Published: Mar. 19, 2007
Updated: Apr. 14, 2010
Drew Bratton cycles across the U.S. despite suffering from heart disease.
In 1996, Ohio native Drew Bratton began experiencing shortness of breath and fatigue. A congenital defect in one of his heart valves led to the placement of a Cosgrove ring, which eliminated his symptoms and allowed him to resume strenuous physical activity.
Ten years later, Bratton was living in Pittsboro, N.C., when he was told by his physician that a leaky heart valve needed to be replaced. He came to Duke for a second opinion -- and was diagnosed with high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, a fairly common type of arrhythmia, or heart rhythm abnormality.
Issues like these are troublesome for anyone, and were especially so for Bratton, an avid bicyclist for more than 30 years. But the retired father of two and grandfather of four wasn’t about to let his heart problems end his passion for cycling.
Thanks to the care of Duke cardiologist E. Magnus Ohman, MD, and nurse Gail Cox, RN -- as well as Bratton’s willingness to research his condition and actively participate in his treatment -- Bratton’s heart problems are now in check.
“A strict drug therapy helped us get Mr. Bratton’s blood pressure under control and restore his heart rhythm to normal, and we were able to treat his arrhythmia with cardioversion,” a state-of-the-art non-invasive procedure delivered through Duke Heart Center’s electrophysiology service in which electricity is used to restore normal heart rhythm, says Ohman. “Over time, with heart rhythm and blood pressure monitoring, we helped him graduate to progressively longer rides.”
It turns out that Bratton did not require surgery to replace his leaky heart valve. He has been able to safely and successfully manage it by controlling his blood pressure with medication.
His determination and hard work paid off in 2007, when he realized his dream of bicycling across the U.S.
On March 17, 2007, Bratton and five other experienced cyclists from across the United States left San Diego to begin the cross-country odyssey -- which Bratton’s online journal calls the “Bring It On” 2007 Southern Tier Tour -- for which he had prepared for nearly a year. Bratton’s pre-trip training -- with weekly distances of approximately 200 miles -- included crossing North Carolina and touring Nova Scotia.
Each team member carried some 30 pounds of gear as they traversed Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, before ultimately making their way to St. Augustine, Florida. The team traveled 30 to 50 miles every day, seven days a week, depending on weather and unexpected snafus.
Bratton's personal goal was to make the trip in fewer than 65 days, as he was to turn 65 in June 2007.
Due to the nature and treatment of atrial fibrillation, Ohman increased Bratton’s medication dosage prior to the trip, and Bratton wore a special heart monitor throughout his journey that continually recorded his cardiac performance. Using a standard land-line telephone, the monitor transmitted his heart data via telemetry to Duke so that Ohman could track any fluctuations in his heart rhythm.
Bratton and Ohman also discussed the importance of staying hydrated during the trip. Dehydration would have increased Bratton’s risk for going into atrial fibrillation, which would have been especially problematic if it occurred in a remote location.
“We monitored his resting heart rate -- a key indicator of heart health -- very frequently,” Ohman says. “Had he gotten into trouble, he would have had to be airlifted to a medical facility.”
Both Bratton and Mary, his wife of 43 years, “had full confidence in my health due to the wonderful support and professional care I received from Dr. Ohman prior to my trip,” Bratton says. “We had many pre-trip discussions during which we tried to anticipate a number of potential problems.”
Except for some altitude sickness when crossing New Mexico’s 8,300-foot Emory Pass -- common to anyone unaccustomed to that altitude, heart condition or not -- as well as the expected fatigue toward the journey’s end, Bratton suffered no major health issues during the trip.
Bratton, who will remain on medication for his arrhythmia and blood pressure for the rest of his life, continues to see Ohman twice a year.
And because “the Duke family is unique and wonderful for patients being treated for anything,” he says, he has transferred all of his medical care to Duke, as well. “The medical attention, personal attention, and administrative attention I’ve received have shown Duke at its best.”
Bratton and his bicycle continue to cover 8,000 to 10,000 miles per year, and he says he hopes to cycle in both Western Europe and Australia in the foreseeable future.
Bratton offers these inspiring words to others suffering from medical issues: “If you have a health problem and you find the right people to help you -- and you're willing to do what they tell you to do -- you can accomplish your goals.”
Ohman agrees, and has this to say to heart patients who might be afraid to exert themselves for fear of suffering a serious heart event:
“We in the Duke Heart Center firmly believe that medically supervised exercise is very good for preventing heart disease, and we can do a lot today with cardiovascular care that enables people do extraordinary things,” he says. “Duke offers a very personalized level of care that strives to meet individual needs, goals and lifestyles -- even in extreme cases.”
So did Bratton achieve his goal of completing the 3,090-mile journey in fewer days than 65 days? “We actually did it in 52 days,” he reports.
Learn more about how about the award-winning Duke Heart Center helps patients live their lives as fully as possible.