From the May issue of Evolve Magazine, available now on the iPad.

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By David Watkins

Ryan Leong has what's called a stone heart, which means his pericardium has attached to his heart and is calcifying. As the calcification spreads, his heart will suffocate. The inevitable option will be to have surgeons peel back his pericardium like an orange, giving the heart room to do its job. Not only does this open up the heart to serious infection, but it also puts no real boundary on how far his heart can expand--think of what happens when you keep blowing air into a balloon; eventually, it pops. The only thing Ryan can do is keep his heart pumping at full speed. Whether it's a marathon, rough-water swim, Ironman, it doesn't matter. The stronger his heart pumps, the longer he lives.

We hear of amazing stories of survival and accomplishment every day. We're force-fed stories meant to inspire us, and we put those people on a pedestal, creating characters who can never live up to the hype. Ryan is just the opposite. He inspires almost without effort and without a boisterous personality or well-marketed story. He is simply a good guy with an amazing perspective on life, and everyone around him benefits, myself included.

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