“Do not give up. We will find a cure eventually, just do not give up. Please be patient. It’s just a matter of time.” – Elvis Medrano
Recently PHA caught up with our celebrity champion, boxer Elvis Medrano. Elvis sat down with us to discuss his recent experience at PHA’s International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions, his origins as a boxer, how CTEPH impacts his life in and out the ring, and his recovery from a recent hospital stay.
PHA: Welcome Elvis, great to see you again. Thanks for sitting down with PHA today. Last time we saw you was in June 2018 at PHA’s International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions, where you were a big hit! There were so many people that connected to your story and lined up to take pictures with you and get your autograph.
Elvis: Yes, I love that! It was the first time I ever spoke in front of 2,000plus people. A lot of people I met there sent me messages on my Instagram. It’s nice. I’m becoming slowly famous (laughs).
PHA: Since then you have undergone PTE surgery. This leaves me to wonder, what motivates you to keep PHighting in and out of the ring?
Elvis: My motivation is myself. I am determined. I came to United States at age 10 with a goal in mind. I left for Puerto Rico and started boxing there officially. Came back with the goal in my mind to be World Champion one day. As long as there is oxygen running through my lungs, I am going to continue that goal.
PHA: What age did you begin boxing and what ignited your passion for the sport?
Elvis: I was a very aggressive kid, always fighting in the street. I was a nuisance to the teachers when I was in middle school.
PHA: Who are some fighters that inspire you and why?
Elvis: Not really anyone. You want to see my favorite fighter? (Elvis turns his phone around to show me a picture of himself) There he is (laughs)!
PHA: There’s a great photo of you, that you posted on IG, where you have the hospital gown on, your surgery scar exposed on your chest, and your arms are raised in the flexing position. That truly showed me that you have the heart of a champion, or as we like to say, you have The Right Heart. Explain that moment?
Elvis: I was not happy at that moment. I almost fell over (laughs). My mom took that picture. I was collapsing. I was barely standing. I just stood there for a few seconds and then I fell.
PHA: You have said it many times yourself. Your greatest fight is outside of the ring. Why is that?
Elvis: Because of CTEPH. I was supposed to turn pro in 2012. I was on the Olympic team and everything. Around that time is when everything started to happen.
PHA: In your words, how would you describe CTEPH to someone who has no idea what it is?
Elvis: It [blood clots] started in my right shoulder and moved to my lungs. My right arm swelled up. By the time I went to show the doctor, the swelling had gone down, and they looked at me [like I was] crazy. So, I took pictures [the next time my arm swelled] to show them when I went back.
PHA: What is it like to be in peak physical shape, but also suffer from a disease that affects your breathing and energy levels?
Elvis: It’s awful. Sometimes, I’ll be running outside, and somebody will blow past me. It’s extremely embarrassing. Or I’ll be doing something that normally takes me no effort, and it will take me forever.
PHA: Boxing is a physical sport. Throughout the course of a bout, you may get tagged to the body. In your chest area, near your lungs and kidneys. Maybe even directly on your surgical scar. Does that concern you at all during a fight?
Elvis: It is very violent, but I like it. The scar does not concern me when I am in the ring. The opponent can hit me anywhere! My pain management is mind over matter.
PHA: What are your biggest concerns about living with CTEPH?
Elvis: It’s frustrating being able to do things, then all of a sudden you can’t. One of the worst things you can do to someone is cut their oxygen supply. You cut my arm off, I can get another one. The lungs, to me, that’s the most important organ. Everything is oxygen. Every organ is oxygen. Having CTEPH is like a car without gasoline.
PHA: Being the Digital Media Associate here at PHA, I follow you closely on Instagram. You documented your most recent hospital stint due to CTEPH.
Elvis: Yes, this was in August. After PHA’s Conference.
PHA: What is the surgery that you had done?
Elvis: The surgery is a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy (PTE). It consists of doctors opening the cavity of the chest, as you saw in the pictures. The heart is placed on a special base, in order to access the lungs. I don’t know how they are able to remove the clots because the arteries are so thin!
What led to you having to get the procedure done?
Elvis: My performance was declining. I was able to run a mile in like one minute. Recently, to run the mile, it took me 13 minutes. It’s kind of my fault, I should have listened to the doctors.
PHA: As I said, we follow you closely on your Instagram. We were all wishing for a speedy recovery for you, But the recovery was not as quick as hoped post-surgery. What were the obstacles that slowed down your recovery after surgery?
Elvis: It was the pain. The pain was unbearable. I was being a very difficult patient to my nurses and doctors.
PHA: How did you get through that difficult time?
Elvis: I was alone at first. My mother came to visit later in the process, and my girlfriend, too. The mental toughness I learned from boxing helps me every time.
PHA: How did you get that cool video of your actual heart beat during surgery?
Elvis: The way the surgeon explained it to me is that they put the heart in a special base. He was recording with a little camera on his forehead during the procedure.
PHA: And the picture of the clots removed from your lungs?
Elvis: Some of them were the actual size you see in the photo, some were extremely tiny.
PHA: What is your current health status? Have you been cleared to get back into the ring or return to boxing activities?
Elvis: I’m feeling good since the surgery. I am even getting back to the gym a little bit.
PHA: Is there any apprehension or fear about stepping back into the ring after a surgery such as the one you just went through?
Elvis: None. I don’t feel pain. My next fight is going to be a knockout, that’s for sure!
PHA: Does your strategy for training, or an actual fight, change as a result of having undergone such a serious surgery?
Elvis: I just keep my nurses informed of my activity.
PHA: Looking to the future, what does that look like for you?
Elvis: Well I’m going to be very rich soon. I know that for a fact (laughs). I have sponsors that pay me each time I fight. When I win by knockout they pay me more. They are giving me the tools I need to promote myself more. It’s just a matter of time before you see my fights on Showtime.
PHA: You also have another job, correct?
Elvis: Yes, I’m a loss mitigation specialist. People are so shocked to see me in my shirt and tie behind a desk (laughs).
PHA: So, you’re like Clark Kent (laughs)?
Elvis: Yes, Yes. Exactly like that (laughs).
PHA: What do you want people to know about having CTEPH and still going after your dreams?
Elvis: Do not give up. We will find a cure eventually, just do not give up. Please be patient. It’s just a matter of time.