He has a pretty cool – not to mention heart-pounding – job driving race cars for a living and when he’s not doing that he enjoys extreme sports such as sky diving, mountain road biking, boxing and riding motorcycles. He believes in living life to the fullest, with no regrets and loves second chances. His motto is to never give up, play the hand you’re dealt to the best of your ability and keep pushing forward in spite of life’s many challenges. And, on top of all that, NASCAR’S Brian Vickers is raising blood clot awareness.
At age 8, Vickers purchased his first yard-kart with saved allowance money. Not long after, a friend of the family suggested he move up to a real racing go-kart and start competing. By the time he was 17 years old, he participated in his first nationwide motorcar race and at just 20 years old, he became the youngest champion in any of NASCAR’s three top three series when he won the 2003 Busch Series. He then won three races each in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide series. Most things always seemed easy to Brian until racing – and life – became more difficult than he could ever imagine.
In 2010, he was the top NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Contender when a blood clot in his leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) derailed that and changed his plans for the future. He went on a pretty standard treatment of blood thinners and after that, returned to racing in 2011 when another blood clot, this time in his lung (pulmonary embolism or PE), caused him to have to stop racing once again. Brian returned to racing this year, once again a contender in the Sprint Cup Chase, and is raising blood clot awareness, including promoting some simple steps you can take during Blood Clot Awareness Month and afterwards to help others going through this type of devastating event.
“I am going to do everything I can to raise awareness, and I am very fortunate to have a platform to do that with my job because not everyone has that,” Vickers said, “There are a lot of very courageous people out there who have gone through a lot, experienced a lot and have a great message to deliver. The one thing I would ask is that you just raise awareness. You reach out. If people have questions you send them to sites like TreatMyClot.com so they can learn more and educate themselves and educate others. But, at the end of the day, I think the important thing is, if you think something is wrong, go see a doctor. That is one resounding message. If you think something is wrong, go see a doctor. That is the biggest thing people can do, not only for themselves, but to encourage others to do that as well.”
Dr. Jack Ansell, MACP, whose areas of interest and research include a special emphasis on thrombotic disorders and antithrombotic therapy, concurs that most people simply do not know what a DVT or PE is.
“Just about everyone understands the concept and what the word blood clot is,” Dr. Ansell states, “ but when you start talking about deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism the percentage of individuals who understand drops to about 25 percent or so.”
Brian agrees he had no idea what a DVT or PE was until it happened to him and knowing, in fact, can make a difference. Everyone needs to know the signs and symptoms of blood clots.
The signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can include swelling; pain or tenderness; and warmth or redness of the skin on the affected leg. DVT can lead to pulmonary embolism (PE) or a blood clot that travels to the lung and the symptoms can include shortness of breath, pain with deep breathing and coughing up blood. People who believe they are experiencing a DVT or PE should seek help right away. Knowing your body and what signs to watch out for is the key to taking care of yourself.
“Misdiagnoses of a blood clot is unfortunately common,” as in Brian’s case initially and Dr. Ansell further explains, “When people do go to the emergency room or to their doctor, the first thing on anybody’s mind is not necessarily a blood clot. With shortness of breath and chest pain a more common situation is pneumonia. We need to increase awareness to physicians as well. It’s not always the fault of the physician because these things are tough and not always as simple as we’ve described, but if you know about blood clots and you are very concerned and you bring that question up to the doctor by saying, ‘Doctor, could this be a blood clot in my lung or leg?’ the physician will usually exclude it if he thinks it could be a possibility. If you are not aware of the condition, you may never bring it to the doctor’s attention and if the doctor doesn’t see it as a possibility than it might get misdiagnosed.”
There are also a variety of risk factors for blood clots and understanding those can help people take steps to reduce their risk. You are at risk for a blood clot, including DVT or PE, if you have previously experienced a DVT or PE; sit in a plan or car for a long period of time; smoke, are overweight; have had a recent surgery; take birth control or hormone therapy; have a family history of DVT or PE; are pregnancy or are in the first six weeks after birth; are receiving cancer treatments; or are over 60 years old.
While sitting in a race car for long periods does not specifically put Brian at risk because his blood is constantly flowing due to the motion of the car (enough that he loses 5-7 pounds each race!) and movements he is able to make in his legs, he did take a long plane ride before his second clotting incident, which is believed to have put him at a higher risk. And while Brian currently stays active and fit by running, weight –lifting and yoga among other things, he and Dr. Ansell cannot stress enough that a blood clot can happen to anyone.
“Everyone is at risk for blood clots,” Dr. Ansell says, “Athletes and non-athletes alike. Some people have a predisposition, which could be hereditary, but for those sports and particularly athletes who are at risk for leg injuries like race car drivers like Brian or football players – or really any sport – if you fracture, injure or sprain an bone in your leg or ankle and are immobilized for any period of time, those are significant risk factors. While you would think being an athlete would decrease the risk, they actually do risky things that can increase it. The bottom line is we are all at risk for developing a blood clot.”
Brian recalls there was a time early on in his diagnoses where doctors were not sure if he would race again and that healing from this has been tough physically and emotionally.
“This was a difficult process to go through because I did not know anything and had to educate myself. Physically it was difficult because there were so many unknowns. On the emotional side, it takes a toll because it is a life-threatening experience you are moving on with and this knowledge of having gone though it is always in the back of your mind.”
Dr. Ansell goes on to say that people recovering from a blood clot can expect to take several weeks to recover, if not longer depending on the body and healing factors.
Throughout his recovery, though, Brian has exhibited an unparalleled courageous spirit and the will to “Never Give Up,” which has indeed become his motto while raising blood clot awareness.
“It is difficult at times, but you have to have faith that things happen for a reason. I took this opportunity to learn, raise awareness for this issue and focus on the positives. When you are lying in that hospital bed, it is hard to find positives, but keep your eyes open, have faith, look and listen and something will come along. Not maybe when you want it to come along, but it will. You try to make the best of it, focus on what you can do to control it. You can’t control the hand you were dealt, but you can control how you play it. In the real world it is unlikely that you get a re-deal. You just make the most of what you got and keep charging forward,” Vickers said.
Vickers goes on to say, “It has changed a lot of things in my life. I look back at the things I experienced and I am very grateful. I’ve become aware of just how fragile life really is in my faith and also in my appreciation for my career. I think that in some ways it’s a blessing. I think every breath is a blessing for every single one of us. Whether it’s a major medical incident or not, the ones who have had something like that happen are lucky enough to realize just how fragile each of those breaths are.”
And he has indeed passed on that spirit of gratefulness to his fans, which he credits for supporting him through one of the toughest times in his young life.
“How I interact with my fans has changed dramatically,” he said, “I have to give a shout out to the fans because they are brave for what they have gone through too. I have met so many courageous individuals out there who have gone through so much like me and they just don’t have the voice or the platform that I do and certainly hearing those stories has touched me and inspired me in a lot of ways.”
Brian is taking his given platform and used it to further awareness about education and blood clots. The 55 Dream Machine will make a new appearance this weekend at the Fontana race and fans might notice the new color scheme is purple and white with TreatMyClot.com across the hood. And that’s exactly how NASCAR’S Brian Vickers is raising blood clot awareness.
“I am fortunate enough to have a really cool job that people want to hear about,” Vickers said, “I’m hoping to raise support through awareness from a lot of folks. I hope this makes a difference for thousands if not hundreds of thousands.”
For more information about Brian visit:
For more information about blood clots, including signs, symptoms, risk factors and what you can do to help raise awareness visit:
- Webcast Presentation and Interview with NASCAR’S Brian Vickers and Dr. Jack Ansell, MACP presented by Janssen U.S. on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 (re: all quotable material)
Thank you to Janssen, Brian Vickers and Dr. Ansell for this opportunity to discuss Blood Clot Awareness Month with you.
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,