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Ironman heart transplant recipient, renowned sports cardiologist duo to kick off Moritz Speaker Series

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Media Contact: Lekan Oguntoyinbo, Office: 817‑272‑2292, Cell: 313-719-0464, olalekan.oguntoyinbo@uta.edu

News Topics: Arlington, faculty, global, health and fitness, lectures, medicine, nursing, research

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For most of his adult life, Elmar Sprink was a competitive triathlete, running, cycling and swimming in meets across his native Germany and around the world.

Sprink competing in the 2014 Ironman 70.3 in Mallorca, Spain.

But a 2010 diagnosis of an enlarged heart interrupted his passion for exercise. He underwent heart transplant surgery two years later and began a difficult recovery. Yet within a year, he was snowboarding, running 10ks and participating in spring triathlons once more.

“After the transplant, I had problems sitting down or getting up without using my hands to steady myself,” Sprink recalled. “But with exercise, I was able to overcome that problem in a few weeks.

“Exercise helped me in many ways. My cholesterol got better through nutrition and exercise, and my blood pressure is perfect.”

Sprink, 44, will share his experience as one of two featured speakers at The University of Texas at Arlington’s Inaugural Moritz Speaker Series from 4 to 6 p.m. on April 12 at the Maverick Activities Center’s Lone Star Auditorium, 500 W. Nedderman Drive. Parking is available nearby in Lot 33. A campus map is available at www.uta.edu/maps.

The event is open to the public and also features internationally renowned sports cardiologist Dr. André La Gerche, of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. LaGerche works closely with many of Australia’s leading elite endurance athletes.

The series supported in part by a generous gift from the Moritz family to UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. The gift established the College’s first endowed faculty chair, currently held by Mark Haykowsky, an internationally renowned researcher in exercise physiology and rehabilitation medicine who joined the College last fall.

“Public lectures such as the Moritz Speaker Series demonstrate the relevance of what we do in the academy,” said Anne Bavier, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “Bringing this caliber of speakers to our campus is a great way to kick off the Mortiz Speaker Series. This is a big part of the reason for our existence: to educate, enlighten and transform the minds of not only our students but the communities we serve.”

LaGerche is credited with developing a novel cardiac MRI test that can examine the left and right ventricular, which are the main pumping chambers of the heart, function of athletes and cardiac patients while they are performing maximal cycle exercise.

Mark Haykowsky, professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and Moritz Chair of Geriatric Nursing and Research at UTA.

Like Sprink, LaGerche is an elite runner and veteran of numerous marathons, including the Boston marathon.

“He’ll be leaving UTA to run the Boston Marathon,” Haykowsky said.

And a couple of days before the Moritz series, Sprink will compete in the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas in Galveston. That contest includes a 1.2-mile swim, a half-marathon and a 56-mile bike ride.

Haykowsky, who has worked with heart transplant patients for two decades, calls Sprink the fittest heart transplant patient in the world and said he has posted better times in competitions than people without transplants.

“Exercise improves your heart, blood vessels, lungs and heart function. It’s like the best medicine that’s never been bottled,” Haykowsky said. “It’s never too late to exercise and reap the benefits from exercise even after you’ve had a heart transplant.”

The Moritz Speakers Series is just one of many activities the College of Nursing and Health Innovation has introduced in recent months to educate the community about health and wellness. Improving health and the human condition is one of the four core themes of UTA’s Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

Sprink said his experience has a heart transplant patient has taught him about the importance of goal setting and reinforced the importance of exercise, two messages he plans to share in his talk.

“Setting goals in life is very important. Goal-setting helped me get back to having a normal life again,” he said. “I had a lot of problems with my upper chest as a result of the surgery. The doctors said I should take painkillers, but I didn’t. Instead, I exercised by walking and carrying things when I went shopping. I never drove or rode in a car. I always rode my bike or walked.”

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie “highest research activity” institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.