Tag Archives: recovery

Ultramarathoner Kaci Lickteig

May 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are runners. There are ultrarunners. And then there’s Kaci Lickteig.

Nicknamed “the Pixie Ninja” by her friends, Lickteig has earned her place among the most competitive ultrarunners in the world. Ultrarunning is the sport of racing distances beyond 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon. Typical distances include 50 kilometers (31.07 miles), 50 miles, and 100 miles. Lickteig has won some of the most grueling races in the sport, including the Western States 100-Miler. For that win, she set the third-fastest time in the race’s 40-plus-year history, 17:57:59.

Her passion for the sport and mental toughness is part gift, part curse. Fatigue won’t slow her; cracked ribs won’t stop her. But in October 2017, she faced an injury that she could not ignore: two stress fractures in her pelvis.

She’s still working toward a full recovery with the help of fellow runner Christy Nielsen. Nielsen is a physical therapist specializing in runners and endurance athletes. Nielsen and Lickteig became friends at the start of Lickteig’s running career. Together, they’re working on returning her to the sport at which she excels.

Lickteig wasn’t a natural with running. Growing up in the small town of Dannebrog, Nebraska, she couldn’t finish her first race in high school without walking. But, training alongside her mom, running became fun. And eventually, it became a lifestyle.

She ran marathons in college, and following graduation in 2012, she ran her first ultramarathon, a 50-kilometer trail run. She won. Her next race was a 100-miler. With encouragement from Nielsen, Lickteig qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathons. Hiring coach Jason Koop in 2014 helped propel her to elite status in ultras. In 2016, UltraRunning Magazine named her the Female Ultrarunner of the Year for winning seven races, beating all runners—male and female—in three of them.

Miguel Ordorica became Lickteig’s running partner around the time she started her ultrarunning. Ordorica recalls a marathon-distance training run with Lickteig nearly five years ago, when she fell and cracked some ribs at mile seven. She kept going, finishing the final 19 miles.

“She’s different from most runners,” he says. “She really doesn’t stop. Most runners stop for bottles of water or to chat.”

That nonstop drive caught up to her in 2017 at the GOATz 50K at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. The signs of an injury were present at the start of the race: pain in her knee and groin, tightness in her back, and soreness in her hip flexors. She popped some Aleve and thought, “It’s only 30 miles.”

Usually 30 miles would be easy for her, but she wasn’t adequately rested. She’d barely allowed herself recovery time from running the Western States 100-mile race in June before she started training again. Her body was exhausted.

She was leading the women runners with a half-mile left in the race when there was a gut-wrenching pop, something she describes as feeling almost like a muscle popping off bone. A physical therapist herself, she had no idea what she did to her body, but she could barely walk.

Two days later, it was confirmed: Lickteig had two stress fractures in her pelvis, along with an assortment of other injuries. Stress fractures, especially in the lower extremities, are common for distance runners, as are knee and Achilles tendon injuries. A stress fracture like hers was rare.

“Tensile fractures are something only 2 percent of [the] population gets,” Nielsen explains. “The combo of her back being tight and her knees being so swollen, something had to give. It was her pelvis.”

She knows first-hand about the pressure athletes put on themselves. Truly trained athletes, she says, have a hard time listening to their bodies and taking a day off. She was that kind of runner, racing competitively for more than two decades and qualifying for three Olympics Trials.

“It only took me 20 years to tell the difference from being over-trained and being tired from a workout,” says Nielsen. “And that knowledge is so worth it when you get it.”

Lickteig’s recovery started with extreme restrictions. She could barely stand to get her foot in a pant leg. She could do no weight-bearing activities for the first four weeks. Then, using crutches, she’d walk three miles with Ordorica. She did upper body workouts, strength training, and stabilizing exercises under Nielsen’s supervision first at OrthoNebraska and then at ATI Physical Therapy. Lickteig also works as a physical therapist at ATI.

On the 89th day of recovery, Nielsen had Lickteig run on an antigravity treadmill for 35 minutes at 65 percent body weight.

“I still was able to run. I cried. I cried at minute 17 because I was able to run,” recalls Lickteig.

Four months after her injury, Lickteig has started training for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in June. With newfound appreciation for the limitations of the human body, she concedes she may run fewer hours each week and add more rest days.

A pelvic fracture or two won’t stop her. The Western States race is Lickteig’s dream race, according to Ordorica: “She wouldn’t miss Western States unless she had a leg fall off.”


The 2018 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run takes place June 23-24 in California (wser.org). For more information about the Omaha physical therapists helping Kaci Lickteig to recover, visit orthonebraska.com and atipt.com.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

from left: Kaci Lickteig and Christy Nielsen

My Battle With Opiates

October 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I’ve had problems with a variety of drugs, but my story hit rock bottom with opiate addiction.

I was always a very straight-and-narrow kid growing up in West Omaha. I obtained my pilot’s license when I was 17, and I was very active in sports and fitness. I graduated with a 4.17 GPA, and maintained a 4.0 in my first year studying at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Toward the end of high school, I did the typical partying with friends: drinking at friends’ houses when their parents were away, maybe smoking a little marijuana. But I never felt I had lost control. My father was a functioning alcoholic, so, you could say I was somewhat predisposed to the disease of addiction. But what did I know?

So-called hard drugs caught me the summer after high school. First came ecstasy pills. I remember the first time I “rolled,” I was in my basement with a couple friends who were more experienced with drugs. “I hope this feeling would never end,” I remember saying. My friend looked at me and just shook her head as if feeling sorry for a little kid. The next day, I felt the worst depression I had ever experienced. It scared me. But, I kept taking the pills, chasing that feeling, only for a slightly less satisfying high as my body acclimated to the drug. After a summer of taking ecstasy two to three times a week, the depression stuck with me. I couldn’t seem to have fun without being high.

As I went into my first year of college, I started trying cocaine and opiates. A lot of my acquaintances—I say acquaintances because none of those people are in my life now that I am sober—were doing things like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and other prescribed narcotics. These prescriptions are relatively easy to get your hands on. There are plenty of other drugs that are synthetic forms of opium and heroin, too.

By my third year of college, I was spending $50-$150 per day to support my habit. Looking back, I don’t know how I could afford it.

Over the next two years my use of opiates grew more and more frequent. At first, I was able to hide my habit from everyone in my life. I can’t even remember how many times I was high in class or in the library working on homework. At the time, I felt in control. When I look back, I realize I was developing quite a few character defects: lying, manipulation, cheating, and stealing. Eventually it got to the point where I wouldn’t even do schoolwork without some sort of drug to aid me.

By my third year of college, I was spending $50­-$150 per day to support my habit. Looking back, I don’t know how I could afford it. I had a good job and minimal bills. I knew when the people I got my drugs from had a prescriptions refilled better than they did. I always figured out a way. Because without the opiates, I felt restless; I couldn’t sleep; I was simply miserable. It got to a point where I needed help. I couldn’t keep going on like that. After checking into a methadone clinic, I soon admitted to my mom and sister how bad I had gotten.

The methadone clinic was another horrible experience for me in the end. The $13 per day I spent bought me another opiate—meant to wean me off of my addiction to pills—that got me arguably higher than those prescription opiates I had been taking. Because of the high dosage, I was nodding off throughout the day. So, I made a decision to quit cold turkey. Relapse followed with a new sort of high, and a new low.

I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I was so restless I wanted to cut my legs off. I couldn’t sit still, I was tired, irritable, depressed, etc.

 After about two weeks, I shot up the pills for the first time. I remember it very clearly: I just gave in. I didn’t like life without drugs anymore. I told myself being sober wasn’t worth it. I was in the back seat of my friend’s car. We were with someone who used an IV, and she handed me my own syringe. She told me it was mine. I actually thought to myself. “What a kind gesture of her to give me my very own syringe.” Of course I had no idea how to cook down the pill we had to a point where we could shoot it up. But I paid close attention when she did it for me, tied me off, and injected it into my vein. My heart was racing. I fell in love.

It didn’t take long for me to become an expert. I had a box of 100 syringes under my bed along with all the cleaning supplies necessary to do it “responsibly.” Within about two months, my arms were beaten black and blue, I had lost about 20 pounds, and I was constantly feeling horrible. The only time I felt normal was when I was high. It was getting harder to find pills, though. There were days where I would skip class, drive around for eight or more hours with people I didn’t know just to get one pill or a few hits of incredibly overpriced heroin. Then again, there were times when it was easy to find, but never when I was dope-sick and desperate. It was a miserable lifestyle, a nightmare. One time I even drove to Denver and spent three days there just to get cheaper heroin. Aside from visiting the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, I didn’t do anything other than shoot up heroin the entire time I was there by myself.

When I started the IV drugs I spiraled out of control really quickly. I went to a different clinic to get on Suboxone, a newer drug for opiate addiction. It made it so I couldn’t get high on opiates and so I wouldn’t have withdrawals. At first, I even shot that up just to feel a little high. I hated not being able to feel happy or excited. I was on Suboxone for two years. During that time, I converted my opiate addiction into an IV cocaine addiction with a side of alcoholism. Thankfully, I was able to stop taking Suboxone, but it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I was so restless I wanted to cut my legs off. I couldn’t sit still, I was tired, irritable, depressed, etc. I went into a drinking binge, not leaving my apartment for days at one point. I almost wished I had never got on Suboxone in the first place, but it served one purpose: It got me away from all my opiate connections.

The story of my addiction is not glamorous. In fact, there is a lot that I don’t remember too clearly. There is a lot that I’d rather forget. Addiction is not an easy thing to put on a timeline (which they asked me to do during both of my treatment center stays). Addicts don’t exactly have a structured lifestyle. It’s a roller coaster, complicated, and devastating. It’s taken me three years of trying to get to the point I am at with my sobriety.

battlewithopiates1Every day the disease of addiction whispers in my ear, rationalizing and scheming ways in which I could get high or drunk. Isolation is what it wants, so my defense is fellowship. The character defects that fed my addiction are still with me— I am an egomaniac with low self-esteem who copes by trying to control the world around me—but I work every day to address these problems. I’ve destroyed and rebuilt relationships with my family and friends. I have squashed my loved ones’ hopes over and over again, yet my family still stands behind me. Their support is what sustains my recovery. They know that I could relapse, that my fight is not over.

Sam requested omission of his last name at the advice of his Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. He participates regularly in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Visit omahaaa.org for more information.

For more information about how Omaha fits into the nationwide opiate abuse epidemic, read: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/10/dying-for-opiates-in-omaha/ 

Heather Kirk

December 4, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Alcohol addiction can seem like the Mount Everest of personal hurdles to overcome, something Heather Kirk knows well. The director of Santa Monica House, a halfway house for women in the Omaha area, describes the challenges and rewards of running a care facility based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. She’s been affiliated with the organization for over a decade.

“Society has a stigma against addicts, especially women,” Kirk says. “What we do here matters. No woman is a waste of time.” She says the program gives those going through it the tools to overcome addiction. In addition to the Twelve Steps, Santa Monica House focuses on cognitive thinking to help residents make better choices. “We empower them not to be a victim. You are responsible to make a choice in your life.”

Kirk first worked at Santa Monica House in 2004 as an administrative assistant for three years. She left to work at the post office, but remained on the board of directors at Santa Monica. After working 12-hour days, six days a week at the post office, she wanted a better balance in her life, and she missed helping others. She eventually returned to a caregiver role as program coordinator of Iowa Family Works, a Heartland Family Services residential treatment facility for women and children.

Kirk stayed connected to Santa Monica by doing service work for the organization and joining its board of directors in 2008. She finally took up the position of executive director for Santa Monica House in May of 2011, all while continuing with her own education. She received her master’s in public administration last January.

“There’s a high burn-out rate among caregivers because they often neglect their own needs,” she says. “Self-care is very important.” She keeps busy with her family. She has two teenage boys who are 18 and 19. She also enjoys sand volleyball, bowling, and going to concerts. “I’m a fan of Rob Zombie,” she admits with a chuckle.

Her profession is a calling. “I’m a spiritual person. I believe there’s a plan. It’s not always my plan,” Kirk says solemnly. Since taking over as director at Santa Monica House, she has tried to set attainable goals to better the organization. Her ultimate goal is to grow and serve more women. “There are growing pains. It’s not everything it could be yet, but I work every day to get there.” There is the constant worry of funding and getting referrals. She has to work tirelessly communicating with the public.

Santa Monica House has been in operation for 40 years and has served over 2,400 women. The national success rate for people entering treatment programs is 47 percent. Kirk says Santa Monica House has a higher success rate than that, but it’s hard to quantify success. The fact that the home is gender-specific sets it apart from other organizations. “Many women are dealing with other issues, such as codependency and sex addiction,” Kirk explains. “Not having men in the program really helps them to go through the program without additional hurdles.”

She describes the typical state of the women entering treatment: broken, beat down, no other support, and no hope. Some of them are third-generation self-medicators. Still, Kirk says that these women have more when they leave than when they first walk through the door. Even if they stumble on the road to sobriety, all is not lost. “We give them the skills they need,” she says, “but more importantly, we give them their hope back.”

 

For more information on Sant Monica House, call 402-558-7088 or visit santamonicahouse.org.

Surviving Heart Disease

January 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a young woman of just 38 years old, Dionne Whitfield didn’t fit the typical description of a heart disease patient. But there she was, standing in front of the cardiologist, still tired and breathless after undergoing a treadmill test, trying to grasp the news that she had three major blockages.

She didn’t hear much after that. All she could think about was that she didn’t want to become a mere statistic. That she still wanted to have a family and live to see her potential children grow up. What was going to happen to her, she thought.

One week later, in August of 2012, Whitfield was back in the hospital undergoing triple bypass surgery. Today, Whitfield is doing great, and with age on her side, she is determined to take control of her health and her life again.

Looking back, she knows now that her unhealthy lifestyle habits were bound to catch up with her eventually. At 352 pounds, she ate whatever she wanted, often grabbing fast food along the way. She rarely exercised, and she had settled for the fact that she was overweight and nothing was going to change that. She was also African-American, a population that tends to have greater prevalence of risk factors for heart disease than Caucasian women.

“This has been a big eye-opening experience for me, and I don’t want to go back.” – Dionne Whitfield, heart disease patient

Whitfield’s attitude about her weight and health has done an about-face since then. Her attitude actually started to change with several warning signs shortly before the news of her blockages. In early January of last year, she learned that she was borderline diabetic. Concerned, Whitfield began attending group exercise classes and the pounds began to fall off. Motivated by her success, she began to make exercise a priority.

Then came her second warning. In July, she started becoming so short of breath that she could barely make the short walk from her office to the car. When things didn’t get better, she consulted with her doctor, who referred her to cardiologist Edmund Fiksinkski, M.D., at Nebraska Methodist Hospital, who performed the cardiac testing in which the blockages were found.

Whitfield’s surgery was performed by John Batter, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon at Nebraska Methodist Hospital. After surgery, she underwent six weeks of supervised cardiac rehabilitation. Whitfield exercises on her own now but is still considered in a recovery phase for the next year and follows a moderate exercise program while her arteries heal.

“Dionne has done great,” says Susana Harrington, a nurse practitioner at Nebraska Methodist Hospital, who worked with Dionne throughout her recovery. “She really owned it and became more determined than ever to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

“This has been a big eye-opening experience for me, and I don’t want to go back,” says Whitfield. She continues to work out regularly, watches what she eats, and even reads labels now before putting food in her grocery basket.

She has also lost more than 72 pounds and is determined to double that. “I feel so much better now,” says Whitfield. “I’m not breathless now, and exercising is getting easier.”

 “She really owned it and became more determined than ever to lead a healthy lifestyle.” – Susana Harrington, nurse practitioner at Nebraska Methodist Hospital

What women need to learn from this is that the development of cardiovascular disease is a lifelong process and that prevention is a lifelong effort, says Amy Arouni, M.D., cardiologist at Alegent Creighton Health. Controlling your risk factors very early in life can help prevent the development of heart disease later. This includes quitting smoking if you smoke, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a diet low in saturated fats with lots of fruits and vegetables, and watching your blood pressure and cholesterol. In fact, women can lower their heart disease risk by as much as 82 percent just by leading a healthy lifestyle, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Prevention is important because heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all women, claiming the lives of approximately a half million women each year.

The main difference between men and women is that women are more likely to develop heart disease in their 60s and 70s, about 10 years later in life than men.

That’s because after menopause, risk factors tend to rise in women, especially blood pressure and cholesterol levels and rates of obesity, says Eugenia Raichlin, M.D., cardiologist at The Nebraska Medical Center. Other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and family history also raise a woman’s risk.

“The longer you wait, the greater the potential to suffer significant damage to the heart.” – Amy Arouni, M.D., cardiologist at Alegent Creighton Health

The consequences of heart disease also tend to be more severe in women. For instance, “a greater number of women die of sudden cardiac death before their arrival at a hospital (52 percent) compared to 42 percent of men,” says Dr. Raichlin. “Women often require more hospitalizations compared to men, have lower ratings of general well-being, and limitations in their abilities to perform activities of daily living. As a result, heart disease in women presents a unique and difficult challenge for physicians.”

In addition to prevention, women should also be aware of the symptoms of heart disease and the subtle changes in their bodies, says Dr. Arouni. “Unlike men, women’s symptoms tend to be more vague and atypical and may include mild neck, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; sweating; lightheadedness or dizziness; extreme fatigue and/or a jaw ache that travels down the neck,” she says. “Because the symptoms tend to be vague, oftentimes, women will stay at home and ride it out.”

This is one of the key areas where women go wrong. “Getting help quickly is critical,” says Dr. Arouni. “The longer you wait, the greater the potential to suffer significant damage to the heart.”

While the development of heart disease in a woman’s 30s is less common, it does happen, especially when other risk factors are involved such as family history, obesity, or diabetes.

Whitfield feels fortunate that she and her doctors took her symptoms seriously and that she sought help early on. Now, she hopes she can help other women avoid the same fate by taking control of their health at a young age. “I feel very grateful to my family and friends and to the doctors and nurses that helped me get through this,” she says. “When you’re young, you don’t think anything can happen to you, but now I know differently. I don’t take my health for granted anymore.”