By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Jeremy Woodward will participate in the Arizona Ironman competition on Nov. 19 – a decade after doctors told him he would never compete at that level again.
“This is going to be a really special day,” said Woodward, who lives in Concord, New Hampshire. “Celebrating that I can do it – that I’m healthy enough to do it – and having my family there at the finish line will be an emotional moment.”
The moment seemed unlikely on Aug. 4, 2007, when Woodward, who was 28 at the time, was in class four heart failure and nearly died. His heart failure developed after an aortic valve replaced in 2000 stopped working.
“The day before my surgery, I was reading about the Ironman triathlon in a magazine and I told the doctors and nurses that if I got out of this surgery and could do it, I would,” Woodward said. “They all thought I was crazy, but from that point on, it became my ultimate goal.”
The triathlon in November, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run within a 17-hour time limit, will be Woodward’s second.
“Training for an Ironman competition takes a lot of time, effort and sacrifice, and my family has been extremely supportive and truly understands how much this means to me,” Woodward said. “Knowing that 10 years after my last open-heart surgery I am doing this a second time proves that anything is possible.”
Still, it didn’t seem possible when Woodward arrived at Tufts Medical Center in Boston with 45 pounds of fluid weight. During the procedure to have his aorta repaired and another valve replaced with a mechanical heart valve, Woodward also had a clot on the left side of his heart that required additional repairs.
“When we were in the hospital for weeks leading up to Jeremy’s surgery, my biggest fear was leaving the hospital alone,” said his wife, Brook. “Being there for weeks takes your mind to places you don’t want to think about. We hadn’t even been married two years, so dreams of having a family and a home just seemed like they weren’t going to be in the cards for us.”
But after six weeks in the hospital, Woodward returned home.
“I believe that his ability to keep positive is what kept him alive – along with the incredible team of doctors and nurses that literally put his heart back together,” Brook said.
“Now, 10 years later, we have three beautiful daughters and a brand new home that we’ve worked so hard for. Going through this experience has made us appreciate everything that we have so much more,” she said.
This past August, when Woodward walked into the CardioVascular Center at Tufts, he was elated to see Noreen A. Dolan, one of the head nurses who took care of him.
“Jeremy was one of the sickest patients I cared for in my career,” Dolan said. “I thought his chances of recovery were slim to none. Although we would be able to fix his heart valves, we thought he would always be limited due to his major heart condition.”
Just one day shy of his three-year anniversary of being admitted to the hospital, Woodward completed his first Ironman in July 2010. Then in 2013, he ran the Boston Marathon as part of Tedy’s Team, a running group created by the American Stroke Association and former New England Patriots linebacker and stroke survivor Tedy Bruschi.
This year, he ran the Falmouth Road Race in Massachusetts, participated in his fourth Boston Marathon, and ran the Marine Corps Marathon with Tedy’s Team.
Through these races, Woodward has raised more than $37,000 for heart and stroke research and education.
“Being able to do my part to fight heart disease and combat stroke is, I think, what I’m supposed to be doing,” Woodward said. “I was given a tough situation and I wanted to make sure I turned it around into something really positive.”
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