Meet Dennis Meinhardt - Swedish Seafair Ambassador
In November 2016, 50-year-old Dennis Meinhardt completed the Ironman Arizona competition in 13½ hours — a personal best and an hour faster than his previous Ironman the year before. Four months later Dennis was in an operating room at Swedish Medical Center having open-heart surgery to correct a heart condition.
No one would ever think that Dennis had a heart problem. Staying fit and active is a commitment Dennis made years ago. Twelve years ago he took up cycling, and has participated in both the Seattle-to-Portland and Seattle-to-Vancouver bike rides. He’s been running for 8 years, and has run multiple half and two full marathons. And, he has participated in two Ironman competitions, a true test of endurance in swimming, biking and running.
For at least 25 years, Dennis had known that he had a heart murmur. It never seemed like a big deal, and his doctors never suggested he limit his activities. In December 2016, however, his doctor heard the murmur at pulse points all over his body. It was time for Dennis to see a cardiologist.
After an initial examination, the cardiologist scheduled Dennis for an echocardiogram — a type of ultrasound that uses sound waves to produce images of the heart while it’s beating. The echo showed one leaflet of Dennis’ mitral valve wasn’t closing properly. This was the source of the murmur.
The mitral valve ensures blood carrying oxygen only moves forward from the left atrium into the left ventricle. From there, the blood leaves the heart to take the oxygen to all areas of the body. Dennis’ condition — called mitral valve prolapse — was allowing blood to flow backwards, so his body wasn’t getting all of the oxygenated blood the heart was trying to pump out. Most people with mitral valve prolapse feel tired and out of breath. They might also feel faint, have swollen legs or feet, and have chest pain.
The cardiologist was speechless when Dennis told him about his activities outside Microsoft, where he is a general manager in the Surface devices group, and that he couldn’t remember ever having any of the symptoms normally associated with mitral valve prolapse. Knowing how serious mitral valve prolapse was, especially for a long-endurance athlete, the cardiologist referred Dennis to Glenn Barnhart, M.D., chief and executive director of Cardiac Surgical Services, and surgical director of Structural Heart and Valve Disease at Swedish.
In March of this year, Dr. Barnhart repaired Dennis’ faulty mitral valve during a four-hour surgery, and Dennis again surprised his medical team by defying expectations. He was out of bed, walking around shortly after his surgery. Instead of staying in the hospital five to seven days, he was home after just three days. He was back at work four weeks after surgery and went for his first 20-mile bike ride two weeks later. During recovery, Dennis had a plan for each day. Weeks three and four: Walk three to four miles per day. Week six: Run four to five days a week for three to four miles.
Dennis attributes his faster-than-expected recovery to his heart-healthy lifestyle.
“When you embrace a healthy lifestyle, including a good diet and lots of exercise, you can get past unfortunate situations like I had,” says Dennis. “Dr. Barnhart and the nurses at Swedish are outstanding. They not only provided exceptional medical care, they also helped me focus on getting ready to go home and get back to the life I enjoyed. When I left Swedish, I knew that I was going to be better, faster and stronger than ever before.”
Dennis is this year’s Swedish Seafair Triathlon Ambassador.