Training for the Ironman after heart surgery.

By: Natasha Barrett 

Jason Dragon travels a lot for work. At The Department of Homeland Security, his career as a Supervisory Special Agent combating violent crime and dangerous criminal gangs in Houston brings him to places located all over the world. Though he enjoys going overseas, he recently experienced considerable jet lag and had difficulty sleeping because of the drastic time change. Dragon went to see a doctor and received a prescription for sleep medication before his next trip. But, he wasn’t prepared for what the doctor discovered during his physical. 

“The doctor put the stethoscope to my chest and immediately said that I had a very pronounced heart murmur,” Dragon said.

Dragon was 43 years old and had never had any heart problems in his life. In fact, he had recently participated in his first Memorial Hermann Half Ironman Triathlon in Galveston last April. Those triathlons include swimming, biking and running for a total of 70.3 miles. And he was also training for another 70.3 miles last fall. By all accounts, he was in great shape. 

“I’ve tried to maintain a high level of fitness throughout most of my life and all of this made me very surprised to hear that I may have a heart condition,” Dragon said. 

Last summer, Dragon spent 30 days overseas in a dangerous region and did his job with no issues.   

It was not until Dragon’s wife received a call from his cardiologist’s office that he was reminded of the murmur. After some prodding by his wife, he decided to go to the appointment.   

“Thank God I did!” Dragon said.

Dragon was diagnosed with a condition known as Mitral Valve Prolapse with a leaky mitral valve.

During his appointment, the cardiologist explained that 98 percent of  the time here was nothing to worry about, but Dragon was in the 2 percent. The only fix, he was told, was heart surgery.   

“He had a leaky mitral valve and, if you can imagine, every time the heart squeezes, blood should go forward to the rest of your body. For him, every time the heart squeezes, some of the blood would go backward to his lungs. It’s like a car that is leaking oil or gas. It’s not as efficient and with time that engine will fail,” said Dr. Tom Nguyen, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute.

Dr. Nguyen, director of Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, told Dragon about a less invasive procedure that would allow him to quickly get back on his feet.  

“I’ll admit, this was a bit of a shock and it took some time to process. I immediately drew parallels to my career in law enforcement, where you learn to trust your partners, and often this trust is tested and proven in life and death situations. Having experienced numerous life and death situations throughout my career, most of which were handled with partners and 100 percent successful, I was confident in assessing that Dr. Nguyen and his staff were partners I could trust,” Dragon said. 

Dragon underwent minimally-invasive heart surgery at the Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute to repair his mitral valve in October. 

“I think it’s pretty clear that patients want the least invasive way to fix complex problems. No one comes begging to get their chest cracked open. We are doing a lot of complex operations through the smallest incisions. We’re fixing things using sutures that are thinner than your hair follicle, wearing magnifying glasses to put people’s hearts back together again. So, Jason, who is the pinnacle of health, can resume his life again,” Dr. Nguyen said. 

Dragon returned to work after four weeks recovering at home following surgery, he is determined to get back into triathlons. By the end of his first week into recovery, he was walking a mile.

 The second week, two miles. Now, at four months since surgery, Dragon is doing a combination of swimming, biking and running six days a week which includes riding his bike for 40 miles at a time. 

Dragon is registered to participate in the Memorial Hermann Half Ironman in Galveston on April 5. And, Dr. Nguyen says he will be there cheering him along, just like in the operating room. 

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