Cycling On Borrowed Time – Kurt Gering’s Story

KurtMU  If you have ever met Kurt Gering, you have likely heard of his many cycling adventures. While Gering still fondly recalls receiving his first bike for his 12th birthday, his love of cycling took on a new level of passion on New Year’s Day of 2011, when he challenged himself to ride his bike every day for a year.  Once this was achieved though, he quickly amended his goal to a 500 day cycling mission, which he achieved before eventually succumbing to a nasty bout of intestinal flu.  He continues to maintain a blog on Facebook called The Bike Warrior and this year he has already logged over 5000 miles of riding. What makes this total even more improbable, are the challenges he has faced this year in achieving those miles.

In May of 2015, Kurt embarked down a journey that was to become his greatest adventure yet, challenging not only that which was central to his life, but his very mortality. On May 6, Kurt turned 52 years old and as had long been his practice, he had scheduled an  annual physical with his physician.  While an initial visit had shown no untoward results, Gering wanted several additional tests to be performed. In the past two months, Kurt had two friends, with no symptoms, experience problems with their heart. One of them, a cycling teammate, suddenly could no longer make it to the top of a hill they frequently rode together. After some investigation, it was determined it was the result of an electrical issue with his heart. The second was a colleague, who, while going through preliminary testing for a hernia, discovered via an ECG he had some blockage in the coronary arteries of his heart and was in need of quadruple bypass surgery.

It was with these events lingering in the back of his mind that he asked for an ECG and for a cardiac stress test (with contrast) to be performed.  Though he had no symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath, as an avid, competitive cyclist who rode 200-400 miles per week, he wanted to be sure. He wanted peace of mind and a few painless tests requiring an hour or two of his time seemed a small price to pay.

Incredibly, as he was driving home from the test, Gering received a call saying that the testing done under stress indicated decreased blood flow to the heart, suggesting possible coronary artery blockage.  Kurt’s physician referred him to a cardiologist, who at an office visit , suggested he have a coronary calcium CT scan further discern whether there was any calcium build up in the plaque found in the walls of the arteries of the heart. A quick procedure taking less than five minutes, the scan computes a score, with Gering scoring more than twice the normal values. This was another sign that continued to tip the scale in favor of blockage and completely confirmed that an angiogram needed to be performed to be certain. Unfortunately, Kurt’s cardiologist was leaving for a speaking tour in England the following morning. However, his doctor rearranged his schedule, his doctor’s wife even held dinner, and an hour later, three hours after arriving for an office visit, Kurt was in the operating room at St. Luke’s as an angiogram was performed.

Unfortunately, a considerable amount of blockage was found scattered throughout his coronary arteries. Four arteries had over 80% blockage and one was about 95% blocked. Dr. DeFranco, the cardiologist who performed the angiogram was quite astonished and stated, “Never, in my 25 years as a cardiologist, have I seen someone with your athletic capacity, perform at such a high level with this poor circulation.”  When the cardiologist compared Kurt to Jim Fixx, author of the Joy of Running and the so called “guru of the running world” who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52, that was enough to convince Kurt of the seriousness and he scheduled quintuple bypass surgery for the following week.

It is important to note that leading up to his surgery, Kurt had no symptoms whatsoever. He never experienced dizziness or shortness of breath and as a competitive cyclist, Kurt regularly gets his heart rate up to 140bpm  or more for 15-20 hours each week. His diet is the envy of many a dietician and his blood pressure below normal, as are his cholesterol levels and lipid panels. However, Kurt, in asking for the cardiac stress test to be performed, chose to advocate for his own health. Had he not asked to have a cardiac stress test with contrast performed, he may not be here to spread this important message.

I’m sure there are also many people out there that might be saying, “But he was exercising and eating right and he still had heart problems, so why should I exercise and try to eat healthier?” Well, according to his cardiologist, Kurt wasn’t experiencing any symptoms because his heart had grown so strong through the many hours of exercise he performed each week, that it was still able to pump blood through the body in spite of all the blockage. This likely would not happened to someone with a less rigorous exercise schedule. He was, however, living on borrowed time. Eventually the narrowing would have become so great that his heart would not have been able to push blood past the blockage and he would have suffered a heart attack.

Kurt had his quintuple bypass surgery performed on May 22, 2015, by Dr. Eric Weiss, a cardio-thoracic surgeon from St. Lukes in Milwaukee. Because of Kurt’s extreme fitness, many of the cardiac rehab guidelines for patients after bypass surgery were amended and after several days, he was meandering about the halls of the St. Lukes, IV Stand and chest tubes following behind him. Six days after surgery on May 28, 2015, Kurt was released from the hospital and later that day as he arrived home, true to character Kurt got on his stationary bike and rode ten miles. As much as his surgeon will allow, he remains active in his recovery and as part of his rehab program takes part in the immersive spinning class through Employee Wellness. On August 30th, Gering celebrated 100 days since his surgery with a 100 mile bike ride, completed in six hours.. Incredible? Yes. But then life is not to be measured by the number of breaths we take, but rather, by the number of times our breath is taken away.

Want to learn more? On October 6th Gering will share his thoughts from 12noon-1pm in the Beaumier Suites of the Raynor Library.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cardiologist

In this GROW session, Kurt Gering provides an entertaining review of his recent journey through quintuple bypass surgery and recovery. Often humorous and filled with curious twists of fate, Kurt will share the lessons he has learned and offer suggestions for maintaining your cardiac health.

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