Inspirational Runner: Lloyd Jacobs
Nothing can stop running enthusiast Lloyd Jacobs from hitting the road and trails – not even the numerous physical and emotional challenges he had to face as a result of an unexpected condition that led to open-heart surgery…
On 4 April 2015, Lloyd Jacobs lined up at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon start line. For most runners that morning, it was just another long run. Or the exciting culmination of months of training. Or the chance to smash their personal best.
But what set Lloyd apart from the rest of the almost 16 000 starters that morning, was that he had had open heart surgery just months before!
An unexpected journey
Lloyd (32) has always been a fit and healthy individual, and enjoyed a host of athletic pursuits including running and CrossFit. So he was surprised and concerned when a dramatically raised heart rate kept him awake at the end of July 2014.
Doctors diagnosed anxiety, prescribed pain tablets and sent him home. But the following night the raised heart rate was back – this time accompanied by blood when he coughed.
Back in hospital, he consulted with a cardiologist, and an echocardiogram confirmed that he had a “severely regurgitated mitral valve” - meaning that Lloyd’s heart leaked and blood flowed back through the valve - and was told that he would only return home again after surgery.
“I spent roughly two weeks in medical ICU, undergoing an array of tests for possible diseases that would prevent me from undergoing surgery. And after countless consultations and tests, it was decided that my mitral valve would be replaced with a mechanical St Jude's Valve,” recalls Lloyd.
He had open-heart surgery on 16 August 2014.
Baby steps to recovery
Following his surgery, Lloyd spent a further three weeks in surgical ICU.
“It was incredibly traumatic. I was surrounded by terminally ill patients and four passed away while I was there.”
He was then moved to a general ward and discharged after five days.
“My first steps to recovery were frustrating, painful and intense,” remembers Lloyd.
When he finally plucked up the courage to go for a walk, he could only manage a 50 metre supervised walk per day, for a week.
“After that week I added 100m – 200m to my walk, daily, and after two weeks I reached my first big milestone: the pedestrian bridge about 850m from my home! Once I made it to that bridge, the possibilities were endless!”
Lloyd gradually increased his walking distance until he reached around 7 – 8km a day, split over two walks. “I won’t forget the day I managed to run around Rondebosch Common. I sat in the car for a good cry.”
Support & getting stronger
Lloyd returned to work in October and found the amazing support from family, friends, running buddies, the CrossFit community, and random acquaintances emotionally overwhelming.
In addition, he received fantastic support from his employers, who arranged for HR and their wellness counsellor to visit him at home and start the counselling and healing process.
Meanwhile, follow-up visits to his medical team were positive and his recovery was going well.
Lloyd gradually got stronger, and he mixed up running, hiking and rowing, combined with healthy eating habits to support his recovery.
“Training was also difficult though, as many people wanted to help me and tag along. But this was something I needed to do on my own and at my own pace. I needed to “feel” my new heart valve and mentally overcome lots of little niggles.”
Another major milestone
Eight months after his open-heart surgery, Lloyd returned to the OMTOM start line. “My only goal was to finish!”
He finally resumed his CrossFit training – “I managed one push-up!” – and got back into trail running. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Photo credit: City of Cape Town Staff Newsletter
A new normal
Lloyd’s life has returned to some form of normality. He can occasionally still hear his prosthetic valve click with every heartbeat and will remain on anti-coagulation medication for the rest of his life, with monthly follow-up tests to check his blood.
“Today, I value my health and body so much more. I have discovered a strong support structure I never knew existed, and today I make a point of following up with people I meet. Life is simply too short to wait until ‘next time’.”
Lloyd believes his journey has made him more accepting of people. “One can’t tell someone’s journey just by looking at them. I’m much more interested in people’s stories than ever before!”
Watch out for Lloyd when he runs the OMTOM Half Marathon on 26 March 2016!