carvedilol!) I could no longer ride it up to the hill to our house. It isn’t the biggest or steepest hill in the neighborhood (we live in the mountains, after all) but it is about a 250 foot climb in about three quarters of a mile (75 meters in 1.2 kilometers). It never was an easy climb on the single speed, but currently it is impossible for me.

To be honest I never was a good single speed cyclist. I’ve always had a fast cadence and used a lower gear, and I tend to shift constantly maintaining an even power output. I’ve ridden with guys who just stay in the higher gears and grind – not my style. It was always a challenge getting up that hill in the single 42/17 gear.

I considered getting an after market three speed hub for the back but that would be too dorky. I  still rode it on the bike trail but I’d have to drive to the trailhead schlepping the bike on my truck’s bike rack. Eventually I traded it in at the bike shop when I bought my most recent bike – a Specialized AWOL – sort of a gravel grinder meets full touring bike.

I like the AWOL well enough, and ride it frequently; but compared to the light, sporty, cool looking San Jose the big, clunky, awkward looking AWOL seems more like riding around in a UPS delivery truck. Oh well – life changes as you go – I’m grateful to  still be riding.

Please feel free to share your comments.

Is Digoxin a Good Choice for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation?

Is Digoxin a Good Choice for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation? I want to make it clear, once again, that I am writing this blog as an endurance athlete dealing with atrial fibrillation (AF) – not as a clinician. I’m not a cardiologist or a primary care physician. I’m simply posing a question and not answering it. It is important for you to be in agreement with your cardiologist and primary care provider about your treatment plan Whatever you do – DON’T STOP TAKING ANY MEDICATION YOU HAVE BEEN PRESCRIBED BECAUSE YOU READ ABOUT SIDE EFFECTS ON SOME GUY’S BLOG!

Also – full disclosure – I take a low dose of digoxin.

Digoxin is the generic name for Lanoxin which has been actually been used for hundreds of years as an herbal preparation (Digitalis) from the foxglove plant, seen above, which is a lovely plant, don’t you think?

Digoxin is used to treat atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and heart failure. My cardiologist told me that many of the younger cardiologists don’t generally even prescribe it any longer.

Digoxin has a narrow therapeutic index, which means that at too low of a dose it isn’t very effective and at higher doses it is toxic. Because of this it has many side effects. It is unknown whether digoxin is safe during pregnancy. Digoxin works by improving heart function by strengthening the contractions and slowing the heart rate.

A 2018 paper published Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that digoxin increased mortality in patients with atrial fibrillation regardless of heart failure.

Conclusions In patients with AF taking digoxin, the risk of death was independently related to serum digoxin concentration and was highest in patients with concentrations ≥1.2 ng/ml. Initiating digoxin was independently associated with higher mortality in patients with AF, regardless of heart failure.

Yikes!

Also consider that several of the authors of the study disclosed that they had financial ties to pharma and medical device companies, including pharmaceutical giants Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Pfizer who funded the study.

But look! Runners and other endurance athletes need to ask their cardiologists about digoxin toxicity because both dehydration and low magnesium increase the chance of toxicity. Who among us hasn’t been dehydrated?

I’m going to be asking my cardiologist more questions about digoxin next time I see her. As I mentioned I take a small dose and when we did lab work my digoxin level was low, below the therapeutic window, which she said was fine – she just wanted to make sire it wasn’t too high. Me too!

I’d love to see your comments!

Dehydrated Trail Runner – me!