OHSU Heart Patient Plans Bike Ride to Raise Funds for Medical Research

07/17/02    Portland, Ore.

Chris Sielicky will begin his bike ride at OHSU July 19

Lance Armstrong, three-time winner of the Tour de France, and 43-year-old Chris Sielicky, a Salem attorney, have two things in common: both have received advanced medical treatment at Oregon Health & Science University and both are avid bicyclists.

However, the similarities end there. Armstrong is a world-class athlete who returned to competitive bicycling following successful cancer treatment. Sielicky, who started life as a "blue baby," was born with congenital heart disease. Thanks to modern medical treatment and skilled physicians and caregivers at OHSU, Sielicky has survived multiple heart surgeries, lengthy hospital stays and innumerable blood tests ... and he lives an active, fulfilling life. For exercise and recreation, he enjoys bicycling.

But there is more to the story.

Bicycling is also a way for Sielicky to measure his ability to push himself, to pursue a vigorous activity that might be considered beyond the capabilities of a person with lifelong heart problems.

"Throughout childhood I was always short of breath and tired quickly," he recalled. "I started to limit myself. By the time I was 18, I was too weak to remain in high school." Shortly thereafter Sielicky had major heart surgery that changed his life - for the better.

"I felt better than ever, and found I could enjoy physical activities without tiring and without turning blue. I learned not to think like a heart patient."

That was fine for a number of years until, once again, Sielicky experienced serious heart problems. The most recent required a special procedure at OHSU to correct an arrhythmia, which had caused a rapid and irregular heartbeat.

"I had to change my way of thinking again, this time acknowledging that I am a heart patient after all," he said. "I've had to learn that I can still live a full and energetic life, but that I have to be realistic and watch my health, to go at my own pace."

It turns out that bicycling is not only a hobby he can enjoy with his wife and children, it's also an ideal way of learning to pace himself, to do what his heart and health allow.

Now, he is focusing that combination of pragmatism and ambition on what he describes as "the bicycle trip of my lifetime." It's a bike ride from Portland to San Francisco.

Starting by the fountain on the OHSU Marquam Hill Campus at 11 a.m., July 19, Chris Sielicky will begin a bicycle ride to raise money and awareness for congenital heart disease research. He is asking that donations go to the Heart Research Center at OHSU, a pioneer and internationally recognized leader in congenital and adult heart research.

Accompanied by family and friends, Sielicky's journey will take him from Portland through McMinnville to Lincoln City, and then the long ride down the coast of Oregon and California to San Francisco. The goal is to reach San Francisco by Labor Day; however, speed is not the object.

"This trip is a small gift back to OHSU, which has given so much to my family and me," Sielicky explains. "I'm just so grateful for my cardiologists and for researchers who are searching for better treatments and cures."

Donations are already coming in. Gifts to the Heart Research Center can be mailed to: Oregon Health & Science University Foundation, P.O. Box 4000, Portland, OR 97208. To make a gift online go to www.ohsu.edu/ohsf and designate Heart Research Center.

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