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Brian Vickers, sidelined since May with blood clots, says treatment working, and he'll be back in 2011

  Brian Vickers, earlier this year (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Brian Vickers says doctors have cleared him to return to NASCAR in January 2011. And the 26-year-old racer, an eight-year Cup tour veteran, but sidelined since May, revealed Saturday he's had major heart surgery, in mid-July.
   Vickers was stricken with mysterious and potentially deadly blood clots in mid-May and immediately hospitalized, just as he was enjoying one of his best seasons on the stock car tour. Vickers has been the anchor for the Red Bull team, and his sudden absence left the team reeling.
   But Vickers says he's halfway through a six-month treatment of blood thinners, and doctors are pleased with his progress. He says he hasn't talked yet with NASCAR officials – or insurance people – about his planned return to the sport. But he says he doesn't anticipate any problems there.
    "It's good to be back. I really miss racing, to say the least. But it's been good to have some time off," Vickers said.
   "I've made the most of that opportunity.
   "First I'd planned to go to every race and be on the pit box and on the spotters' stand and learn as much as I could.....but then I realized 'What am I doing here? I've got the opportunity of a lifetime to go do some fun stuff."
   Vickers outlined his medical journey since May, his treatments for the blood clots in his leg and in his lungs.
   "I also had a clot that went to the finger on my left hand...and the only way for it to get there was through my heart," Vickers said. Through a hole in his heart.
   "It's very difficult to diagnose, and very intrusive to diagnose. But if you have a clot (like that)....the primary concern is a stroke. The clot can either go to your left arm or to your brain. I got really lucky it went to my left arm, so I didn't have a stroke.
   "So the difficult decision I had to make was whether or not to close that hole.
   "At that time we didn't have a full grasp on what caused the original clot. So we went to some doctors in Boston, at Harvard."
    One theory raised during all this was the possibility that part of the reason for the clots might be that a vein and an artery might be tangled up, slowing down the blood flow. It's the rare May-Thurner syndrome. "But it's very difficult to diagnose that, and very intrusive," Vickers said.
    Fixing the hole offered the opportunity to check out that theory.
    "I wanted to close the hole and put it behind me and go on with my life," Vickers said.
   "And during that, they found that syndrome. Which was bad news but good news."
    To resolve that part of the issue, doctors put a medical stent in his vein, to open it.  

   "I've worked with a lot of doctors...." Vickers said dryly.
   "To put it short: a lot has happened since the last time I met you (in late May). I've had heart surgery...which I never thought I'd have at 26. I've had a stent put in; never thought I'd have one of those.
   "But both (procedures) went extremely well."
   However he's still on blood thinners Plavix and Coumadin, and will be till January.
   "But they've given me full clearance for next season, and I will be back, racing in January," he said. "I'm really excited about that.
   "They feel I'm in the best shape I've ever been in in my life.
   "I've got two issues fixed.....and it's been some fresh air to know some of what caused this. And not only that, but to be able to fix it.
   "In the meantime, aside from the surgeries and the stress of all that, I've been having some fun. Spent a lot of time in Florida, boating. Went out to Colorado...and to show you how well the surgery went, I was in Aspen biking three weeks afterwards, doing 40-60 miles in the mountains, at 10,000 feet.
   "So I'm still training every day. Biked for an hour and swam two mile two days ago. Played golf Friday.
   "My main priority is getting back racing next year.
   "But I've had time to really think and look at things....and I don't think I'm going to change a lot, but I'm going to change some. I may tolerate less, I may tolerate more."   Racing, the competition, the speed, his friends here, he says he's missed it all. "But there's more to this racing than just going 200 mph and banging fenders.....and I was glad to get some time off," Vickers said.
   "Things happen for a reason, I believe."
   The news that Kasey Kahne will be his teammate next season came as a surprise, Vickers says. "I didn't know anything about it until I read it on line."
   Vickers says he doesn't know if the team will field three cars next year or if Kahne will in fact be replacing Scott Speed. "I just know I'm going to be in No. 83," Vickers said.
    Vickers says he plans to put this whole medical episode behind him as soon as he can. "I enjoy every day, every moment. You never know what can happen.
   "I was 26 years old walking down the streets of Washington DC and the next thing I was in the hospital dying.
    "So now I'm looking 100 percent ahead.
    "What happens happens.
    "But percentage-wise (now), I'm no more likely to get a a clot than anyone here now.
   "This event has given me an opportunity to look around. Sometimes you get so busy, so caught up with life and work, that you lose appreciation for everything that's going on around you.
   "Sometimes you don't realize how much you love something until you don't have it."
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