FORT WORTH, TX -For NASCAR driver Brian Vickers, every race has more meaning these days after he missed most of the season last year. Moments before the green flag drops, Vickers doesn't mind talking about the 500 miles that he's about to drive.
It's not like qualifying, Vickers says. In qualifying, I think you really think a lot about it prior to. The race is 500 miles. It's a long race and there is plenty of time to think about it when you get out there.
Vickers started his career with Hendrick Motorsports and won his first race in Talladega in 2003.
His first win for his current team, Red Bull Racing came in August of 2009 when he won in Michigan.
Brian was just about to break it, just about to be a consistent threat to win week in and week out and he had this problem, says Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.
His problem was not something that could fixed in the garage. Instead it was a health issue that threatened his life and could only be repaired in a hospital. Doctors discovered blood clots in his legs and lungs.
The whole experience from a personal level was traumatic and difficult, Vickers says. I look back on it, and I thank God for it every day because it was an eye opening experience. I learned so much. I really feel I came out of it a better person. But it was tough.
Vickers drove in just eleven races last year before he had to put his NASCAR career on hold. It turns out the blood clots were only part of his problem. He also had to deal with heart surgery.
Really, the major surgery that I had was with my heart to close a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale), Vickers says. There was a hole between my left and right atrium and they had to close that. That wasn't the cause of the clot but it was a preventive measure if I was to ever have another clot, that it wouldn't jump to the left atrium and risk having a stroke. About 20 percent of the people have it. Everyone has it in the womb and it's supposed to close when you're born, but in about 20 percent of the people, it doesn't close.
It's surprising to see in a young healthy individual.That's not the general patient, says Robert Genzel, medical director at Texas Motor Speedway. You don't see it unless they've had a lot period of immobility, a long airplane ride, a long bus ride, a long train ride, any place you're not up and moving around a lot, you re more likely to get clots. Certainly in a young healthy person, it's surprising.
It's the second highest killer in America and a lot of it can be prevented, Vickers says. It's a much bigger problem than people realize and a lot of the times, if you know the signs and symptoms, it can be prevented.
Recently, Vickers teamed with a North Carolina group, clotconnect.org to help raise awareness about blood clots. He isn't taking blood thinners anymore and has tried to put hospital visits in his rear view mirror.
I haven t' talked to them in a while. So that's a good thing, Vickers says. No news is good news, right? They gave me clearance and said go race. Have run, live your life and love it.
He actually enjoyed his year, says NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. He didn't just sit and be miserable because he wasn't in the race car. He took that opportunity to do the things that he normally doesn't have the time to do and thing that he always wanted to do, and at the same time he stayed close enough to what was going on with the racing that when he got back in the car this year, it's like he never missed a beat. It's like he wasn't gone at all.
To be honest with you, I m surprised he sat out all of last season because I figured toward the end of the year, he would try to find a way to jump back in the car, Gossage says. He's one of those people that once you re around him a little bit, you take ownership of him and you want him to succeed because he's a good kid.
After Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag Saturday night, Vickers finished 27th. He knows racing but medical issues are harder for him to understand.
You know it's that helpless feeling of like, I was doing nothing, Vickers says. I was just minding my own business and the next thing I know, I m laying in the hospital and almost died, or I could have. It's hard to grasp that. But, it's something you learn to live with and it's something that teaches you a less to truly appreciate every moment in life as much as possible.
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