Thinking he was signing up for just a bike race, Dr. Stewart accepted O’Keeffe’s dare. Later, he was surprised to learn he had committed himself to a
triathlon that included not just a 40-km bike ride, but a 1500-meter swim in the Hudson River and 10-km run — feats he was ill prepared to take on at the
time. But fast food and intermittent exercise gave way to rigorous training, and Stewart found himself getting back into shape.
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Just a year and three months after undergoing open heart surgery, patient Greg O’Keeffe
finished the NYC triathlon – along with his doctor, Director of the Aortic Surgery
Program, Allan Stewart, MD.
“How else was I supposed to hold Allan accountable for his work!?” O’Keeffe writes on the team’s web site, triyourheartout.org.
The pair joined forces with two experienced triathletes, O’Keeffe’s brother, Andrew O’Keeffe, and friend Scott Mitchell. What began as training for the New York
City triathlon soon evolved into a broader mission. In addition to doing it for fun and their personal goals, the team is raising money for heart disease education
and training of aortic surgeons at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. The team has since signed up for three more triathlons and the Tough Mudder, a mud run-
obstacle course designed by British Special Forces.
Despite a bike collision one week before the race that left Dr. Stewart with two broken ribs, he finished the New York City Triathlon in 3 hours and 45 minutes. For
his part, O’Keeffe’s finish in just over 3 hours proved to himself – and to other heart patients who might be watching – it is possible to live a normal, even very
athletic, life after heart surgery.
O’Keeffe, 28, is co-founder of a Washington, DC-based environmental organization. Born with bicuspid valve disease,
he grew up with a heart murmur, and as an adult, developed an aortic aneurysm that required surgery. The surgeon
he chose, Dr. Stewart, became a good friend. So when Greg decided to take advantage of his newly regained health
by running a triathlon, he invited his friend and doctor to join him.
The July 18, 2010 New York Times article about Dr. Stewart and Greg O’Keeffe and post-race photo are available here.
In addition to chronicling the team’s training, race outcomes, and fundraising efforts for Babies Heart Fund, triyourheartout.org is full of
O’Keeffe’s offbeat humor and anecdotes about the team members. And in case you missed it, the site’s logo design is a simple
illustration of a normal aortic valve, perhaps in honor of the new one that Dr. Stewart installed in O’Keeffe’s heart last year.