According to a 2008 Seattle Times article, Ken Muscatel, PhD, 57 at the time, was the oldest driver on the international hydroplane circuit. He told the Times reporter that even though he hadn't won a race since starting in 1991, he stayed at it because "I like it and I can." In addition to racing, Ken was also putting in long hours as a consulting neuropsychologist, work he is still doing.
Ken had always been in good health, but around 1999 he began experiencing an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation. He was seen at Virginia Mason and has been a cardiac care patient ever since because, says Ken, "the Virginia Mason doctors understood from the beginning how important it was to me to stay active."
“If it hadn't worked, I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life.”
Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a disruption of the electrical signals that regulate the heartbeat. The condition causes mental and physical fatigue. If left untreated, it can be a contributing factor in the development of strokes and heart attacks.
Ken underwent a cardiac ablation in which a catheter is inserted through a vein in the groin and threaded to the heart to correct structural problems that may be causing the heart to beat irregularly. "Cardio version" was also used several times to address the AFib. Cardio version uses electrical impulses to shock the heart back into rhythm while the patient is under general anesthesia.
With careful monitoring and treatment by his Virginia Mason cardiologists, Ken continued racing until 2011. In November of that year, he went to Qatar to race but decided not to drive because he wasn't feeling well. Around this time, Ken was also losing weight. On Christmas Eve, he was admitted to the hospital with endocarditis, an infection of the inside lining of the heart chambers and valves.
After a week in the hospital and treatment with antibiotics, Ken underwent open heart surgery. "It was risky because I had been so sick," remembers Ken. After only a few post-op days in the hospital, however, Ken was well enough to go home. A week and a half after the surgery, he returned to work part-time and three weeks later was back working full-time.
Then on Halloween 2012, Ken found himself back at Virginia Mason with what he thought was the flu. It turned out Ken was experiencing the effects of a dissected descending aorta. Because of restricted blood flow, Ken's kidneys were also failing. His vascular physician, in consultation with a kidney specialist, devised a plan to not only correct Ken's dissected aorta, but also to get his kidneys functioning again. "If it hadn't worked," notes Ken, “I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life."
Today, Ken still enjoys hydroplane racing ... from the sidelines.