Running Saved My Life (But How?)

I considered myself healthy growing up, but after the age of 30, I found myself gaining a little weight each year. Fast forward to 2010 and at 45, I was pushing over 250 lbs and not eating healthy nor exercising. I slept in a lot and had frequent naps, as I was always tired. I just chalked this up to being an overweight coach potato. On June 10 of that year, I decided that I needed to lose weight, and googled “what burns the greatest number of calories in the least amount of time”. The answer was running. I ran my first 5 kilometers directly off the couch, which was very hard and painful but with encouragement from my wife, I ran again the next day. I was well on the way to my fitness journey with running and eating healthy, ultimately losing 70 lbs in six months. 

Fast forward to 2014, when I felt like I was in the best shape of my life having completed seven marathons and my first 50-kilometer Ultra Marathon. I ran the same 50k Ultra Marathon a year later, and with one kilometer left to go, my body shut down. I had to rest for 30 minutes, and walked it in to complete the race. This was followed by six more marathons and one more 50k in 2016 and 2017, with my body and energy levels still feeling very off at times and not improving even though I was training lots.  

Running had given me a great level of awareness for my health. In October of 2016, I finally went to my family doctor after a very bad and hard marathon. Imagine our conversation. “Hi Doc. I run two to four marathons a year and I feel like I have no energy. What could be wrong?” She totally listened and sent me for complete bloodwork, agreeing that there must be something off. The results came back, and she wanted me to do more bloodwork as one of my results must have been a lab mistake. It was my ferritin. Everything else was super good as you would expect in an avid runner. My second test came back with the same ferritin levels just under 1,200 ng/mL. She then referred me to get more testing done but they initially came back saying that my bloodwork was fine. They stated I was very healthy and not worry about the high ferritin. Luckily, I have a great doctor and we pushed for additional testing which included genetic testing.  

When my results came back, my hematologist informed me that I have hereditary hemochromatosis, with genetic test results confirming the diagnosis. The first question she asked was where did I get my Asian last name (of Wong)? For reference, hereditary hemochromatosis is considered rare in Asians, and because of my name, I almost got dismissed for genetic testing. Well, my mother’s side is Scottish, and my father’s mother has a Scottish background, yet the simple assumption that I was not at risk for hemochromatosis because of my last name almost had my diagnosis overlooked. I learned that you need to push and be your own advocate for your health. After 6 months of phlebotomies every two weeks, I am now at normal iron levels. I am also a regular blood donor which helps save more lives. 

So, if I did not start running, which gave me great health awareness for my body, I probably would have just thought that the tiredness was from being overweight and unfit, thus becoming the next statistic for the silent killer known as hemochromatosis. I had never even heard of hereditary hemochromatosis until I was diagnosed. As I researched the disorder and gathered more information, I decided to become a member of the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society. I eventually decided to volunteer to be the Society’s Chapter Lead in Calgary to spread the much-needed information and news of this very treatable health issue and help save other lives. So now you know how Running Saved My Life!