By MELISSA WARD AGUILAR, STAFF WRITER
Updated 11:33 a.m., Wednesday, August 31, 2011
It takes grit to finish a marathon. Alaina Dixon has plenty of it.
She endured the 26.2 miles, plus two open-heart surgeries, to get her Houston Marathon finisher’s medal.
Four hours and 13 minutes into the January race, Dixon suffered a seizure just 25 yards from the finish line. Although she was in top physical shape, a rare abnormality caused her heart to stop beating. A medical team rushed her off the course, and she was taken to St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital by Life Flight. She was hospitalized for three weeks and has since had multiple surgeries.
You would never know that, looking at her now. She looks healthy and fit, and she is back on the track.
“I’m running 3 to 4 miles – slow,” she said.
On Tuesday evening at Memorial Park, in front of her running buddies and TV cameras, Dixon ran those last 25 yards. Her husband, Justin, presented her with a medal and a kiss, to the cheers of her teammates.
Runners High founder and coach Gary Mulvihill organized the event.
When Dixon went into cardiac arrest, race officials notified Mulvihill that one of his team members was hospitalized. Mulvihill frantically searched for her husband, who also was running the marathon, to give him the news.
At St. Luke’s, doctors used hypothermia treatment to lower her body temperature and prevent brain damage. They brought her temperature up slowly. Dixon was diagnosed with a congenital coronary anomaly; the left main artery pumping blood to her heart was on the wrong side. “They unplugged it and moved it to where it should be,” she said.
Dixon, 27, doesn’t recall much about the race. “I just remember feeling light-headed,” she said. But she kept on pushing to the finish line.
“I have rarely seen so much drive and intensity in a runner,” Runners High coach Grady Harrison said. “We are so happy to see her running again. And Justin has been a great caretaker.”
Harrison and Mulvihill visited Dixon in the hospital.
“The first thing she asked Justin was, ‘Did I beat you?’?” Harrison said. “And she did. She flashed the biggest smile.”
Dixon says she hasn’t fully recovered. Friday, she goes back to the hospital for another surgery, Justin Dixon said. But they are optimistic; she has signed up to run the half-marathon in January. Her husband is happy to drop back to half-marathon, too.
“I’m not complaining,” he said.