In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

February 25, 2020

Heart Disease Hasn’t Slowed Record-Setting Swimmer

By In the Loop
Clay "Trip" Hedrick. Photo courtesy of William Jenks Photography.
Photo courtesy of William Jenks Photography

Clay "Trip" Hedrick is a world-record-setting swimmer who hasn't let heart disease — including bypass surgery — slow him down.


Clay "Trip" Hedrick looks every bit the world-record-setting swimmer that he is. He's strong and lean, thanks to an impressive training schedule. "I swim five days a week. I lift two days a week, and then I do an additional cardio workout twice a week," Trip tells Mayo Clinic News Network. What he doesn't look like? Someone with heart disease. "You don't usually expect to walk into a room and find a patient who looks more physically fit than the doctor is," John Stulak, M.D., Trip's cardiac surgeon at Mayo Clinic, tells the News Network. Yet in spite of his appearance and healthy lifestyle, the Ames, Iowa, man has had three stent procedures and coronary bypass surgery over the past two decades.

Trip's journey to Dr. Stulak's office began back in 2000, when the then-46-year-old felt "chest pressure and radiating arm pain" while working out in the pool. "I kind of talked myself out of it being my heart," he says. During a workout a few days later, the pain was back. This time, Trip called his primary care physician. A stress test followed. He passed "with flying colors."

But the symptoms persisted and eventually led Trip to a local emergency department, where he learned he'd had a heart attack and was diagnosed with heart disease. "That was really hard to hear," Trip says. Tests had revealed a "99 percent blockage in his left anterior descending artery, which is known as the 'widow-maker,'" according to the News Network. Trip then had his first stent procedure to open the artery.

Over the next 18 years, there would be two more stents for Trip — and much more swimming, including a world-record-setting race in the 50-meter butterfly for men ages 60 to 64. Not long after that victory, though, a routine follow-up exam and another stress test would reveal another blocked artery. This time, Trip would need coronary bypass surgery to fix it. Enter Dr. Stulak, who admits he was worried about the impact the procedure would have on his patient's life. "The technical aspects I was not concerned with," Dr. Stulak tells Mayo Clinic Radio. "I was worried about getting him back to a quality of life that was acceptable to him, which was setting world records."

Fortunately, Dr. Stulak's worries were unfounded. A little over a year after bypass surgery, Trip set a new national age-group record for the 50-meter butterfly. Now, he has his sights set on setting a new world record for his age group, which he hopes to accomplish in the summer of 2020. "I want to be the one that tries to defy perceived limitations of what you can do or how fast you can go," he tells the News Network. We think he's just the guy do to it.

Hear Trip talk about his experience on the Mayo Clinic News Network. Then swim on over to leave a comment below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.


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Tags: Cardiac Surgery, Coronary Bypass Surgery, Dr. John Stulak, Heart Disease, Mayo Clinic News Network, Mayo Clinic Radio, Patient Stories, Stent procedure

This story inspires me, as the love of my life looks at a second open heart surgery at the age of 67.

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