Australian equestrian Heath Ryan confirmed yesterday that the stroke he suffered on May 17 was the result of complications from a blood clot that formed on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, in April. Ryan was flying home after competing in the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Final (Nev.).
Ryan experienced acute dizziness and vomiting while competing in the CIC*** at the Eventing Equestriad Australia in Camden. He was admitted to the Campbelltown Hospital (Campbelltown, Aus.), and an MRI confirmed the stroke.
Ryan, 50, underwent an operation on May 25 to repair a hole in his heart, a defect which doctors say was a major factor in the manifestation of the stroke.
“Apparently 25 percent of people have a hole in the heart, and most of these people will never know. However, if all the stars freakishly line up, then the clot can slip through the hole instead of going back down to the lungs, get in your arterial system and visit the brain,” explained Ryan last month in a message to Equestrian Australia. In the weeks following the illness, he and his wife, Rozzie, sent frequent online updates to the EA to quell the worries of thousands of devastated followers.
Now that the hole has been plugged with a sponge-like material, he added, his chances of having another stroke are minimal.
Until yesterday, however, it was unclear how or when the clot formed. Ryan’s doctors now know that it was a byproduct of deep vein thrombosis, a condition that occurs in about 10 percent of flyers. Long flights, such as the 14-hour one Ryan took from Los Angeles to Sydney, can cause circulation in the legs to decrease and DVT to proliferate and send dangerous blood clots to the heart, lungs and brain.
“I plan to get back to normal as soon as possible,” said the Australian star in one of his updates. “Every morning when I wake up, I have improved out of sight.”
Ryan is one of Australia’s most prolific dressage and eventing representatives. His most recent 10th-placed finish at the World Cup Dressage Final aboard Regardez-Moi is just the last in a long list of accomplishments. He represented Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and at several World Equestrian Games. He is one of the few riders in the world to compete in both Grand Prix dressage and advanced-level eventing, and he has made it quite clear that he will continue to do so in the near future.