The following is the transcript from Brian Vickers’ press conference Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he announced that he’ll miss the remainder of the 2010 Sprint Cup season while he recovers from blood clots. Joining Vickers to address the media: Dr. Steven A. Limentani and Jay Frye, Red Bull Racing Team vice president and general manager.
Brian Vickers, driver, No. 83:
“I want to start off by thanking everyone. Friends and family, people in the industry, other drivers, owners and even media who have reached out and been very supportive through all of this. To answer the question, ‘Why I’m here today,’ I am here today to answer everything. I’m not going to hold anything back from you. I’m going to be completely honest with you. We’re not going to speculate, but we’re going to tell you exactly what’s going on.
“Obviously, there’s two different ways to handle these scenarios and situations. Sometimes you have specialists tell you to hide stuff — I disagree with that. I think that I know all of you guys (media) or most of you guys and you’ve always been good to me. I’m here to be honest with you and to be frank with you about our situation. Where I’m at, where I stand and what I’ve gone through. I hope that you give me the same respect back and don’t run wild with this or speculate or necessarily not believe me on anything because I’m here for you guys, not for me. I’m here to be completely honest with you.
“Anyway, to start off and just give you a brief synopsis of what’s happened. Most of you already know and we’ve put some press releases out. Before Dover, I was in Washington, D.C. visiting a friend and going to visit with a senator at the Capitol and then going to the Walter Reed Hospital and visit with the troops, just to go see the troops before the race and spend some time with those guys that we appreciate so much what they do so we can be out here and do what we do. Unfortunately, I ended up in the wrong hospital. I ended up in Washington Hospital Center rather than Walter Reed visiting. I had chest pains at night and had a hard time breathing. I woke up and being young and 26, I thought I was invincible so I just went back to sleep, brushed it off. The next day I was walking around the Capitol visiting the Washington Monument and having lunch with a friend, Lincoln Memorial, so on and so forth. Started to get a little worse. I called two doctors back here (Charlotte, N.C.) and one of them you already know and the other one I’m going to leave out of it unless he tells me otherwise. Dr. (Jerry) Petty and he convinced me to go to the emergency room. I asked him if he knew a doctor in town, told him the symptoms and I thought it was overkill. He said, ‘Just go to the emergency room, do this for me, get a CT scan.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ so I went. When they laid me down, which was where I was having the most problems and the most pains and I will let Dr. (Steven) Limentani explain why that is, I don’t really know.
“Going through the CT scans I had some more problems, they took me out, found the blood clots in both lungs, my left leg and immediately started me on Lovenox, Heparin, I believe it is, and Coumadin. The Lovenox is the bridge until the Coumadin kicks in, which takes some time. Then again, I will let him explain all the details of that. Pretty standard procedure, standard stuff. I was at the Washington Hospital Center and they took great care of me. I was released Friday, I believe it was, and was released to fly so I flew home. Saturday I was relaxing and just taking it easy. I had some more pains Saturday night and went to the hospital to see Dr. Limentani, which we were going to do on Monday, but we sped that up a little bit and visited the emergency room at CMC (Carolinas Medical Center) on Sunday, I believe it was, and got readmitted because I was still having some pains and then they released me fine on Monday. I’ve been good ever since. No more pains. No issues. We don’t have all the answers. We’ll tell you the answers that we do have, we’re not going to speculate. We’ve had some tests come back, we have not had all of the tests come back. There’s still a lot of questions that we don’t have answered, when we know the answers we will give them to you.
“The announcement that I have to make right now is that Dr. Limentani and myself and the people that we work through for him have decided that due to what’s happened and due to the blood thinners that I’m on that I will be out of the car for a minimum of six months, for the rest of the year. If something changes and I can get in sooner then great. Right now, it’s going to be the remainder of the season. As you can imagine, that is killing me. No pun intended. I really miss being back in the car. It was really hard last Sunday to watch the race on TV and not be in the car. It was funny, I was laying in the hospital with all these things going on and instead of probably asking the right questions, all I kept asking was, ‘Can I race this weekend?’ They were trying to be nice and saying, ‘We’ll talk about it, but probably not.’ As reality set in, I realized that this was probably going to be a much longer process than normal.
“That being said, as disappointing as this is, it’s an opportunity that I’m going to use to make the most of life and try to make it a positive, learn something from it. I’m going to spend some time with the race team, learning some different roles. Spending some time on the pit box, trying to understand more of what they go through, what they do. Spend some time on the spotter stand with Chris (Lambert). I want to thank Casey Mears and thank the whole team for stepping up to the plate. Casey for getting in as a friend, fellow driver and doing a great job. Scott (Speed) and the other team, the 82 and everyone involved. What they’ve done, they’ve been very supportive through this whole transition process.
“I’m not going to be coming to every single race. I’m going to take some time off, doctor’s orders. I’m going to do some stuff, quite frankly, that I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t been able to do my whole life, my career and some things that I hope to not be able to do for many, many more years, maybe 15 years to come when I get back on the race track. Maybe go to the Red Bull Air Race in New York that I was pretty bummed about missing. I may go to an F1 race with the Red Bull team as well so I’m excited about that. That’s pretty much it. I do expect to be back in the car next season and to win the Daytona 500.”
Will this limit your physical activity in general?
“I plan on being in the best shape that I’ve ever been in at the end of this six months. Basically everything just kind of increases in risk, whether it’s race car driving or doing the things I love. So basically, I can’t do most of the things I love because most of the things I love are pretty crazy. Like skydiving, driving race cars, snowboarding, skiing, wakeboarding — I could go on down the list, motorcycles. Anytime you are on blood thinners, you run a risk of bleeding, internally or externally. That’s basically my limiting factor. As far as exercise, training, diet or any of that is concerned, all of that will be normal and I plan on being in the best shape that I’ve every been in starting the Daytona 500.”
Do you have any idea of what caused this condition?
“We really don’t know yet. Just like the doctor said, we’re not going to speculate. Anything is possible, anything could have been it, anything could have happened. It could have been any number of activities that I partake in, traveling, air travel … there are a lot of things that can cause it. We don’t know the answer yet. When we find the answer, we’ll let you know and we may not ever find the answer.”
How was the decision made for you to stay out of the race car for six months?
“To start with, when I was in Washington and when all of this went down and I was working with the doctors there and I was speaking with the doctors in Charlotte that would be my long-term doctors, at first I thought that I could be on a blood thinner and race. Then that pretty much turned and the reality set in that was not possible. Then the question was how long was I going to be on blood thinners and I can actually race and be on blood thinners, I just can’t crash. I told them that if I promised not to crash, would they let me race. The answer was no. That was kind of the series of events. I’ll let (Limentani) explain how long, why and why it is as long as it is. From what I’ve learned, you’re typically looking at a three- to six-month window to clear this up. As far as being on it the rest of my life, there again, we can’t speculate, but that’s not what we’re looking at right now. In my situation, let’s just say the minimum is three months and then the recommended is six months. For me to come back with eight races left in the year and then to run a risk of this happening again just to cut it short at three months, I don’t think the reward really out-weighs the risk. We’re going to go the full stay here and be committed to resolving this issue for the rest of my life and it never being an issue again and focus on 2011 and winning races and championships.”
What was it like hearing that you would have to sit out the rest of the season?
“It sucks. This is what I love to do. I was laying in the hospital and I probably wasn’t asking the right questions. Instead of asking, ‘Am I going to live?’ I was asking, ‘Can I race this weekend?’ That tells you kind of how I feel about racing. This is my life, this is what I love to do and I fully intend on doing it again. Being more focused and driven to do it better than I’ve ever done it before.”
Do you feel lucky that you caught this before it could get worse?
“When all you can think about is getting back in a race car, it’s sometimes hard to see the silver lining. All my friends and family have constantly reminded me that, ‘At least you’re still with us.’ This could have been a lot worse. I don’t think that I was on the verge of that, but it could have very easily turned into that. Yeah, I’m lucky. I’m very fortunate that it happened the way it happened, I caught it, I went to the hospital and I have amazing doctors that are helping me get through this. I’m lucky and I’m very fortunate. Thank god I’m still here.”
How did the decision come about to put Casey Mears in the car?
“As far as Casey Mears is concerned, when all this went down, there were a couple reasons I thought of Casey. First and foremost, I’ve raced with Casey for a long time and I have a lot of respect for his ability and his talent. I think race car drivers know other drivers better than anyone else. We race with them week in and week out and we know they’re ability, their talents, their tendencies and my focus was the race team. Red Bull has done a lot for me and I want to make sure this team has the best opportunity they can to succeed without me being in the car. There’s also selfish tendencies as well. I want to make sure the car is good in the points when I came back. I thought of Casey. Second, he’s a friend of mine, I’m very close to Casey. A series of unfortunate events has caught him out of a ride right now. Through different scenarios, we all know we’ve gone through an economic crisis around the world and in this country the last couple years and unfortunately it caught him at just the wrong time and he lost sponsors and he was out of a good ride. They were running really well.
“Everything kind of came together at the right time or the wrong time if you want to look at it that way. It worked out great for us, for Red Bull and also for Casey. That was my viewpoint and my side of it. It’s not my decision to make, that was my recommendation. The first call I made that night after my parents was Jay to vent, to get advice because I have a lot of respect for him on the whole scenario, but also to make sure that the team had the utmost opportunity to prepare and be the best they can for Dover and for the rest of the year.”
What are you feelings about being out of the car?
“I’m feeling two emotions. One, I want nothing more to be back in the race car. But at the same time, it’s not my personality to focus on the negative. It’s just not who I am, not who I’ve ever been. I’m going to make the most out of this and it’s the cards I’ve been dealt and I can’t change that right now. I’m gonna take every opportunity I can to be positive through this, to deal with it, to learn more, to be better when I get back in the race car. Whether it be spending time in different areas and different facets of the team or racing in general, learning more about it. And quite frankly, take some time off and enjoy it.
“We have a very long season. We have a long sport and I plan on being in it for a long time to come. So, I don’t see many more breaks coming in the future, so I’m going to take advantage of this one. That doesn’t mean I’m not focused, that doesn’t mean I’m not determined to get back in the car if I’m not at a race track one weekend. Maybe it’s because the doctor told me to rest, I’ve been pushing it too much. Or quite frankly, maybe it’s because I just want to take a week off. That doesn’t mean that my resolve to win a championship in this sport is not stronger than it’s ever been.”
Where did the pain come from?
“My pain didn’t happen all at once, it was over a series of a couple days. When you’re in the hospital, everything is on a 1-to-10 scale, so I’ve been using that lately. It started out as a six, and then at night it would go to an eight and then a three during the day. Just my left side. My left lung — it felt like I broke ribs. Shortness of breath. And then Tuesday night, it was a 10 for about 30 minutes. I woke up in the middle of the night. Out of a 100 percent lung capacity, I could probably take five percent breaths. It was probably the most excruciating pain I’ve ever had. And I just couldn’t breathe. And yes, I was stupid and I went back to sleep. That’s all I wanted to do was go back to sleep and I didn’t want to go to the doctor because they were going to take me out of the car. So, I went back to sleep after about 30 minutes. Finally got to sleep, and the next day I felt better. I got up, every time I stood up I felt better, the pain went down to a three. I could take 60-, 70-percent breaths. So, I figured, ‘Ah, this is going away.’ Then I realized it wasn’t.”
What has it meant to have the support of the drivers?
“The drivers have been so supportive. And I think that means a lot when you have the thoughts, prayers, appreciation, respect of your peers. No different than I’m sure that all of you would feel the same way. Your peers, they’d understand you more so than anyone else. They know what you go through. They see what you do. That means a lot. The drivers have been incredible. The texts, the calls. All the ones that I’m friends with, obviously I speak to on a regular basis — Jeff (Gordon), Jimmie (Johnson), Casey. But a lot of the guys that I am friends with, but more acquaintances. And even guys, we didn’t even have each other’s cell phones, have reached out. And the things they’ve said in the media have been great. It means the world to me.”
Jay Frye, vice president and general manager, Red Bull Racing Team:
Will Casey Mears be in the car for the rest of the season?
“Still to be determined, but he’s doing a great job. He did a great job last week in Dover, so we don’t anticipate any change. With the road courses coming up, maybe we do something different there, but we’re very comfortable with Casey. Like Brian said, he’s a friend. He’s doing a great job and we don’t anticipate a change.”
Steven A. Limentani, MD, Carolinas Hematology-Oncology Associates, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Associate Medical Director, Blumenthal Cancer Center:
Is it advisable for Brian Vickers to get into a race car while he is on Coumadin?
“It is not advisable for him to race while he is on blood thinners.”
How will this affect Brian Vickers’ ability to exercise?
“For patients with deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, exercise is good. The most common scenario where people develop that problem is inactivity. So conversely, activity, be it just moving around or vigorous exercise is good. The limitation and there are a lot of ways that you can describe it, but if you have to wear a helmet to do it, it’s probably not okay.”
Do you know how or why this developed?
“The work up for this type of problem is elaborate, lengthy and involved. We have just started that work up and laboratory tests are simply not back. It will take a number of weeks before we have definitive data to try to reach conclusions, if we are able to. Sometimes the absence of data is the conclusion.”
How rare is this condition in a 26-year-old?
“I’ve never known quite how to define rare. When I worked in Boston, I filled a clinic one afternoon a week just like Brian. It’s not a rarity that a doctor will go, ‘Oh my god, a 26-year-old with a clot.’ It’s not common. Commonly this happens in people in people above the age of 40 or 45. Usually it happens with a clear cause, surgery, or things like that.”
Why will Brian Vickers need to be out for six months versus three months?
“The data on three versus six months is very clear and in a setting like his, the risk of recurrent problems is significantly lower with six months rather than three months and that’s the reason for recommending that. Other decisions about duration of anticoagulation beyond six months again would be speculating because we don’t have all the data.”
What is the source of the pain?
“The pain is caused because a blood clot that was in a large vessel in the leg breaks off and it gets stuck in a pulmonary vessel that prevents it from going any further. So how far out it goes in the pulmonary vessels depends on the size of the clot. When that happens and blood supply is damaged, there’s a very small area of the lung that dies. We call it ‘infarcted.’ And that causes pain. So that’s the mechanism of pain and patients who describe it, it’s like getting punched in the ribs. And every time you take a deep breath, it gets worse. It’s impossible to speculate on when it would have become a major problem. The reality is that people who don’t get treated for pulmonary embolus don’t have a good outcome. How long would that have been? Absolutely impossible to speculate.”
How will his lung capacity be?
“I personally reviewed his scans, and although they were on both sides of the lungs, they were relatively small. So, I expect that his lung capacity will be fine.”
Do you know how the clot originated?
“Deep venous thrombosis does not specify where the clot was. It could be in the arm or it could be in the leg. Brian has had a deep venous thrombosis in the leg, which is a standard place for it to happen and some of that breaks out — and this is a typical situation — and it goes to the long. It’s a pulmonary embolus.”