Asthma patient Grote goes for the Gold
Most people wouldn't say a disease like asthma could be a positive thing for an afflicted person. However, Kurt Grote would strongly disagree. The Olympic swimmer says overcoming asthma has been a positive force in his life.
"I think having asthma has been an advantage for me," said Grote. "Swimming has made my lung functions stronger. I had a lung capacity of 40-50% when I first began swimming, but now it's close to normal. My body has all this extra oxygen to use."
Diagnosed at the age of two with asthma, coughing and wheezing became the norm for the native of Encinitas, CA. By the time he was 13, Grote began seeing AAAAI member Eli O. Meltzer, M.D., in order to get better treatment and appropriate medications. At the time, Grote was playing recreational soccer, but he usually had to leave the games early because of breathing problems.
"When I first saw Kurt, in 1987, his quality of life was severely compromised," said Dr. Meltzer. "He was wheezing and coughing daily, woke up every night, and missed a substantial amount of school. He was also using excessive doses of his inhaler."
In addition to his asthma, Grote had chronic rhinitis and appeared to have sinusitis, according to Dr. Meltzer. Skin tests revealed that Grote was allergic to dust mites, mold, pollen, and animal dander. A sinus x-ray documented that he had bilateral maxillary sinusitis and after pulmonary function testing, Dr. Meltzer noted that his lung function was abnormal. "His baseline FVC was 54% of predicted, his FEV1 was 44% of predicted, and his FEF2575 was 23% of predicted," he said. "These improved with inhalation of a beta agonist, showing he did have reversible obstruction, which indicated that it was asthma."
Dr. Meltzer prescribed environmental aeroallergen controls, changed his medications over the next several months, and started Grote on immunotherapy. Grote continued to improve over the next couple of years.
Grote started swimming when he was 15 years old, partially on the recommendation of Dr. Meltzer. "Exercised-induced asthma is a problem for Kurt," he said. "Swimming gave Kurt an excellent cardiovascular workout without the loss of airway heat and water that he experienced in running. Because of his work ethic and talent, Kurt excelled at swimming."
In competitive swimming circles, starting a career at age 15 is considered a late start. But Grote quickly gained ground at Stanford University, where he won five NCAA championships: one in 1994 for the 200-yard breaststroke and the other four in 1995 for the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, and the 200- and 400-meter medley relay.
After graduating from Stanford, Grote planned on retiring from swimming. He was accepted into Stanford Medical School and would have started last fall. "After a month out of the water I decided to come back and give the Olympics a shot," said Grote.
Delaying his medical school career for a year, Grote began training for the Olympics. At the Olympic trials last March, Grote won the 200-meter breaststroke and took second place in the 100-meter breaststroke, which qualified him to compete in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke in Atlanta. He will also be competing for a spot on the 400-meter medley relay.
Grote competes on the first day of Olympic competition, July 20, in the 100-meter breaststroke. To prepare himself for competition, Grote says that preceding the event, he will swim a mile and mentally focus on that day's race. To ensure success, he also takes his inhaler before the race, but usually encounters problems only when training at higher altitudes and during the spring allergy season. He is excited but not nervous about the upcoming Olympics. "If you're nervous, you're not ready. I try to prepare myself well enough in advance so I'm not nervous."
Grote will enter Stanford Medical School this fall. He is interested in specializing in pediatrics and allergy. "I want to be able to give back to the little kids the way he (Dr. Meltzer) gave to me," he said. "My experience in life with asthma will help me relate to the children. For me, it's tremendously satisfying to help kids with asthma."
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