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First, Derek Fitzgerald beat cancer. Then, he bounced back after a heart transplant. But this weekend he will attempt what he once thought impossible — finish an Olympic-distance triathlon.
“When I first got out of the hospital my wife asked me if I was going to be one of those crazy guys, who once they get a new heart, tries to go out and run a marathon,” said the 39-year-old Pennsylvania man. “But here I am, a little more than a year later, about to do the St. Anthony’s triathlon.”
In 2003, Fitzgerald was your typical, high-energy, independent business owner. “I have my own health care technology company,” he said. “All I did was work, work, work. …”
Then, one day, he started feeling tired. He lost the pep in his step and every few weeks, began to notice blood when he went to the bathroom.
“They ran all the tests until finally they decided to do some exploratory surgery,” said Fitzgerald, who lives just outside of Philadelphia. “That is when they found a tumor the size of a grapefruit hiding inside my stomach.”
His doctors took a biopsy and the news was not good. Fitzgerald was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of blood cancer that creates tumors.
“It was treatable with chemotherapy,” he said. “But there was a small chance that one of the drugs that they had to give me could damage his heart.”
Read more: Tampabay.com