From undergoing open-heart surgery to completing an Ironman Triathlon

From undergoing open-heart surgery to completing an Ironman Triathlon

Two open-heart surgeries.  

A 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon.  

Chasing a dream of becoming a physician.  

This is a glimpse into the life of Carter Day. He is one of more than 1.4 million adults living with congenital heart disease. 

At seven days old, Carter needed open-heart surgery, which left his first-time parents overwhelmed and terrified. 

“The calm through it all was Carter’s care team, who kept us informed and reassured us he would be okay,” recalls Carter’s mom, Janile. “I still have the paper Dr. Ilbawi drew on to explain to us Carter’s condition and how to repair it.” 

Janile says something that stuck with her through the years was the advice given to her by Carter’s doctors – treat him like a “regular” kid. 

“That exactly what we did,” she says. “He excelled in school, had many friends and played all of the sports, including football, motocross and rugby.” 

At 11 years old, Carter needed a second open-heart surgery to open a narrowed artery. Since then, he’s had annual cardiologist appointments and testing. 

“I was never given physical limitations but was told to listen to my body,” Carter says. And he’s done just that – listened to his body and followed his heart. 

In September 2023, after a grueling year of training, Carter completed the Ironman Madison.  

 “I can’t explain the flood of emotions I had,” he says. “I was so happy to cross that finish line. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. But as soon as I was done, I was hungry for more. I knew if I trained harder and longer, I could do it even faster.” 

To protect his heart, he sees Dr. Ira Shetty, an adult congenital cardiologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. Carter’s Ironman training started by talking to Dr. Shetty. 

“Not everyone is Carter, but many people born with congenital heart disease are more capable than they may realize or have been told in the past,” says Dr. Ira Shetty. “Twenty or 30 years ago, we were apprehensive to let patients do certain things. We realize now that patients can do more than we once thought. We want to empower them to make decisions in the safest way possible. That starts with having those conversations with your congenital heart doctor.”   

Carter has set his sights on completing more Ironman distance triathlons and becoming a physician, two incredibly inspiring goals. 

“I want to show families that a congenital heart defect isn’t a life sentence,” Carter says. “Doctors have told me they don’t know how I’ve been able to do the things I have physically. I just keep showing them they haven’t seen me at my best. This is just the beginning. Keep an eye out. I’m about to push the boundaries further just to prove that my diagnosis doesn’t have control over my life. Just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t mean you can’t be the first.” 

Are you trying to find a pediatrician? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.