Heart surgery 'turns back odometer' for Anderson

Doctors put a cow valve into race car driver's heart.
Cary Ashby
Jul 12, 2014

 

The next time behind the wheel for four-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson could have been his last.

Anderson's cardiologist had diagnosed him with having bicuspid aortic valve disease and told him the vibrations and pressure from racing could make his valve burst. He learned he had the genetic heart condition since birth.

That same valve didn't fare much better as soon as Dr. Liam Ryan opened up Anderson's chest.

"He said, 'As soon as I touched it, it fell apart,'" Anderson told the media during a recent group interview.

Now, in addition to a pacemaker and a new valve, he has titanium plates in his chest.

"They're staying in there for life; they're there for life," Anderson said.

His crew has created a specialized chest protector when he's driving.

"I still wear it. I put the seat belts over it. I don't feel it all," said Anderson, who was concerned the belts would hit his pacemaker, which felt like it was sticking out of his chest due to his post-surgery weight loss.

Rayn replaced Anderson's old, one-way valve, which had been become heavily calcified, with one from a cow.

The driver laughed when he said he now has a kindred spirit with cows. Anderson said he feels compelled to honk at the grazing animals whenever he sees them -- a new quirk that makes his wife call him crazy and weird.

While he actually continues to honk at cows, Anderson joked before his surgery if having a cow's heart valve would affect his taste buds.

"I thought if I get a cow valve, was I not going to like beef? I thought if I get a pig valve, was I not going to like bacon? Everything has been fine," he said.

Anderson said his doctor decided to give him a cow valve instead of one from a pig so the opening would be bigger to circulate blood better and allow him to get back to driving sooner.

Eleven weeks after his Feb. 6 surgery at the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, N.C., Anderson was back behind the wheel.

"I was worried about opening the parachute," he said. "When I got out of the car (afterward), I thought, 'This was nothing.'"

While Anderson now can't do any heavy lifting, he said: "I feel back to normal." The races at Summit Motorsports Park last weekend were his eighth since his surgery.

He expected his doctor to restrict his diet, but he hasn't changed what he's eating. Since he lost at least 10 pounds after his surgery, Anderson said he figures he can eat what he wants -- something he mentioned as he finished his dessert.

"Nothing has restricted me," he said.

Last weekend, Anderson took that go-get-'em attitude to return to the thick of the championship battle in the 200-mph factory hot rod class at Summit in his flagship Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro.

 

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