WINTER GARDEN Most people assume regular exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle.
Get out there. Get that heart rate up. Get that blood flowing.
But, for someone with a pulmonary hypertension diagnosis, that advice must taken with caution. PH is a debilitating disease in which someone experiences increased blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. This causes the arteries to constrict and capillaries to die off. The heart must work harder to pump blood. The right ventricle weakens, and congestive heart failure is at the end of the progression.
That’s what makes Kathleen Richardson’s recent accomplishment all the more impressive. In November, the Winter Garden resident and PH patient completed the infamous “Horrible Hundred” this year — a 100-mile bike ride through the hills of Clermont.
“I’ve known about the Horrible Hundred for quite a few years,” she said. “I’ve kind of wanted to do it, but I’ve been a little afraid because of the hills. With my pulmonary hypertension, I wasn’t sure if pushing up the hills would be a good thing for me or not.”
And in doing so, Richardson continued her mission of raising money — and awareness — to support PH research.
“I’m not a typical PH patient,” Richardson said.
Most PH patients are not able to exercise to Richardson’s extent, and sometimes, even getting up and walking across a room is difficult.
But Richardson is familiar with some of those feelings. She was diagnosed with PH when she was 38, after she noticed herself getting winded after doing everyday activities.
She knew something was wrong when she climbed to the top of a stadium at SeaWorld and was gasping for air. Friends she was with were her age and not winded.
Her doctor performed several tests, and finally, a heart cath revealed she had elevated pressure in a pulmonary artery. Her doctor, who didn’t think much of it at first, consulted with another doctor who suggested it was PH.
She took one of the first oral medications available for PH — Bosentan. There are currently 12 different treatments available for PH.
LEARNING TO RIDE
A stress test led Richardson to biking.
“The first time I did that, my legs were killing me,” Richardson said. “I didn’t want to have that be the reason why I stopped. I thought the reason why I stopped should be because of my breathing. Plus, I really didn’t like feeling that way.”
She began riding her bike, but she had to be careful. PH patients can cause more damage to the heart if they exercise too much.
Exercise physiologists who administered the test told her she could exercise if she wanted to, but her heart rate couldn’t go above 115 beats per minute. That didn’t enable her to ride very fast, but she was able to do it biking on flat ground.
As time went on, she was able to increase her heart rate, because the Bosentan was working. As her pulmonary pressure went down and her body got in better shape from riding, she got to the point where she didn’t have a heart-rate limit.
Today, she averages about 15 miles per hour for 20 miles. Although she doesn’t consider that a competitive speed, she participated rides to raise awareness for causes such as ALS and diabetes.
Team PHenomenal Hope is a team of people that race bicycles to raise awareness for PH. In June 2014, the team planned to compete in a Race Across America. Although Richardson was unable to participate, she still wanted do something with the team, so she decided to do a Unity Miles event with the team.
From November 2013 to June 2014, she rode her bicycle 3,000 miles to raise awareness for PH. She raised a little more than $1,000 for PH research.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].