460 days ago by Pole Position Raceway
We sit down with Stuart Berwick who tells an amazing story about his struggles with Pulmonary Hypertension and how Indoor Karting saved his life.
It wasn't long ago that a racing enthusiast from Richardson, Texas thought his life was over. After his health started failing during a European vacation in 1997, Stuart Berwick spent three years undergoing tests that lead to a startling conclusion. "I remember it vividly," said Berwick. "The doctor told a student that this was the classic case of someone who needs a heart and double-lung transplant. The doctor wasn't even talking to me, and I was like, 'hey, I'm still in the room.' At that point my life forever changed."
Berwick was placed on a registry for transplant, but his doctor was concerned that he wouldn't make it. The wait was approximately three and a half years, and yet there were times that Berwick wasn't expect to survive three months and even less time when first admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. "It was terrifying, and I saw a lot of specialists, and changed a lot of things with my lifestyle Including having to stop working."
Earlier in his life, Berwick followed SCCA racing and participated in Autocross and regional-level road racing, and his best friend is Andy Pilgrim, who races in the Pirelli World Challenge series for Cadillac. In fact, Andy was one time teamed with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Dale, Jr. in the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in the Corvette C6R. But now, Berwick had a signed contract with the hospital that limited his activities in order for them to treat his Pulmonary Hypertension. He was given a life sentence of drugs, self tests for oxygenation and heart rate, doctor visits almost monthly, along with the need to be connected to an IV 24-hours a day starting in March of 2001. He tried going back to work and traditional Pulmonary and Cardiac physical therapy and nothing seemed to be working to make his lifestyle and body more vigorous than reading books.
Then one day, he heard that Pole Position Raceway had just opened up an all-new indoor kart track in nearby Frisco. So Berwick made the 21-mile drive to see if he could give it a shot.
"I remember the first day that Stuart came in to race," said Robert Finley who owns the Pole Position Raceway franchise. "To be honest, I was really concerned about him racing, but we let him go out after his insistence. Then about five laps into the race, he had to stop after his heart monitor was going off. It had us all scared and we thought that was the last we would ever see of him."
But then he returned a little while later, and kept coming in on a semi-regular basis. Over time, Berwick started to notice some positive changes in his health.
"My clothes started to get looser and my stamina increased. I told my doctor that I was racing karts on a regular basis and he told me to keep it up. Within about 12 months I had lost 20 pounds and was able to race five back-to-back races and participate in Pole Position Raceway endurance races. My oxygen saturations were great and my blood pressure was much lower. In fact, my overall health improved so much that I was no longer eligible for a transplant, and the only thing that changed in my life was the karting. I can honestly say that indoor karting at Pole Position Raceway saved my life!"
By now, everyone on staff at the Frisco kart track knew of the 50-something English-born racer.
"He would come in with his medical backpack, fanny pack and all sorts of medicine, and he was hard to miss," said Finley. "We got to learn more about him and some of the challenges that he goes through with everyday life. Although we got comfortable with it, we learned how deadly the situation was one day when we noticed some fluid on his clothes."
Berwick had pinched a line that contains Flolan, a strong medicine that has a very short half-life in the body.
"I was told that without the Flolan the lungs will go into pulmonary arrest in 20 minutes if I don't receive this medicine and the heart would then go into cardiac arrest within 45." said Berwick.
Miraculously, Stuart managed to beat the odds and stay alive for two hours until doctors were able to repair the line.
"We've had several million customers race at our tracks around the country, but I don't think I have ever been moved so much by a story on how Pole Position Raceway impacted someone's life," said Pole Position Raceway President and co-founder Ken Faught. "Of all the amazing stories that I have heard throughout the years, I never expected someone to tell me that the only reason they were standing here today is because we created a business that centered around racing."
Berwick has now driven about 1000 miles at Pole Position Raceway in Frisco, Texas and now spreads the word to other Pulmonary Hypertension patients. Although he has a lot of unique struggles and will never be completely cured from Pulmonary Hypertension, his doctor now feels that he is healthy enough that he will one day be able to participate in Stem Cell programs that will continue to improve his quality of life and allow him to keep spinning laps at Pole Position Raceway in high-performance karts.