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Olympian Deena Kastor visits and inspires teen runner treated for mysterious blackouts

Posted at 6:27 PM, Sep 27, 2018

Two runners wired to push themselves to the limit met Tuesday morning at Akron Children's Hospital where they inspired each other and swapped scary stories about passing out while competing.

Hannah Ohman, a standout runner at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Louisville, told her story to Deena Kastor, who won a bronze medal in the marathon in the 2004 Olympics and holds American records in the marathon, half marathon and several road distances.

During a 2017 cross country race, Ohman blacked out about two miles into her run.

"I think they said I was out for like five minutes," the teen told Kastor.

Ohman attributed the tumble to allergy problems and a bout with bronchitis, but the blackouts continued. It happened five more times at cross country or track meets.

"I don't really believe in stopping," Ohman said. "Clearly, I don't believe in stopping. I pass out all the time."

Ohman's parents took her to various doctors, including cardiologists and neurologists, but they were unable to diagnose her with anything that would explain why she was passing out while running.

They finally got answers after doctors at Akron Children's Hospital ran tests at the Clinical Exercise Physiology Lab.

Ohman was diagnosed with exercise-induced hyperventilation due to vocal cord dysfunction.

Dr. Rajeev Bhatia, a pediatric pulmonologist, explained the vocal cords are like curtains, which open when a person breathes in and close when breathing out. In the lab, doctors discovered that wasn't happening with Ohman.

"When they're breathing in, instead of opening, it closes and gives them a feel that they cannot breathe. They feel like they are choking," Dr. Bhatia said.

Ohman now takes medication through an inhaler, different from an asthma inhaler, and goes to speech therapy as part of her treatment plan.

"We teach her how to use her lower abdominal muscles instead of her upper airwaves to breathe for her," said Lisa Gonidakis, a speech pathologist.

Kastor, who is in town as an ambassador for the Akron Marathon, was inspired by the grit and determination of the young runner.

"You don't get more competitive than Hannah. She is the embodiment of what it takes to be a great athlete," Kastor said.

On a different level, Kastor could relate to the teen's scary experiences.

In 2000, Kastor briefly passed out while running in the World Cross Country Championships in Portugal after being stung by a bee.

"The second my head hit the ground, it kind of like woke me up and I just popped up and starting running again," Kastor said.

She finished that race in 13th place, which amazed Ohman.

"She knows what it's like to go through your ups and downs and your struggles," Ohman told News 5.

Ohman was part of her high school cross country championship team in 2015, and also ran on a track team that won state in 2016.

She's in the middle of another cross country season determined to run through her senior year and in college.

Her times are not as fast as previous years, but she hopes to improve over the next two months and get her team back to the state meet.

"I need to remain focused and calm and I can't let the race get too far ahead in my head," she said.

Kastor is running the Akron Marathon Relay with workers from Akron Children's Hospital and said stories like Hannah's prove runners can overcome many challenges.

"Whether they're small or large, there's a big community out there to take care of you," Kastor said as she wrapped her arm around the teen.