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MultiCare cyclists bond over bikes with Mary Bridge patient
A repaired heart valve and an equally high-tech bicycle have put a Tacoma teen on the road to recovery.
James Irish was born with a congenitally bicuspid aortic valve, although he didn’t know this until he received a physical examination before high school football season that detected a heart murmur. He was told that surgery would eventually be required.
“I was freaked out about that,” said Irish, who was 17 at the time.
A week after his 18th birthday, Irish underwent surgery at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. Dr. Karl Welke, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, and a team replaced Irish’s aortic valve with a high-tech On-X mechanical valve.
A follow-up appointment was required to remove 1,030 milliliters of fluid – slightly larger than a 32-ounce Big Gulp drink – from Irish’s chest. As Irish began to receive anesthesia, MultiCare echocardiographer Jeff Spencer told him to think of something happy.
“And I told him, ‘I think I’m going to ride the Tour de France,’ ” Irish said. “When I came back awake, I was bad mouthing Alberto Contador” – a Spanish bicyclist who faced doping allegations after winning the 2007 Tour de France.
“Wow, you really hate him,” Spencer said.
The two talked bikes as Irish recovered.
“I’m a bike fanatic,” said Irish, who rode an older 1983 Sekai bicycle at the time. “I have a lot of different types of bikes. My dad got me into it at a young age and I just fell in love with it.”
The next day, Spencer stopped by Irish’s room and asked, “You still hate Alberto?”
Then Spencer offered to give Irish a bike frame – a Waterford Paramount from the 1990s.
“Us cyclists have to stick together,” Spencer told Irish.
Bicyclists from Team MultiCare, a group of hospital employees who ride together in the annual Courage Classic, gathered high-tech bike parts to give to Irish. Mike Brown, owner of Tacoma Bike, volunteered time and considerable expertise of his staff to put together a proper racing bicycle to match Irish’s enthusiasm.
“It’s still a matter of debate as to which was more of a detriment to James – the incompetent congenitally bicuspid aortic valve or the 1983 Sekai,” Spencer joked. “Fortunately, both are behind him. James now has a high-tech aortic valve and a high-tech bike. He’s on the road to recovery.”
Tacoma Bike employees generously shared their bike knowledge with Irish. Peter Stanley taught Irish how to build the bike. Tony Corke performed a first-class fitting. In fact, the bike build and fitting took longer than Irish’s valve replacement surgery.
“It turned out really good,” said Irish, who was cleared May 11 to begin exercising again. “I ride it all over the place.”
Spencer and others from Team MultiCare will ride Aug. 6-8 in the 20th Annual Alaska Airlines Courage Classic, a three-day, 173-mile ride that takes participants through three spectacular mountain passes: Snoqualmie, Blewett and Stevens. The annual ride benefits the Child Abuse Intervention Department at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center and the statewide Children's Trust Foundation.
Irish said it’s too soon for him to ride Courage Classic this year, but he’s an honorary member of the team and plans to be a “Virtual Rider” – a program that lets riders cover the same distance as the 173-mile Courage Classic, but Virtual Riders accumulate the miles over an extended period of time, on routes close to home.
“It’s too soon to get ready for it this year,” Irish said of the three-day Courage Classic. “But I’m definitely shooting for next year.”
What: 20th Annual Alaska Airlines Courage Classic, a three-day, 173-mile bicycle ride
When: Aug. 6-8
Where: Participants ride over three spectacular mountain passes: Snoqualmie, Blewett and Stevens.
Why: The annual ride benefits the Child Abuse Intervention Department at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Center and also the statewide Children's Trust Foundation.
Posted on Aug 7, 2011 in Special Events