On his way to a December photo shoot for sponsor Aaron’s, Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers noticed something wasn’t right with himself.
It’s a feeling that he’s known all too often during his Sprint Cup career. Vickers has had to contend with multiple health issues, including blood clots in 2010 (left leg, lungs) and again in 2013 (right calf).
But what he endured over this off-season was the scariest experience he’s ever had. Doctors discovered that Vickers’ body was rejecting an artificial patch that had been placed over a hole in his heart in 2010.
“One thing led to another, and the doctors cut me open to make some repairs,” Vickers recalled today in Charlotte during the NASCAR Media Tour about the surgery he received to repair the hole.
“It was a pretty traumatic event obviously, going through that. It was definitely the worst of all the medical issues I’ve had to face.”
Thankfully, Vickers made it through. Now, he’s preparing for his return to competition in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after having received medical clearance and also maintaining his Chase eligibility.
For the first two races of the year, boss Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500) and team test driver Brett Moffitt (Atlanta) will drive his No. 55 Toyota Camry.
Today, Vickers looked back on his recovery process, which he said was “painful” and “extreme.” But it wasn’t all somber, as he joked that doctors had actually taken his old heart out and replaced it with a “lion heart” (‘It’s way stronger, way better,’ Vickers said.).
Vickers also recalled his first post-surgery trip out to MWR for its annual Christmas party, where he had to take a flight of stairs up to reach the party on the shop’s second floor. The kicker was that Waltrip had forgotten about the other way to reach the second floor: An elevator.
“It took me 15 minutes to catch my breath, and when we were leaving, [Waltrip] was like, ‘You wanna take the elevator?,'” Vickers said. “I’m like, ‘We could have done that on the way up!'”
Eventually, Vickers got the go-ahead from doctors to start resuming physical activity. He’s now able to do many exercises except those involving his chest since he says his sternum is still growing back together.
As for getting medical clearance to race again, he admitted that he wasn’t expecting it so soon in his recovery. But he’s certainly quite happy about it.
“I think it took all of us, including myself, by surprise when I went back for my last checkup and everything looked great and ahead of schedule, and [the doctors] said, ‘You’ll be clear for Vegas,'” Vickers said. “I said, ‘Are you sure? Shouldn’t we make this for Phoenix or [Auto Club Speedway]?’ ‘Nah, nah, you’re good.'”
“It wasn’t like I was pushing them to get in the car early. I really, really wanted to make sure. As everyone kind of insisted, health comes first and in this decision-making process, it very much did.
“But that’s when they felt very comfortable with me being back in that race car and I can tell you – I can’t be more excited at being back in that race car.”