August 05, 2016 3 comments

Graeme’s Triathlon to Health

Graeme running in one of many triathlons.

Graeme Sutton, a former Ironman athlete representing Australia twice in Triathlons was a fit and healthy 50-year-old, a picture of good health and wellbeing.

“I was the winner in my age group in the Australian Half Ironman series in 2008/2010 and was always a fairly active athlete for most of my adult life,” he said.

After a severe ankle injury and a few health issues that saw him not being able to run or even walk for long periods of time, Graeme began to develop constant fever and chill cycles. He visited his GP after severe pain in his left calf and was diagnosed with ‘unprovoked’ Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

“The doctor explained that fevers are a common symptom of DVT and because I also have Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease of the bowels, the DVT was dismissed as a symptom of this,” Graeme said.

A few weeks later, Graeme was rushed to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

“It was my birthday and I was carted to Royal Melbourne Hospital in an ambulance. They found a moderate murmur and equated the two and put me in the infectious disease ward. When the fever cycle started again they put me on IV antibiotics and started taking blood cultures,” Graeme explained.

“I was in the ID ward for two days where they discovered a 2.5 x1cm streptococcus mitis ‘vegetation’ flapping on my aortic valve and that the valve had basically been destroyed.”

Eight days later Graeme required emergency open heart surgery. He ended up with a porcine root and aortic replacement. The doctors also discovered that he had a Bicuspid Aortic Valve, a congenital condition of the aortic valve, and that the infection had perforated the valve. However, by the time they operated the infection was dead.

Unfortunately for Graeme, if detected early, an early course of IV antibiotics would have sufficed and he could have avoided surgery.

“It is now 11 months since my operation and I’m fairly sure that the limiting factor is the rebuilding of the muscles that have shrunk from the surgery rather than my heart,” he said.

“I’m still fatiguing easily but things are improving slowly. Eight months following surgery I could crouch down and at around 10 months I could do a standing jump. I’m back into triathlon training but not satisfied that I’m back to racing fitness yet.”

Why do we need your help? To ensure people like Graeme are diagnosed correctly from the beginning ensuring they have the best treatment and care available to them. Thanks for supporting critical research into heart disease; we couldn’t do it without you!




  1. Matthew

    Sounds very similar to my story. Undiagnosed bicuspid valve (I had the full set, aortic coarctation too) that became infected but wasn’t diagnosed until very late. Sadly my heart was very badly damaged meaning I now need a pacemaker to keep it going, and have been told I’ll probably need a transplant some time in the future.

    It’s very common to fail to properly diagnose endocarditis until a late stage, even where a lot of the fairly specific symptoms. This is something we need to work on, to raise awareness amongst doctors. They might only see one or two cases in a career, but getting the diagnosis right is literally the difference between life and death.

    1. Michael John Compagnoni

      In my friends case, they discovered he endocarditis during his heart valve replacement. His problems may have started as early as mid-2015. However, his symptoms were vague and all over the place. They discovered an M-Spike which sent them down a horrible path, which he is anxiously waiting to disappear from his blood stream / ??bone marrow??.

      From what he has told me his blood specialist kept asking if he had an infection. He didn’t feel sick so he obviously kept saying “no”. Having seen some of his labs it was obvious something was happening, but no one knew. He was gooling most of the time to get his head around the Myeloma

      Then his heart went knock knock one late night. Even then they weren’t overly confident that it was anything more serious than dodgy heart valve. Even his surgeon was like, yeah whatever the echo came up clear. Well the rest is history.

      They discovered it was a Bartonella infection of all things. A nasty infection. He finished is IV abx but still is on oral abx.


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