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Overcoming Challenges: As Told From A RADrabbit

We are honored to share a story about one of our RADrabbits, Stacey Parker Bailey.  Stacey's story is so inspiring and reminds us just how lucky we are to be healthy, happy and able to run.  Also, as an update, Stacey's surgery took place on 9/23/16 as planned and she is recovering well.  We wish you a speedy and successful recovery Stacey!

I am not even sure where to start as I never have imagined this journey I have been on the past 2 years. A little background on me, I have been running for over 20 years (since high school) with numerous races including shorter distances and marathons under my belt.  Running is not just something I do, it is a passion, and I enjoy the competition as much as the social aspect of running with friends. I moved to Santa Barbara 5 years ago and found Santa Barbara Running and Racing about a year after I moved (don’t ask why it took me a year to join, I wish I would have joined earlier as it’s such a great group of people to run with).  I started running track consistently and participated in many local races and just enjoying running in SB. 

About 2 years ago I was running a typical track workout on a Tuesday morning and had just finished an interval. I was jogging in between sets when I got very light headed and had to stop. The next thing I remember was the face of a paramedic looking at me lying on the ground. I rode in an ambulance to the hospital where they ran numerous tests to try to figure out what made me collapse and pass out.  After staying in the hospital for a day, they had no answers for me and figured it was a fluke occurrence so they let me go. 

Fast forward to 4 months later I had been back running consistently (including many intense track workouts), I was out on Saturday group run when I collapsed again. This time I don’t remember anything from the time I was running to waking up in the ER. The crazy thing is when I went down I was alone as the girls I was running with had turned around earlier and the guys in the group were far ahead of me. Some woman happened to be driving by and saw me go down so she stopped and called 9-1-1. If that hadn’t been the case I don’t know how long I would have been down before someone found me. I have a strong faith in God so I don’t believe that was by chance! 

This time they kept me in the hospital longer and called in a heart specialist (electrophysiologist cardiologist) to run more tests. What they found was not something I ever imagined in a million years.  I have an irregular heart rhythm that was causing me to collapse called ventricular tachycardia. Unfortunately this rhythm is the most dangerous one as it is deadly if not stopped. Basically my heart beats so fast that it can’t get blood flow or oxygen to my brain which is why I collapsed. Somehow I was able to come out of this rhythm 2 times on my own, which is something the doctor could not explain as he told me most people die in my situation.  He explained my options, which were to implant an internal defibrillator (ICD) that would shock me if my heart were to ever go into that rhythm again and attempt to resume a somewhat normal life.  He told me I could continue to run, but at 60% of what I was doing before. I am not sure where he came up with that number or what it was based on, but basically he felt the number of miles I was running was putting too much stress on my heart. 

I had to take a month or so off running completely and then try to slowly work my way back without freaking out too much that my ICD was going to fire at any minute. It took a while, but I eventually got back to running and racing. I had started strength training consistently when I was unable to run at first, so when I started back consistently I felt a lot stronger and even faster than before. It was such an awesome feeling to go back to running again and feeling like my old self.  I remember running my first half marathon after the surgery (November 2015) and feeling so strong and healthy, it was an awesome feeling! 

So for about a year and a half I was feeling amazing, running with my friends and some fast races. Then in May I went out on an easy run a couple of days before a half marathon I was planning to run and something didn’t feel right immediately. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath from the beginning but chalked it up to asthma (I have exercised-induced asthma). About 2 miles into my run I had to stop as I felt very short of breath, and all of a sudden I felt like something kicked me in the chest.  It took me a moment to realize what had happened, but then it dawned on me that my ICD had just gone off.  I freaked out a little bit as I was alone (and didn’t have my phone) so I wasn’t sure what I should do. Thankfully I had planned to go on a longer run and was only 2 miles from home, so I had time to walk (slowly) back home. I found my husband and immediately broke down in tears when I told him.  I was so thankful I had this thing in my chest that just saved my life, but also scared and unsure of what to do next or why it had happened all of the sudden.

I called my cardiologist after I got to work and got into see him. Needless to say I was told I couldn’t run the race on Saturday and to take a few days off running. He didn’t think it would happen again, but it did twice in the next week when I tried to run. The next step in these situations is to prescribe a medication to slow the heart rate down in hopes that it will stop it from happening again. I was put on a beta blocker which I wasn’t thrilled about but had no other options at that point.  Well, I have to say that I never imagined how crappy one medication could make someone feel.  Since it slows my heart rate down, trying to run at any speed is impossible, let alone even trying to walk up stairs or ride my bike up a hill! It makes me light headed, dizzy, and short of breath all of the time.  I decided that this is something I cannot stay on so I pursed the surgical route (getting an ablation to try to stop the rhythm). My doctor does not perform these types of surgery so I was referred to UCLA.  After a few months of tests and waiting, the doctor at UCLA determined I have scar tissue on my heart that the cause behind my abnormal rhythm, so he is going to perform an ablation 9/23. This should stop this from ever happening again and get me off this medication that I hate so much.

Thankfully I haven’t had any other episodes of my ICD firing since May, but I have also not been able to run any distance or speed (due to the medication) which likely has helped also. My goal is to get back to running fast and free again which I haven’t been able to do for many months and just feel normal on a daily basis. I see the Rabbit logo “Born to Run Free” and my wish is to do that again very soon! I do question why this had to happen to me, but I believe that God allows everything happens for a reason and hopefully this journey will make me appreciate running and life so much more. I am thankful for an awesome husband and great friends who have been there for me and supported me through this entire process (and even walked with me when I couldn’t run)! I feel blessed and hope to provide an update on a successful surgery soon!

- Stacey Parker Bailey, RADrabbit


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