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Seafair Festival Blog

Welcome to the Seafair Festival Blog. We are excited to share our stories with you. Please let us know if you have Seafair memories you’d like us to feature by emailing kelsey@seafair.com. Enjoy!
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Swedish Seafair Triathlon

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.


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Meet Dr. Huehnergarth

We got the chance to speak with Dr. Kier Huehnergarth who has been with Swedish just under 9 years. Dr. Huehnergarth also competes in the Swedish Seafair Triathlon and completed his first successful triathlon in 2011! The first year the Olympic course was offered in Seattle, Dr. Huehnergarth took on the challenge. The Swedish Seafair Triathlon offers Seattle’s ONLY Olympic distance course. The Olympic distance course includes a 1-mile swim, 20-mile bike, and 10k run.

You might be thinking “there is no way I could ever compete in a triathlon”. Well… Dr. Huehnergarth was quick to say it is more achievable than you think! Dr. Huehnergarth went to the lake 3-4 mornings a week and ran 45-60 minutes a day. If you have a body of water around you, you can practice swimming. If you have running shoes, you can practice running. The only thing you need to purchase is a bike.

While Dr. Huehnergarth runs, he listens to audio books and he accomplishes two things at once. He says “not only are you exercising your body, but your mind as well”. While, Dr. Huehnergarth does enjoy the independence of the training process and describes it as “just time for myself”, he also enjoys the comradery of the sport.

His friends from all over the country fly to Seattle for the Swedish Seafair Triathlon. From San Francisco to Miami to Washington D.C., his friends never miss the “Northwest’s best triathlon”. Even his 11-year-old daughter has competed in the Swedish Seafair Kid’s Triathlon! For the first time ever, BOTH his daughters will be competing in the Kid’s Triathlon and he could not be more excited. Dr. Huehnergarth stated “Seafair has been a highlight of my summer since I was a kid” and he now creates more memories with his children and closest friends.

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Want to read more? Our Seafair Blogs are linked below.
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