A Mighty Heart

    Alumnus competes in second Ironman triathlon 25 years after receiving heart transplant

    By Laurie Wang, ’05 BA on December 5, 2011

    Alumnus competes in second Ironman triathlon 25 years after receiving heart transplant

    When he was 26 years old, Dwight Kroening, ’84 BEd, found himself clinging to life in a Phoenix hospital, waiting for a new heart. Kroening got that new heart and, 25 years later, is still putting it to good use. In 2008 in Arizona—where he received his new heart—he became the first person with someone else’s heart in his chest to complete an Ironman triathlon (3.8-km swim, 180-km bicycle ride and 49-km run). In 2011, he returned to do another one.

    “Doing this race the second time was unbelievable,” says Mark Haykowsky, a physical therapy professor at the U of A’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, who works with Kroening. It’s equally incredible that Kroening’s even around to compete as according to the International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation's registry, more than 100,000 heart transplant procedures have been done and only around 100 have lived for 25 years.”

    Kroening met Haykowsky seven years ago when he was asked to participate in a study looking at heart-transplant recipients’ responses to exercise. The pair have worked together ever since. In fact, it was Haykowsky who convinced Kroening he could go the distance after he completed a half-Ironman triathlon in 2006.

    “The type of research Mark is doing could have so much benefit to the transplant world and people who’ve had heart transplants,” says Kroening. “With training, with exercise, with time, your heart is potentially going to function like a normal heart. We don’t have an excuse not to exercise and stay fit.”

    When asked whether or not he was nervous about competing in one of the world’s most gruelling races for the second time, Kroening nods without any hesitation. “It was quite emotional, knowing that the donor came from Phoenix. It was a significant thing for me as it was 25 years after the transplant and I was racing right where it all happened.”