BRIAN VICKERS, Michael Waltrip Racing
How are you doing?
“I’m here – I’m fine. It’s been a tough week and frustrating. Probably as much or more kind of on the emotional side this last week and the physical side for sure was a concern, which is what led me to go to the hospital. So this past week I had two great media opportunities – I got to spend the day with Mr. Arnold Palmer and Kevin Nealon promoting the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Wednesday morning and then Wednesday afternoon we flew from Orlando to New Orleans for the Aaron’s Managers Meeting Conference, which was a great conference. Those guys and that whole group are really unbelievable and how they treat their people and it’s always fun to be at the Manager’s Meeting Conferences. Thursday morning we flew to LA and on the flight back to LA I had a little bit of pain in my chest when I was taking deep breaths and I spent half the flight trying to convince myself that I bumped into something along the way. I think deep down I kind of had an idea of what it was. Unfortunately, I knew what that feeling was and that kind of sharp pain on and off when you take deep breaths. We landed in LA and it wasn’t too bad at that point. I probably didn’t do the smartest thing, but I went to the hotel to check in because I was still trying to convince myself that it was something else. Sat there for a few minutes kind of pacing the room with Sarah (Vickers, wife) and was trying to figure out if I could turn my chest pain into something that it wasn’t and finally as Sarah became more and more worried, I was like, ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ I told her that if I go to the hospital that I’m not racing this weekend. She was very sweet and encouraging, she was like, ‘Well, you don’t know that yet -- let’s just get it checked out.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’ We got in the car and went to the hospital and I walked in and told them exactly what to look for and where to look and requested a CT scan and all the things. We went through that process. We went to the UCLA hospital in Santa Monica and I can’t say enough about their staff, their doctors, their nurses – they treated us absolutely amazing, they were great. Unfortunately, on the CT scan, I did have small clots. It was still early stage. I did mostly listen to my own advice, which was to go to the doctor as soon as you think something is wrong. I probably could have gotten there a few hours sooner than I did, but I did get there pretty early so we caught it. I had small blood clots in both lungs. That’s that. At that point I had to reach out to Ty (Norris, executive vice president, Michael Waltrip Racing) and everyone at MWR and our partners and kind of relay the news. I was going to be back on blood thinners for at least three months and then try to figure out what’s next from there. That’s kind of the full download. Needless to say it’s pretty frustrating, but I’ve been here before. That’s life and you just have to keep fighting and not give up. Just keep pushing for it and you never know what tomorrow holds. This weekend, coincidentally has been about partnering with Janssen to raise awareness about clots. The month of March is Clot Awareness Month and this is not quite how I wanted to raise awareness about clots, but here we are. From my perspective, this has been a passion of mine now for five years and there’s no reason for it to stop being a passion just because it’s not convenient at the moment. Right now I really want to take this opportunity to leverage this platform and this microphone to continue to raise awareness about clots, the issues, the signs, the symptoms, the warning signs and really encourage people to go see their doctor. Maybe I should have gone straight to the doctor when I got off the plane, but I didn’t wait two days, I waited an hour and I went. I’m glad I did because it could have turned into a serious problem and it didn’t because I went to go see my doctor and that’s what made the difference.”
Do you feel this could be a career-ending situation?
“That’s a fair question. Am I worried? Of course. Have I given up hope? No. What I know right now is that I unfortunately had to go back on blood thinners. To be clear – I have not been on blood thinners. If I were, I probably wouldn’t have blood clots and wouldn’t be able to race. Being off of blood thinners, working with my doctors closely to figure out how to solve the problems of the past and get off blood thinners is what has allowed me to get back in the race car. Unfortunately, now I am back on blood thinners for at least three months and through those three months I’ll try to figure out what makes sense with my doctors if I can come back off of them to go racing. If there’s some kind of plan that works and if not, then that’s that. We’re so far away from crossing that bridge at this point, I can’t really say. Certainly your questions crossed my mind about a thousand times in the last 24 to 48 hours, but the funny thing is I’ve been told now three times that I’ll never race again and I’ve raced the last two weeks. I’ll never give up and listen, if it comes to that, then I’ll move on to the next thing in life. I’ve always felt this way, I still feel this way today sitting here. I love racing more than any other activity. I don’t love it more than my wife, who takes good care of me, or my family or my friends, but it’s not who I am, it’s something that I do, something that I love doing. There’s more to life than just this. I think keeping that perspective is important, but it’s also my favorite thing to do in the world. I want to try to come back.”
What is your current pain level and how are your current day-to-day activities?
“I had pain in my chest when I was breathing. The signs of potential DVT, deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the legs or a pulmonary embolism, PE sometimes it’s referred to, blood clots in the lungs, which is what I have now -- the signs and symptoms can be different for everyone. As it relates to PE, my personal experience has been you have pain in your lungs in a specific area, a sharp area, like a sharp pain and it can come and go as you move, lay on your side, stand up and in varying intensity and when you take deep breathes it hurts. Depending on the amount of clotting you have, it can be extremely painful or it can be a minor from a 1 to a 10. Right now (draws a deep breath), it’s not too bad. It’s probably like a one. It’s pretty much all the pain is gone. Two or three days ago, it was like a four or five. My first PE (in 2010) was like a 10. So, minor compared to that. Now as I’m back on blood thinners and that’s my regimen, I don’t have to go to the hospital or see doctors or do anything. Every situation is different, every patient is different – I’m only explaining what I’m going through. Typically the pain resides pretty quickly, for me, the pain resided pretty quickly once you get on blood thinners for the PE.”
Do you plan to race in the No. 55 for MWR if you can return to racing this year?
“Well, if I am able to race, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than the Aaron’s Dream Machine. I’ve been very blessed to have this opportunity the last couple years to be in the 55 Camry and the opportunity to work with Aarons and bring in new partners, like this weekend with Janssen. I just really love that team. It’s become a home for me and it will always be no matter what. I love all the guys in that car. I really enjoy working with everyone – there are so many great people at that organization. If I get back in a race car, yes, that’s where I’ll be. Again, now we’re just talking speculation. I’ve got to get through today and tomorrow and then we’ll worry about what’s next and what’s after that.”
Do you know what caused this blood clot?
“No. I want to get back and walk through the last week of events. So far any clots I’ve had have been provoked by some particular event. I haven’t had a chance to meet with my doctors or hematologist. I was at the hospital, but I haven’t met with a hematologist to go through the week’s events and things that happened and how they happened and how they could have potentially effected between the race and being on the plane for four hours one or two times a day for three days, I’m sure that probably didn’t help. We have to go through all that and figure it out.”
What does it mean to you that Michael Waltrip Racing continues to support you?
“Again, I have nothing but amazing things to say. At the end of the day they have a team to run and I’m probably starting to wear out their patience, but I know that if at all possible, they’re going to stick behind and they’ve proven that. It’s the kind of organization they are. It’s the kind of team they are and I think that goes a long way. It goes a long way for me and it should go a long way for anyone that’s thinking about working with them whether it’s their partners like Aaron’s or Janssen, Toyota, 5-hour ENERGY, it’s employees, the drivers, the whoever. There is something to be said for that. I mean, it makes you – when you get in that race car, it makes you want to put everything on the line because you know they’re going to do the same of you.”
Could you differentiate the pain from the heart surgery and the clots?
“Yeah, so two very different instances not related at all. It’s just some of my things to deal with. The first pulmonary embolism I had in 2010 was extremely painful. The heart situation was probably – it wasn’t as bad going in, but it was worse coming out. After open heart, that pain – waking up from that, I never want to experience that again. I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody. This particular incidence a few days ago was probably like a four or five on a one to 10 because I caught it early. I kind of listened to my body and I went to the hospital. If I had waited, it would have continued to get worse and it would have gone from a five to a seven to a 10 and kind of gone on up, but I caught it pretty early, so it wasn’t too bad.”
Is it correct that you haven’t been on blood thinners for some time?
“Yes, that is correct. So I was not on any blood thinner – I was not on Xarelto. I’ve had the opportunity to work with them, to raise awareness about the issues of clotting. It’s kind of what the campaign this weekend, like you said, was about – the drive for clots.com. The month of March is also Clot Awareness (Month). On a brighter note, I got to meet Arnold Palmer and Kevin Nealon. That was pretty awesome. We shot a commercial in January that’s airing right now you may have seen because they put it everywhere and it lasts for two minutes. That was really fun. It was an honor to meet those guys and spend time with them. Both Kevin and Arnold were just great. I’ve always admired Kevin in a lot of ways and I love his movies and his comedy, but Arnold Palmer is just a legend. It was so weird. When we first met Arnold, Kevin and I both had something for him to sign. I don’t think I’ve ever asked for an autograph in my life – no, actually that’s not true. When I was a kid, I got Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s autograph and then I thought – there was a few guys I wanted to ask for autographs when I first started racing in NASCAR, but I thought it was kind of weird since I was actually racing with them, so I didn’t. Arnold Palmer is the other one and it was pretty cool. I’m kind of jumping around a little bit. My thoughts are kind of scattered right now as you can imagine, but I absolutely have not been on a blood thinner for PE or DBT since the end of 2013, which is what the commercial is about. That’s the story I’m telling in that commercial. I am back on a blood thinner and, to your question, I am on Xarelto. It’s what my doctors recommended. It’s what working with them they wanted me on and which works out great because it’s what I wanted to be on. When it comes to clotting, when it comes to blood thinners, again, I just keep repeating the message – if you think something’s wrong, go see a doctor and listen to your doctors. You have to work with your doctor on what’s right for you. I can tell you my story. I can tell you my symptoms, my signs. I can tell you what I did and what I’m doing now, but each person needs to find their own what’s right for them and work with their doctor on that.”
“Thank you all for all the support, seriously – through all of it. Whatever happens next, I couldn’t have been happier to be in that car for the last two weeks. Coming back from the heart surgery and from all of it was a huge accomplishment and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, my friends, my wife, my partners – Aaron’s, Toyota, Janssen, MWR and I’m very thankful for that. By no means have I given up. To kind of reiterate some of the things we’ve discussed, I don’t know what’s next. I know I will be on blood thinners for the next three months and then after that I’m going to do whatever I can to get back in a race car, but what’s next is next and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. No matter what, I appreciate the support – the support in the NASCAR community has been amazing every time and every step of the way as I expected it to be from the fans to the media to the people in the garage. Thank you for all of that.”