Russell Kesley, 47, collapsed on holiday in Cornwall two years ago due to soaring adrenalin levels in his body
An avid cyclist was mistaken for a drunken tourist after a rare condition caused adrenalin levels in his body to soar so high it almost killed him.
Russell Kesley, 47, from East Dulwich, south east London, collapsed on holiday in Cornwall in front of his daughter.
Paramedics assumed he had just had too much to drink, before rushing him to hospital when noting his sky high blood pressure.
Doctors diagnosed the physiotherapist with a pheochromocytoma, a rare, usually benign tumour that develops in an adrenal gland and causes a spike in adrenalin.
He had, unknowingly, been experiencing ‘hyper’ symptoms from the two-inch mass for about 10 years, before he realised anything was wrong.
For years, he was so full of adrenalin, he struggled to make decisions and the constant high meant he was surviving on just two to three hours sleep each night.
Mr Kesley, who is now trying to raise awareness about the condition following his near-death experience in 2015, said: ‘I spent years with this condition controlling my life and ruining my relationships, but I had no idea what was happening.
‘I’m so lucky it was caught when it was, because a lot of people suffer a heart attack or a stroke with this condition. If I hadn’t been so fit, it would have killed me.
‘I had no idea this was happening. The symptoms are so insidious that you don’t know you are having them. Every day decisions about your life start being affected.
‘The best way I can describe it is being like having a near miss in the car, when you get a wave of relief rushing over you.
‘I would have that all the time. You are on a constant high and whenever you get faced with a difficult situation, it is hard to think straight.
‘It made my relationships break down. I was making bad decisions, because of all the adrenalin in my body. When I look back, in hindsight, I can see that.’
Soaring heart rate
Before his initial diagnosis, he had collapsed several times with a soaring heart rate and was admitted to hospital.
But no doctor had ever connected his ‘hyper’ behaviour with the collapse, and said his racing heart was most likely due to him hitting his head.
The avid cyclist was diagnosed with a pheochromocytoma, a rare, usually benign tumour that develops in an adrenal gland
Mr Kesley’s condition came to a head while on the trip to St Ives, Cornwall, to spend time with his daughter in July 2015.
After returning to the campsite, he was still being sick. An ambulance was called when he was unable to sleep it off.
But initially, paramedics thought he was a drunk tourist or that he had food poisoning, he said.
I’m so lucky it was caught when it was, because a lot of people suffer a heart attack or a stroke with this condition Russell Kesley, 47
As they were about to leave, a female first aider’s face went white when they took Mr Kesley’s blood pressure.
His resting heart rate was 160, and blood pressure was 250/120 – instead of the 140/80 it should have been.
‘Most people would pop’
Mr Kesley said: ‘Under normal circumstances, most people would go pop. I knew it wasn’t good.’
Rushed to Royal Cornwall hospital, within a few hours a doctor had diagnosed his rare condition – pheochromocytoma.
He spent a week in intensive care and was prescribed a cocktail of beta blockers and painkillers to relieve his symptoms.
Mr Kesley, who said he was ‘zombied out’ from the drugs, was transferred to Oxford University Hospital for specialist surgery in late September 2015.
Mr Kesley had, unknowingly, been experiencing ‘hyper’ symptoms from the two-inch mass for about 10 years, before he realised anything was wrong
After three hours under the knife, the tumour was successfully removed and his symptoms vastly improved.
Now, he is medication free and his adrenalin levels are back to normal – but doesn’t have the same buzz of energy that he used to.
‘I was lucky that I did get diagnosed’
Mr Kesley added: ‘I was very lucky that I did get diagnosed. Around 50 per cent of people who have heart attacks and strokes will be found to have this condition. A lot of people die before this is diagnosed.’
A phaeochromocytoma is a rare tumour of the adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys and produce a range of hormones vital for the body.
They are usually benign, although around one in 10 are cancerous – and develop in the centre in a part called the adrenal medulla.
The cells in this part make the ‘fight or flight’ hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline and released into the bloodstream when they are needed.
They can cause too much of the hormones to exist in the body, which can result in high blood pressure and heart palpitations.
Phaeochromocytomas can develop at any age, including in babies and children.
Source: NHS Choices
‘There have been some lasting effects. I suffered mini strokes when my blood pressure was very high, which has caused some memory problems and made my vision deteriorated.
‘But now I can handle situations much better and my relationships with friends and family have improved dramatically.’
Single when he was diagnosed, he has since met someone – Dr Sandra Roscoe, 43, – who he has been with since November 2015.
He feels having his adrenalin under control is really helping to make his relationship a success.
Just before the episode that led to his diagnosis, he had his first taste of endurance cycling and believes that it helped to save his life.
Mr Kesley said: ‘Exercise probably precipitated the episode, but being fit and strong also helped me to survive it.
‘Riding kept me alive and once I got better, I wanted to continue it.’
Getting back on his bike
After recovering from surgery, he was determined to get back on his bike.
And, as his love for the sport intensified, he decided to use it to raise money for the people and places who had helped him.
As a result, he has pledged to ride 10,000 miles, hoping to raise £5,000 for the Oxford University Hospital, NET patient foundation and Prospect Hospice, which supported a friend in her battle with cancer.
Part of his challenge will include a 3,000 mile race across the US over 15 days next June and also a 24-hour endurance event at Brands Hatch this September.
To donate to Mr Kesley’s fundraising campaign, click here.