A little over a year ago, Paul participated in his local Arlington Heights dragon boat race. After the race, he began to feel dehydrated. Over the next week, Paul became exhausted, to the point that even walking up the stairs was an effort.

For someone who averages 20,000 steps a day, who rows every morning and bikes regularly, easily exhausted was out of the everyday to say the least.

Paul first started paddling after a different health setback. In 2003, he had an ACL replacement surgery that required physical therapy. His therapist was putting together a dragon boat team for the St. Charles River Fest and invited Paul to paddle on the team. Paul had never heard of dragon boat racing, but was game to give it a try.

Modern day dragon boat racing takes place predominately at festivals, with crews of 20 paddlers racing a sprint distance of usually 500 meters, but can vary based on the size of the river or lake. Paul paddled with his new team at the festival and returned the next day to watch more races. Intrigued, he began talking to a fellow team member and soon enough, was practicing and paddling a few times a week with his crew. The next year, he went to nationals in Iowa and while his team didn’t qualify for the world championship, a team that did needed extra paddlers. Just like that, Paul found himself competing in Berlin.


After the Arlington Heights race, nearly a decade after he first started paddling, Paul went to see his physician for exhaustion. He took Paul’s pulse, heart rate and blood pressure. Then, he told Paul to go immediately to the emergency room: his heart rate was 36 beats per minute — the average person’s is between 60 and 100.

When he arrived at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, Ross VanDorpe, MD, a cardiologist, was waiting for him. The team gave him fluids and ran tests, kept him overnight and in the morning ran more. Paul very clearly had bradycardia, a heart rhythm disorder, but the exact reasons were unclear. They gave him a stress test, which came back normal. Finally, they gave him a two-day monitor which he was to wear and drop off at the hospital the following Monday.

As soon as the Northwestern Medicine team received the results, they were on the phone with Paul. The data showed some serious issues and suggested Paul may need a pacemaker.

Pacemakers are often employed to help regulate abnormal heart rhythms and in particular are able to detect and counteract bradycardia by sending electrical impulses to increase heart rate. Implanted in the upper chest area, below the collarbone, the device consists of a pulse generator and a wire that transmits information and impulses from and to the heart.

While Paul’s doctors suspected a pacemaker would be necessary, they also wanted to do their due diligence, so they began a 30-day monitor that would transmit at all times throughout the day. The first day Paul wore the new monitor, the alarm went off three times. The second day, his doctors called again. His heart rate was down to 26, irregular enough that his care team knew for sure he needed a pacemaker.

“You know, I’m generally pretty active, I’m paddling, I’m doing all kinds of stuff, so I’m like, seriously?” Paul said.

The care team began scheduling his surgery and planned it for a few days out. But, later that same day, Paul received one more call from his doctor: his heart couldn’t wait and he needed to come in right away. Paul would have surgery the next morning to implant a pacemaker.

Seeing someone from my community, that particular morning, was really comforting.”

The day of the procedure, Paul found comfort from the ever-present community at Delnor.

“This may sound silly, but the morning I had the surgery, the anesthesiologist was a woman who used to come in and shop at the home improvement store I used to work at in South Elgin,” Paul remembered. “And she’d been in lots of different times and over the years I’d helped her several times. So when she came in that morning and looked at me, she recognized me and said, you’re my Home Improvement guy! Very nice lady, super nice. And seeing someone like that, that particular morning, was really comforting.”

After pacemaker surgery, most people stay over night for observation and return home the next day. But Paul wasn’t quite out of the woods. His blood pressure would drop drastically whenever he stood up, so the care team kept him in bed for a few more days. Gradually, he was able to walk around and return home, where another week off from work helped him to return, little by little, to normal.

Paul at the dragon boat race

Still, the fact that Paul was very fit and his initial tests had checked out marked his case as unusual. His care team was confident the pacemaker would manage his bradycardia, but they referred Paul for follow-up testing nonetheless. Ultimately, the results were normal and there was no reason to keep Paul from his everyday. His blood pressure returned to normal, and at work they remarked on the color returning to his face. The pacemaker put no restrictions on his physical activity, and now he only really notices it in the way his seat belt rests across his chest or when his work apron requires a little extra adjustment.

For Paul, a return to his everyday meant a return to paddling, too. After some time, he was back on the water, and, now deeply returned to his routine, he rows four to five times a week.

Whether with the US National Dragon Boat team, his local Arlington Heights crew or out on his own for training, his pacemaker keeps Paul going, full power ahead and feeling at home.

Making an #ImpactEveryDay