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The click of life

Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Gerard “Corkie” De Gannes is in training for UWI Spec’s half-marathon in November.

Gerard “Corkie” de Gannes knows what his heart sounds like from the inside. He hears “click.”  Although he is accustomed to the sound now, the first time he heard it, it served as one of his biggest lessons ever. Until three years ago, De Gannes never thought his heart would give him the biggest scare of his life. Those who know De Gannes have seen him in his heyday at Fatima College as a member of the Second XI football team or protect his wicket as a member of the First XI squad. But he was more popularly known for his feat on two wheels—cycling competitively from age 16. He represented T&T once in his early career and later wore the red, white and black on four to five occasions as a member of the Pan Am Masters contingent. He was also instrumental in introducing triathlons to T&T, which is now a popular sporting event. And to top it off, he cycles with his team 


Cokie’s Casuals, which by the way was not named by him. So it was hard for him to grasp at that time, with all this energy and activity that his heart would stop on him. “It was a shocker,” he recalled. In 2010, at age 57, he was racing with his teammates during their regular weekend sessions when he fainted. A doctor, a member of the group, probably recognised what was happening and advised that he go to a nursing home immediately. “As an athlete and a coach, I am exposed to know athletes have low-resting heart rates. I realise now it was a good measure but also a handicap. My heart rate was going low and stopping. It was scary because I was a fit and active person and never recognised it was signal, not a plus,” he said. At the nursing home, the doctors called De Gannes’ situation—heart disease—a challenge to be resolved by implanting a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat. But the greater challenge for the cyclist was to continue his life before the incident took place.


Although he was back on the bike a month after surgery, the psychological challenge remained. “I used to feel it clicking on. That was hard to deal with back then. That meant my heart stopped but then again, the fact that it keeps clicking meant it came on to keep my tail alive,” he said. In addition, with friends like his, he had no choice but to be back on the saddle as they helped rebuild his confidence. “Corkie never finished anything he started,” jibbed his best friend and coach Donna Pollard, a former long-distance runner and national cyclist. In good humour, she teased him about his limited successes after surgery. “‘This is the last thing I’m doing’ he would say. And we would respond ‘what he talking about?’ So he got buff from all sides.”
Like other 50 or 60 year olds of his generation, Corkie didn’t stay still for too long. He then challenged himself to do Fusion, a local long-distance race that he actually completed. One of his teammates thought he was suitable for Med Bike Rally, a 55-mile race that took place this year in Puerto Rico. 


Coincidentally, Medtronic, manufacturers of De Gannes pacemaker device, sponsored the bike race. His wife Deborah submitted his profile for the race and he was selected to be one of the Medtronic Stars of the Caribbean to participate. While in Puerto Rico, he heard through another participant about the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon or TC 10 Mile in Minneapolis. He decided to give it a try, so he applied. At the October event, he will be among 25 distance runners from around the world who have benefited from Medtronic’s technology. While the other races may have solely focused on challenging his fitness levels, De Gannes also sees the upcoming marathon as a special pilgrimage. “I thought I was really challenged until I heard others with other devices and what they are able to do and I felt blessed,” he remarked. “For me it is really and truly life unfolding in a different direction. I hope to touch others’ souls and spirits.” Under Pollard’s guidance, De Gannes runs three times a week. On other days he swims. His running schedule includes hill intervals at a 10k or 5k pace, a six-and-a-half miler or seven-and-a-half miles in 90 minutes, sometimes four miles are done at a ten-mile pace with a slow jog to recover. The training will soon change to include faster work, said Pollard, who along with two other teammates from Corkie’s Casuals will accompany De Gannes on the Minneapolis run. When he returns from that race, the sneakers will be on again. UWI Spec’s half marathon is waiting for him in November.


What does a pacemaker do?
A pacemaker is a small device that’s placed in the chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms. This device uses electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.
Pacemakers are used to treat arrhythmias, which are problems with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.
During an arrhythmia, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue (tiredness), shortness of breath, or fainting. Severe arrhythmias can damage the body’s vital organs and may even cause loss of consciousness or death. A pacemaker can relieve some arrhythmia symptoms, such as fatigue and fainting. A pacemaker also can help a person who has abnormal heart rhythms resume a more active lifestyle. (Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, USA.)


About Medtronic and Global Heroes
Medtronic Inc, headquartered in Minneapolis, is the global leader in medical technology—alleviating pain, restoring health, and extending life for millions of people worldwide. Its charity, Medtronic Philanthropy, focuses on expanding access to quality chronic-disease care among underserved populations worldwide, in addition to supporting health initiatives in communities where Medtronic employees live and give. A co-operative effort between Twin Cities In Motion and Medtronic Philanthropy, the Global Heroes programme recognises runners from around the world who have a medical device to treat conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain and spinal and neurological disorders. There is no application restriction on manufacturer.


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