BRISTOL, Tenn. — NASCAR driver Brian Vickers said Saturday he had heart surgery last month as part of his treatment for blood clots.
Vickers stopped racing in May when doctors discovered clots in his leg and lungs, and said in his first update in three months that a third clot was found in a finger on his left hand.
Vickers said doctors determined that clot had traveled to his finger through a hole in his heart, and had surgery July 12 to close the passageway. A day later, he had a second procedure to insert a stent into a vein in his left leg.
The 26-year-old Vickers said his choices were to undergo the heart surgery, or "not to close it and run the risk of having a stroke.
"I would rather die than have a stroke," he said at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I don't wan to run the risk of living like a vegetable."
Vickers said doctors determined he suffers from May-Thurner syndrome, a blood clot disorder that increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Still on blood thinners to treat the initial clots, Vickers said doctors believe he'll be off the medication by Jan. 1 and cleared to race again next season. He stepped out of the No. 83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing when the clots were diagnosed following a May 13 emergency trip to the hospital for chest pains.
"What I love to do is race, it's not only my job, it's my passion," he said. "I definitely am missing that need for speed. I missed being in the car, missed going 200 mph and missed banging fenders with the guys I love and hate."
Vickers has not been at the track much since his diagnosis, saying he's chosen to use this medical leave as an opportunity to travel and spend time with friends and family. He's been active riding bikes, swimming and golfing, and believes he's in the best shape of his life and will be ready to go in 2011.
"I have a new appreciation for life," he said. "I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited to race."