Medtronic + A Long Swim = An Unstoppable Team

If it weren’t for Medtronic, there would be no A Long Swim.  A Long Swim uses open water marathon swimming as a vehicle to raise awareness and funds for ALS research.

Doug McConnell, in his preparation to swim the English Channel in 2011, developed a badly herniated disc in his spine, between vertebrae C6 and C7.  Three different orthopedic surgeons recommended spinal fusion, the gold standard solution.  The problem?  The recipient of the spinal fusion faces a very long recovery, loses 10% of their mobility, and faces increased risks of disc disease above and below the original site.  McConnell was concerned that, if he went in the direction of a spinal fusion, he wouldn’t be able to swim the English Channel.

With the help of Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital, McConnell was introduced to what was at the time a new device called a Prestige Disc from Medtronic.  The Prestige disc is a disc replacement, and is designed as a specialty hinge to allow the recipient to regain full mobility.

McConnell was very pleased with the outcome, and acknowledges that his results may not be typical.  He returned home the same day of surgery and began a physical therapy regimen after a few days.  McConnell had been a competitive swimmer through college, and was able to get back to swimming training in six weeks.  Eighteen months later, he was able to conquer the English Channel and become just the 48th person over the age of 50 to have done so.  His wife calls McConnell her “Bionic Boyfriend.”

Medtronic heard about this patient success story, and was enormously supportive.  The Company matched the donations of others up to $50,000 in 2011, and the A Long Swim Team was able to raise an additional $25,000 for a total of $125,000 for ALS research.  The A Long Swim team continued with these marathon swimming challenges by swimming swims of the length of Tampa Bay and the Catalina Channel in California.  In 2014, McConnell swam a loop around Manhattan Island in New York, and Medtronic was there again, this time with $40,000 to help the cause. 

“We have learned in very plain terms that marathon swims can only be accomplished with the right team, working together to achieve a goal.  When we talk about the members of A Long Swim Team, we always include Medtronic.  In addition to being such a grateful recipient of the Prestige disc, our friends at Medtronic have supported our cause in a really grand way,” McConnell says.  “I have had this replacement disc in my neck for more than six years now, and I am completely unaware that it is there.  It lets me focus on my training and our fundraising, which is the element of A Long Swim that is really going to make a difference in people’s lives.”    

The A Long Swim team is now in Hawaii awaiting the start of his next challenge.  Sometime in the next few days, Doug McConnell will be swimming the Ka’iwi Channel, the 27 stretch of open ocean between the islands of Molakai and Oahu.  “I’m in the best shape of my life,” says the 58-year old investment banker and open water swimmer, “And I credit Medtronic and their device that has kept my spine strong.”  

McConnell expects his opportunity to tackle the Ka’iwi Channel to open up after a tropical storm moves through the area.  You can track his swim here, watch live reporting on the A Long Swim Facebook page here, and you can donate to collaborative ALS research through ALongSwim.org here. 

A Long Swim team uses marathon swimming to raise awareness and funding for ALS research.  Doug McConnell was inspired to begin his quest as a result of his father dying from ALS.  Doug often says that his arms and legs work just fine, and he can breath deeply, and he will use those to next swim the Ka’iwi Channel. 

Doug McConnell swimming through giant swells during his English Channel swim.