Do You Know What Will Kill You?
Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012
Cassie Shortsleeve with Men's Health News
If death is our biggest fear, Joe Dulay has little to fear. He knows how he’s going to die.
His brain is going to bleed from a condition he was born with, occult cerebrovascular malformations—an abnormal connection between arteries and veins that causes blood to leak into the brain when a rupture occurs. Leaked blood in the brain can mean loss of consciousness, severe headaches, or paralysis. When blood builds up in the skull it can create too much pressure—crushing brain tissue, and limiting blood supply.
This will kill him.
But before you tell him what to do, you better have a strong case. He doesn’t listen to everything he’s told.
A Risky Surgery
In 2001 Dulay’s doctors attempted a risky surgery to stop his brain from bleeding. The surgery’s survival rate: Only 40 percent. And even if he did survive, the possible outcomes—becoming comatose, a vegetable, or permanently paralyzed—weren’t ideal.
In that Redwood City hospital, Dulay shared a room with seven other people like himself—paralyzed from the disease before surgery. The room was empty when he returned from surgery, still paralyzed.
“I thought I was the first one back,” he says. He was the only one who ever returned to that room.
A Headache Turns Serious
Before all of this, Dulay’s life was much like yours. He worked. He loved shooting hoops. He spent time with family and friends. Then one day in 2001, when he was 20 years old, he got a headache at the gym. He thought he was tired. Maybe he was hungry. Maybe he’d worked out too hard. So he took a nap, and when he woke, he’d lost control of the left side of his body. His face drooped, and though he thought he’d merely slept on his face wrong, his mother—a nurse—knew to rush him to the ER.
A CT scan revealed the disease he was born with—the one that would leave him motionless. He wondered: Is life worth living?
Not like this, he thought. So this was his challenge: Get better. Fight—even if the medical world simply nodded politely, a broken record screaming, “the odds are grim.”
“Three months after the surgery, I woke up one day, still paralyzed, and thought, OK, I’m going to kick some ass,” Dulay remembers. “I never wanted to feel that sensation where I felt nothing again.”
A Paralyzed Man Moves Again
It took two years. With intense rehab, constant work with specialists, and pumped full of pain meds, Dulay took a step. His body responded. “My body was used to exercise, not pills,” he says. “It was looking for it.”
Doctors didn’t agree—“You shouldn’t get off the medications,” they told him. Their case: Though he could move, excruciating migraines, vertigo, and balance issues still sidelined him from major physical activity. But Dulay knew the answer: Start slow with a beginner’s Tai-Chi class. Easy exercise and stretching would help, he hoped.
Doctors worried that physical activity would do the opposite—afraid that overdoing it could cause him to bleed again. They gave him limits, and urged him to live within his limits. But Dulay only pushed harder.
“I had nothing to lose,” he says. After all, no one knows your body better than you do. Soon he began weaning off the pills. “Everything they told me to do I kind of contradicted. I took it upon myself. I know what works for me.”
. . . And Then Enters a Triathlon
And exercise was working. So much so that he pushed himself harder: rock climbing, slack lining, and then triathlons. They were the biggest challenge—especially for someone who couldn’t swim. Learning the basics from YouTube, and watching videos, Dulay entered his first race in October 2008. It was a super sprint distance race in Sacramento with a swim distance of only 200 yards. He placed second and caught the bug.
Last October, Dulay crossed the finish line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. In May, he will compete in the Avia Wildflower Olympic Distance Triathlon. But he’s not in it to win it. “I can notice that when I race, I tend to favor my left side. I still get migraines and I carry my medications with me during the race. But I’ve come to come to terms with it. That’s as good as it’s going to get,” he says. “The pain from doing triathlons is what reminds me that I’m alive.”
“I’m trying to inspire people and get them interested in the sport, not race hardcore,” says Dulay, who is in the process of applying for a USAT Coaching Certification.
After all, he could bleed again. He will bleed again, but he knows that. “I can’t look forward to the future. I’m not going to grow old,” he pauses. “So I live life like there’s no tomorrow.”
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