By the time you finish reading this, the phrase “running with heart” will have taken on a whole new meaning for you. To each of us, this seemingly simple phrase means something different. Perhaps you think about giving it your all, loving the run, or your passion for pounding the pavement. What you may not immediately think of though is someone who has overcome a congenital heart defect and is thankful on a daily basis to be able to run.
Lauren Pino is a 32 year old wife and Mom of two, Laila (age 7) and Dominic (age 2). She currently works as a full-time Registered Nurse Health Coach RN for Cigna and is also an Adjunct Nursing and Public Health Professor at Rivier University. Lauren has a strong presence. She is full of life. Her energy is contagious. She is a fighter. When she does things, she does them with a bang, including coming into this world! She shared this fun fact with me. “I was born at home…not purposely. While cooking dinner, my mother went into labor very quickly…luckily my father was a police officer and was able to deliver me before the paramedics arrived!”
While the unplanned home birth went off without a hitch, Lauren was diagnosed with a heart murmur at a very young age. She did not have any cardiac issues though and showed no additional symptoms to cause any worry and so her pediatrician interpreted the murmur to be benign. “As a child and through my teenage years, I had pneumonia and/or bronchitis at least two to three times a year. My lungs could never keep up no matter how in shape I was or how much weight I lost. Unfortunately my pediatrician didn’t connect the murmur with recurring respiratory infections…”
Lauren was always very active, starting softball at age 4. She continued playing competitively throughout high school and into her freshman year of college. Additionally, she played field hockey in high school. “I was a very overweight child and teen so endurance sports were never my thing. My maximum childhood weight was 220 pounds. Through diet and increased exercise, I lost 60 pounds the last two years of high school. Senior year, after losing weight and getting into great shape, I was still struggling to keep up during team jogs around the field. I found myself throwing up on the side of the field because I couldn’t catch my breath. I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma and was given an inhaler that never seemed to do much good. I chalked it up to being out of shape and pushed myself harder at the gym.”
It wasn’t until age 24 that Lauren finally got the correct, life-saving diagnosis. Lauren was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect known as patent ductus arteriosis or PDA. “The diagnosis came about after a physical exam that was required for graduate school. I saw a new physician who “didn’t like the sound” of my heart and recommended that I get an EKG. The EKG was abnormal and so an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) was ordered. I remember during the echocardiogram about five medical students came into the room after my cardiologist said to them, “You need to see this because you may never see this again.” That was unsettling to say the least.”
So what is patent ductus arteriosus? Lauren provided me a nice, simple explanation to share with you. (Thank you Lauren!)
*A patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a type of congenital (present at birth) heart problem. All babies have a small passageway (called the ductus arteriosus) connecting the pulmonary artery and the aorta, which is open at birth. The pulmonary artery is a blood vessel that moves blood from the heart to the lungs. The aorta is a blood vessel that moves blood from the heart out to the rest of the body. Before birth, the baby gets its oxygen from the mother, so its lungs are not used. The ductus arteriosus is a passageway between the pulmonary artery and the aorta that allows blood in the baby to bypass the unused lungs and carry oxygen to the other organs. In most babies, the ductus arteriosus closes within a few hours of birth. This is normal. When the ductus arteriosus stays open, blood travels in the wrong direction between the aorta and pulmonary artery. This is referred to as a patent (“open”) ductus arteriosus.
As a Registered Nurse myself, when I first heard Lauren’s story and that her PDA was undiagnosed until age 24, I was surprised. PDA is typically diagnosed and treated in infancy. According to Cleveland Clinic as posted by Healthline, “…patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a fairly common congenital heart defect that is seen in about 3,000 newborns every year in the U.S…In rare cases, the defect can go undetected and can exist in adulthood…” In infants, PDA is corrected with medication. That would not be the case for Lauren. Since her PDA was not diagnosed until adulthood, over time the ductus got larger and her heart had to work overtime. Lauren explained that “…this caused cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) and poor circulation…my blue toe nails that I thought were just from being cold all the time weren’t.”
During the craziness of being diagnosed and learning that she would need surgery to correct the PDA, Lauren was just one month away from her wedding date. Can you imagine!?!?! In usual fashion though, Lauren attacked the diagnosis head on. A surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, one of the few in the country that perform PDA repair in adults, used a titanium device to plug the ductus and restore normal circulation for Lauren. “Funny part is, I had to carry a little card around with me after surgery just in case I set off metal detectors at the airport on the way to the Bahamas for my honeymoon!” The surgery went smoothly and Lauren walked down the aisle with her new heart and never looked back.
This coming Monday, Lauren will “run with her heart” as she participates in the 119th Boston Marathon as part of Tedy’s Team. For someone who once could not participate in endurance sports, this is an amazing feat! After completing a variety of other race distances including a half marathon, friends started asking Lauren if she would consider running a full marathon. “The only way I’m running a marathon is if it’s Boston and if it’s for a cause close to my heart. There is no way I could dig up the strength to run 26.2 miles just for me. It had to be for something bigger than me.” So when a friend of Lauren’s (also named Lauren!) told her about Tedy’s Team and its’ mission to raise funds for the American Stroke and American Heart Association, she was intrigued. “As many of you may know, former New England Patriots star Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke in February of 2005. What many of you don’t know however is that Tedy’s stroke was caused by a congenital heart defect similar to PDA.” In fact, Lauren and Tedy share the same heart surgeon! While Lauren felt she would be a great match for the team, she was hesitant to apply considering the commitment of training and running a full marathon. After chatting with a friend though, she could not come up with a reason to not apply, and so she did.
Like all things in Lauren’s life, she has fully committed to Boston and Tedy’s Team. Her typical training week consists of two rest days, one long run on the Boston course, one hill or tempo run, two spin classes, one barre class, and two TRX/small group training strength class. I asked Lauren what motivates her on a daily basis and the answer was simple. Her daughter, Laila, who loves to run with her on the track and has even joined her for several 5K’s, is her main source of motivation. “I want her to see that women can accomplish anything with strength, hard work and determination.”
With a rigorous schedule to train, Lauren is often asked why she took this challenge on. “I run because I can. There was a time when I couldn’t run and there may be a time when I can no longer run, but now is not that time. I am running for me, Tedy, and all other “Heart Warriors” who have or are fighting to overcome stroke or congenital heart disease. With Boston less than a week away I am a bit nervous about the unknown territory that is mile 21-26.2 since my longest training run was 21 miles. I am confident that I will cross the finish line though because I’ll be running with my heart, not my legs.”
Follow Lauren’s journey on Twitter and Instagram (@CoachLaurenRN) and on Facebook at “Running with Heart”, www.tedysteam.com/pino