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In The Medical Room- Exclusive Insight

As the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games have been and gone, a new Olympic cycle is born. As Olympic athletes, we go from constant high intensity, performance oriented behaviour in year four (the Olympic Year) to a raw, development, fundamental focus in year one. It is quite a change of pace. Whilst the high performance and winning focus is not lost, it is a chance to reflect and rebuild ahead of the upcoming four years to the next Olympic Winter Games.

For me personally, the change of pace is hard. I genuinely enjoy the training that I do for my sport. It is just one part of this crazy life of an athlete that I love. Gym, snow, sand- Physical training is awesome. But as I enter year one, it is also a chance to take care of some of the curveballs that life has thrown at me.

You will recall that five years ago, I suffered a small stroke, almost derailing my Olympic campaign for Sochi and changing my life forever. As an aspiring athlete in my early 20’s, (once I was recovered) I decided against any serious intervention and engaged in a suitable management plan, so that I could resume my athletic aspirations. Now, five years later, it was decided that further investigation was necessary- Now is the time, year one.

We discovered that I had a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale)... In simple terms- A hole in my heart. It turns out, everyone is born with one and they close up as you grow, but mine never closed. Roughly 20% of the population have this condition and many live a happy and normal life. What is also interesting, is that around 40% of people who have had a stroke (like me) have a PFO.

With all this information, and the timing... year one... AND a new medical management team, I decided to have my PFO surgically closed. It sounds scary (it was!) and you automatically think... OPEN HEART SURGERY. It wasn’t open heart surgery. Medicinal technology is so advanced now- I had a device implanted inside my heart to block my PFO and it was performed by keyhole surgery. Amazing.

Dr. Paul Roy and Dr. David Roy have looked after me so well and I am amazed at what they have done. I was sedated during my procedure, so I was awake. I remember watching them feeding the device up my femoral vein and implanting the device. I also recall them being amazed that I was not asleep!

So far, I am still in the early stages of my recovery. I am getting better and better every day and I will be able to return to full training in no time at all. I will be on a restricted training schedule for the next few weeks. Initially, I figured I would have two or three days off, and then get back into some easy training- BOY WAS I WRONG. I was pretty knocked around post procedure- I managed to walk 200m from the car to a café four days later… It felt like quite the achievement!

The point of entry for the procedure has been very bruised and sore. If I did something that I was not quite ready for, such as picking up a heavy bag, I could actually feel the device in my heart. Lesson learned. When doctors say rest, they actually mean it.

Lucky for me, I have managed to have my schedule fall in line very well, I was able to travel to Melbourne last week and receive the ‘Ski Cross Athlete of the Year’ award at the Ski and Snowboard Australia Awards night. This week I have resumed light training, with some yoga and short, low intensity spin bike sessions. My ‘light return to exercise’ will continue over the weekend, with a trip to Italy to watch a close friend celebrate her wedding. My first ever ‘holiday’ ( how good is year one!).My husband Ben has had to take care of me. Between him and our friends and family, I have been able to relax.

While it’s a scary concept, any kind of surgical intervention, I know that this has been the right decision, not only for me as an elite athlete, but for the rest of my life!

And I am so looking forward to living it!

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