Twenty-four-year-old Jacob Rathe was recently diagnosed with Iliac Artery Endofibrosis after more than two years of struggling with cramping and pain in his left leg. The former Garmin-Sharp rider, who now competes for Jelly Belly-Maxxis, underwent surgery on June 27 to correct the problem, which has affected more and more professional cyclists such as Joe Dombrowski, Mike Friedman and Stuart O'Grady. Rathe will keep Cyclingnews readers updated on the progress and struggles of his recovery as he attempts to regain the form that led him to the WorldTour at 21 years old.
Last year I was riding to the start of stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge with my team, Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis, when we had a riveting experience. As we approached a stop sign for a right turn, a man on a bike came flying down through the turn and crashed.
He got up and was alright, and he turned out to be my future anesthesiologist at the Sharp-Grossmont Hospital in San Diego. I would never have recognized him, but he confessed this story to me minutes before my procedure. It was a strange coincidence in my anxious state.
I shouldn’t have wasted one second worrying about the procedure. It’s like flying on a plane. One in a million will crash, but since you have no control over it, worrying about it doesn’t help anything. But there was a perfectly good reason to be nervous about this procedure: people were going to cut into my body, move my muscles and guts around, and slice open and enlarge a major artery.
The purpose of the surgery was to enlarge my iliac artery, which has become narrowed due to a condition called Iliac Artery Endofibrosis. The procedure is called a Vein Patch Angioplasty. The surgeon was going to slice the artery open hot-dog style, extending slightly beyond the affected area, and patch the opening with a vein from my leg, thus increasing the diameter.
The surgeon is never certain how much of the artery will need opening based off imaging. In my case it turned out longer than expected, a 7cm section.
For me the surgery lasted two seconds, but the bigger problems awaited me, such as moving one inch to get something out of reach. Getting out of bed was a painful ordeal requiring assistance. The core is called the core for a reason – it is what all movement in the body is anchored to. Never has that been more apparent.
Lucky for me, the family friends my Dad and I are staying with in San Diego supplied me with a bell. Ding ding ding...more water, or snacks, or can you get the TV remote I dropped? Constantly I was saved by the bell.
The first day out of the hospital was pretty bad. The second day was surprisingly better, and the third day I was hit by the stark realization that I have a long way to go. My mom compared this, in only one respect, to giving birth. It’s not going to be fun, but it will be worth it.
While hobbling around in pain I keep remembering one thing: I am as healthy as anyone who will ever get this operation. It doesn’t get any easier than this. I can’t imagine what this would be like for a 70-year-old life-long smoker, the more-common recipient of this surgery.
In the week before the operation I had several phone calls with the hospital, answering questions about every bad habit or disease history that anyone could ever have. Smoking? Drinking? Heart disease? I answered yes to one question – Asthma, actually exercise induced asthma.
“Do you ever get winded walking up stairs?” the person the line asked.
The last question would always be off script, out of curiosity. “So, what exactly is wrong with you?”
Thanks for reading. Take a look at my shirt for sale at booster.com/jacobrathe.