Dec 3, 2019
Dale Dedrick is a retired orthopedic surgeon who was diagnosed with lupus and pulmonary hypertension. In this episode, Dale discusses how her illness forced her to retire and how her love of horseback riding helped her make the United States Paralympic Equestrian Team in 2012.
My name is Dale Dedrick and I live in Chelsea, Michigan, which is a small community not too far from Detroit. I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension about two years ago.
I'm a physician by training, but I have lupus. Because of all the problems with the lupus, I haven't practiced medicine since 1992. I've been hospitalized many times, got run over by a car at one point, blew a heart valve from infection, had a couple of open heart surgeries, but in spite of all of that I kept busy with horseback riding.
Since I couldn't be a physician anymore, my other thing I love in life is horseback riding. I had continued with horseback riding, and although I was disabled, I discovered that for a handicapped rider there was a sport of Paralympic dressage. Oddly enough, I managed to make the Paralympic team and represent the United States at the Paralympics in London in 2012. I flew my horse and went over with three teammates, just had the time of a lifetime.
But over the last probably 20 years, I would get quite short of breath riding. Every time I would complain about it to the cardiologist or the rheumatologist or any other physician, they'd all say, "Well, Dale, several problems here. You're not exactly athletic, you ride a horse. B, you're not a kid anymore, because I am 63, and C, you don't work on your heart health particularly. If you worked at it more you would become more efficient at using your heart and you wouldn't get so short of breath."
I got tired of hearing everybody say that I wasn't athletic and I wasn't working out regularly, because I was. I got so short of breath trying to ride, which is a technically difficult sport, but it requires not athletic abilities that 70 or 80-year-olds can't do. It doesn't require tremendous fitness like running or sprinting with swimming, but it does require muscle strength and being able to raise your heart rate. Every time I tried to do that, I got so short of breath. I about lost the horse and I thought, "Well, this is ridiculous," but I got tired of complaining about it because the physicians all said, "Dale, if you worked at this you could be fitter. There's nothing wrong with you."
Finally I was competing in a musical freestyle. It was a test that I was riding to music and I had picked out the music that fit the horse and I. I'd written a test that contained six minutes of riding and I knew to the second how long each individual thing I had to do and it had to match the music. My coach decided I should try something new and I should try something that was a little harder than I was used to. I was determined I was going to give it a try. I went to the competition and three quarters of the way through the test, I was really short of breath and I thought, "I should just stop and take a break for a minute." I kept going, because I knew that at that point as I got very short of breath that I only had six seconds more to do and then I could walk for two minutes as part of the test. I could do anything for six seconds, I mean, let's face it.
Well, in fact I couldn't, and I passed out on horseback, in front of an audience during a test. I fell, the horse got terrified and bolted. I came to on the ground in a strange place in the arena trying to figure out how I'd gotten on the floor in the arena and there was a horse nowhere in sight and a rather stunned audience and coach.
After sitting there for a few minutes, I felt fine again and the ambulance people checked me out and I was fine. I even drove home after I cleaned up the horse and took care of things. But that evening I really didn't feel particularly well and ended up in the ER. They admitted me overnight and decided there was something wrong, but they weren't going to figure out what it was at that moment.
Well, after that, the cardiologist thought perhaps we're missing something. After trying a couple of different things, he sent me to another cardiologist. His specialty was pulmonary hypertension, and in fact he would do a right heart catheterization with exercise. That was how we discovered it. When he did the right heart cath, I had normal pressure just lying there, but the minute I picked my legs up to put them in the stirrups my pressure jumped way up in the air. My oxygenation plummeted, and they stopped the test very quickly thereafter and said, "No, there's a problem here. You don't need to go on any further." I said, "But I can do a lot more than that, really," and they said, "No, no, no. You don't need to, that proves the point."
So that's how I discovered that I had pulmonary hypertension and it explained a lot of what had been actually going on for at least 20 years, but now it's slowly getting worse over time. But do I continue to ride? No. I took up carriage driving, because it turns out that if I sit in an old-fashioned carriage and drive the horse, I don't need my heart to race fast and I don't get short of breath. So, I've discovered a new sport that I can do and enjoy, and so I keep up my life with sports. If you're curious about a fairly wild sport that's very popular in Europe, the indoor competitive carriage driving is done at a gallop and timed, with screaming audiences, around obstacles with one horse, two horses or four. It's a lot of fun and very competitive, and the horses love it.
When I first got run over by the car and my heart got infected and I ended up with a couple of open heart surgeries back to back and really fought for my life, I couldn't walk for about a year and I had to retire. As a physician and surgeon, I'd been to school forever and I loved being a physician. I was very depressed and very unhappy and cried almost daily for several years. But you know what? At the end of that, I was no better and the rest of the world really didn't care. I decided that I'd better try something different and I'd better not worry about what I couldn't do anymore and start looking around for what I could do. Can't ride? Well, there's still lots of other things to do with horses. Talking with friends, they suggested carriage driving, which I'd never tried. I tried it and it's fun.
I think throughout life, if you can learn to adapt and not regret so much what you can't do, but look around and find things you can do, that you can enjoy. If you can't walk much anymore, buy yourself an electric scooter, they're not that expensive. Then you can go to the mall and go shopping, do things with friends, go sightseeing. There are parts of what you enjoy that you can still participate in, even though you've lost the ability to walk any distance or breathe too much.
My name is Dale Dedrick, and I'm aware that I'm rare.
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