Charles Fuenzalida, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist, and his wife, Susan Savage, MD, a hospitalist, have a unique way of spending a week off during the summer. Both physicians from The Medical Center of Aurora (TMCA) spend a week in June, participating in “Ride The Rockies” (RTR) volunteering as riding medics.
RTR is an annual bicycle tour with over 2,000 cyclists participating in the six or seven-day ride through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Daily routes range from 45 to 100 miles, average 65 to 75 miles per day and, this year, cyclists covered 447 miles and ascended over 32,000’ vertical feet.
This is the third year that Drs. Fuenzalida and Savage have participated in RTR as riding medics. Along with 15 to 20 other medics, they ride alongside the cyclists for the entire route. A variety of medical personnel participate as riding medics, including nurses, EMTs and mid-level providers.
“Cycling has always been an important part of our marriage. We spent our honeymoon cycling the western slope of Colorado,” said Dr. Savage. “Seeing Colorado from a bike is the ultimate in travel. Ride The Rockies concentrates on the western slope and the Front Range, choosing different routes every year. Two years ago, we went through Crawford, Colorado where my great grandparents homesteaded their farm and cattle ranch. My great grandfather owned the general store in Crawford, and it still stands on Main Street. We stopped at the cemetery to see where they are buried, with my grandparents and my aunt. It was a very sentimental moment for me.”
As riding medics, Drs. Fuenzalida and Savage have helped countless riders along the RTR journey. “Two years ago, we were riding through the Colorado Monument, which was the first challenge of climbing for the riders,” said Dr. Fuenzalida. “There were riders along the roadside with various issues such as loose pedals, thrown chains and cramps, but all indicated to me that they were ok. Then, I came upon a young man standing with his bicycle who appeared gaunt. He was leaning against the roadside barrier and indicated that he was having chest pain and a rapid heart rate that wouldn’t stop. This prompted a quick check of his pulse, which was regular, and I asked him to lie on the roadside. He had a full pulse and the chest pain had resolved, but he was very sweaty and anxious. A state patrol officer on a motor bike stopped and radioed for an ambulance. We were told an ambulance wasn’t available, as TMCA supports “Wish For Wheels”, a charitable organization that donates bikes to underprivileged grade school children. Pictured: Drs. Fuenzalida and Savage wearing “Wish For Wheels” outfits. it was responding to another accident at the other end of the tunnel, where another rider had been overcome by dizziness, sat down on the road side barrier, and then passed out, falling backwards off a cliff. My patient eventually was picked up by the ambulance and taken to the hospital in Grand Junction. In the ambulance, the ECG revealed symptoms similar to those seen in Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, which is associated with rapid heart rates and sometimes sudden death. The patient was triaged and observed overnight at the hospital and no heart attack was seen. The ironic feature of this story is that the rhythm he had was something I deal with on a regular basis as an electrophysiologist.”
However, not all injuries the couple encounters are quite this intense. Typically, they see dehydration, road rash and broken clavicles from falls, chest pain, and concussion from falls. “We also see sunburns and a plethora of chafed perineums,” said Dr. Fuenzalida.
Dr. Savage’s advice to cyclists participating in RTR is never to pass on the right and always carry lots of Chamois Butter, as seven days in the saddle riding over 450 miles can be tough in some very sensitive areas. Additionally, she suggests riders stay hydrated, eat frequently, use sun block and, “never be too proud to sag.”