When I was first diagnosed with at DVT and subsequent PE in June of 2012, I had never felt more alone in my entire life. Once I reached out to some support group online, my loneliness turned into a desire to help bring awareness to blood clots and the life-threatening dangers they present. Ever since then, I have hoped that someone who had experienced a blood clot and someone who was well-known too, would choose to raise awareness and help bring education to the subject. Celebrities, athletes, actors and musicians have all experienced blood clots – none are precluded from the danger – but few have chosen to use their experience to make a difference.
All of that changed when Brian Vickers, one of the most diverse drivers in motorsports, experienced not one, but two blood clots that completely altered the course of his career – and he decided to make awareness a part of his passion. Brian Vickers is the driver of the No. 55 Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as well as the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series. He was the 2003 Busch Series champion, and at age 20, became the youngest champion in any of NASCAR’s three top-tier series.
Brian most recently missed the end of the 2013 Sprint Cup season after being placed on blood thinners for a blood clot in his right calf. Before that, he missed the final 25 races of the 2010 season while recovering from blood clots and heart surgery. Through it all, Brian has remained positive and optimistic about racing in 2014, living life to the fullest and racing in the upcoming Daytona 500. Just under 30 years old by the time he experienced his second clotting incident, Brian decided that to give up and give in, was just not an option and he has been fighting ever since, including personally supporting Clot Connect to raise awareness about blood clots and the associated dangers. He encourages his fans to do the same in supporting a noteworthy cause. Brian believes education is paramount in the fight against blood clots and that each day we are here to continue living is a blessing. While life after two blood clots may be different for Brian, it hasn’t stopped him from chasing his dreams and doing what he loves – both on and off the track.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a few moments to speak with Brian about his clotting incident and his road to recovery, including his return to racing. Here is what he had to say.
BCRN: What is your story?
Brian: For me, it started back in 2010, everything was normal and then one day I had shortness of breath and pain in my legs and I ignored it, not knowing what it was, until it was almost too late and I could hardly breathe. Thankfully, I made it to the hospital. I was originally diagnosed with pneumonia, before they figured out it was a blood clot in my leg and lung. It was a shocking experience. Then, late this year , I had to wear a boot for a month after spraining my foot, which lead to a clot in my right calf. This time, I had pain and slight swelling and due to better education and knowing what was going on, I called my doctor right away. I got treatment and now I am taking medication once a day.
BCRN: I can’t imagine going through what I did twice, how have you been able to handle it?
Brian: Speaking to a doctor is important, especially the second time around. For me, it was shocking and difficult to go through twice, but the second time was easier than the first.
BCRN: What has your treatment been like after your second clot and how has that impacted your career?
Brian: Being on blood thinners has kept me out of a car for the remainder of this season. Right now, I am on a regiment to finish treatment at the end of January and start racing again in February on the track to the Daytona 500. In health and in life, anything can happen. I could fall down the stairs tomorrow, but in a few months I can go back to racing and I am very much looking forward to that.
BCRN: Do you worry about having another clotting incident requiring you to take blood thinners for an extended period of time?
Brian: Having a clot twice, you can’t argue that I might be more prone than someone else, but at this point and after talking to my doctor’s, being on or off blood thinners could go either way – both carry their own risk. I prefer not to be on lifelong blood thinners due to my love of action and the outdoors. My goal is to get off blood thinners and get back to living my life. It will always be in the back of my mind, but I try not to let it be there.
BCRN: Any great health and medication management tips for people taking blood thinners?
Brian: I use Care4Today to manage my medication and it helps a lot. At first I was taking shots, which was horrible; then Coumadin, which required weekly draws and dietary restrictions; and now I am on Xarelto, which I love due to the lack of monitoring and restrictions. I get busy and Care4Today helps me stay on track.
BCRN: How have you handled your recovery over the last several months?
Brian: I was dealt a hand in life and I’ve been getting through it with support from family and friends. My wife has done phenomenal job of helping me get back on track. I have great doctors that have allowed me to keep doing some of what I love doing.
BCRN: What do you love to do (besides racing, of course) and how have you been able to still live an active life on blood thinners?
Brian: I love to skydive, race cars of course, kayak and snow ski. Some things I can do and some things I can’t while I am on blood thinners. I can’t be in a race car on blood thinners. I had a lot more restrictions in the beginning of my recovery than I do now, though. You will always have some restrictions while on blood thinners, I think, but you find things you love to do and do them.
BCRN: How have your experiences inspired you to be an activist bringing awareness to the dangers of blood clots?
Brian: Thanks to people committed to raising awareness about clotting there comes an understanding and a level of comfort that comes with knowledge. You reach a certain level of comfort that you can go out and live your life again. Knowing the signs and symptoms of blood clots – check it out if you have a concern and get it taken care of before it becomes a life-threatening issue. That makes a huge difference for me. I want to raise awareness so people can go and live their lives and even reaching a few people matters.
BCRN: What, for you, is the key factor in raising awareness?
Brian: We’re all doing a small part to raise awareness. Hearing stories like yours makes me motivated to get the word out. It is very serious, but it can be managed and you can live a life and an even better life than you used to! Education is the most important factor to me. Go to the doctor, talk to your doctor, and know your risks and your own body.
BCRN: What would you say to someone who is struggling to get their life back on track after experiencing a blood clot, like many of my readers may be?
Brian: The good news is your life is not over! It might be different or over as you knew it, but it is not over. Life is what you make of it. You have to get up and keep fighting. Explore your alternatives, know your options. One, look at the bright side, your life may change, but it is not over and that in and of itself is a blessing. And two, talk to your doctor about what makes sense to you and what you are battling, look for alternatives if something is not working for you. It feels like a constant battle and the world is against you at times, but don’t ever give up.
BCRN: What advice would you give to aid someone in recovery?
Brian: I want to help people get back out and do. Everyone goes through what they have to and can only do what they are comfortable with, but you can still do what you love. Talk to your doctor and live your life doing what you love.
Visit the links below to learn more about…
- Brian Vickers (or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter)
- Clot Connect
- Care4Today Mobile Health Manager (or get the app free!)
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,
Thank you to Brian and his team for arranging this interview with BCRN! I am beyond grateful that you took time to not only answer my questions, but help promote awareness for blood clots. Best of luck to you this racing season!