When I was a baby, I was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve and a coarctation of the aorta. The bicuspid aortic valve is where my aorta has two segments inside where the normal person has a tricuspid aortic valve, which means it has 3 segments. There is nothing really anyone can do about it. The coarctation of the aorta is where the aorta was kinked like a garden hose. To fix this back in 1982, they had to cut the aorta to straighten it out and put a patch on to complete the blood vessel. Ever since then, I had to go to the doctor to get updates as my heart grew. Through adolescence, I went every year. As a young adult it got pushed to every two years. A few years ago, I was told to come back in 3 years. It was this past April 2009 when I went back for a cardiology appointment after 3 years.
It started off as a routine examination where they listened to my heart. During the course of the exam, they commented that my blood pressure was a lot higher than it has been in the past and they said it could be a correlation to the bicuspid aortic valve in that most people with the condition usually develop high blood pressure in their lifetime. They told me that they wanted to do a blood draw to see how my cholesterol was doing. The doctor scheduled a stress test and an MRI.
I attended my stress test and felt that I did really well. I went to the 12 minute point and the technician shut it down and I still hadn't even gotten to a jog yet but my heart rate was up to the optimal point that they wanted to see.
The following week, on a Thursday, I went to the Ross Heart Hospital at OSU to have my MRI done. Abby was teaching that day, so my parents went with me as the letter that came said that I may need someone to drive me home following the test. I got prepared for the MRI and had to wait a while before I was able to have the procedure done. Cramped in the little tube, I had to hold my breath when they told me to and lay there for about an hour. When it was over, my parents drove me home and I went about my normal activities.
On Friday when I got home from work, I had a message on our answering machine that was from two doctors at OSU and they said that they wanted to see me as soon as possible and told me that it was urgent. The doctors said that they found something during my MRI and wanted to talk with me about it. I called back and made an appointment for Tuesday, May 5.
On Tuesday, May 5, Abby and I went to the OSU Ross Heart Hospital and met with Dr. Stephen Cook. He was a congenital heart specialist who worked at both the Ross Hospital and Nationwide Children's Hospital. He told us that they basically found an aneurism in my aortic root. It was probably caused by the high blood pressure that resulted from my bicuspid aortic valve. He said that there was the possibility that working at my job and lifting more than 50 lbs. could cause the aneurism to burst and kill me within seconds. He said I should stay away from physical activities such as softball, which I was planning on starting that evening with my friends Shawn and Karen. I was still able to start a summer bowling league that I was planning on doing with Abby, Shawn and Karen since I told him that I had bowled all year during the fall, winter and spring without any problems. He also said that they also found a small tear in the patch that was fixed when I was a child. He made both of these matters sound very urgent to Abby and I and said that he was going to present the case that week in hopes of having the surgery in 4 to 6 weeks. He said he wanted to schedule a CT scan to check the blood vessels around my heart and brain as they would need to be okay during any surgical procedure. He scheduled this test for that Friday. He also put me on a slew of medications to start lowering my blood pressure and my cholesterol to prepare for a future surgery. I also had to cut the sugar and caffeine out of my diet as much as possible to help the medicines work faster.
I went for my CT scan and it was a frustrating experience. Much like my MRI, I had to get prepared for the CT test in a room where an IV was put in so that they could administer contrast during the procedure. They said that they had to get my heart rate down to the high 50s or lower 60s for the CT procedure to work correctly. Sitting there, my heart was racing at about the 80s to 90s. The more it kept going, the more I got frustrated. They had to call the doctors to see if they could give me something to lower my heart rate. They did so but it still wasn't working. Someone went out to update my wife and my wife insisted on coming in to help calm me down and said I was probably getting frustrated from all the waiting. She came in and sat by my side as I lay on the bed. After giving me two or three more doses of medicine, my heart rate finally got down to the lower 60s. They rolled the bed I was in to the CT room instead of me walking so that my heart rate wouldn't climb again.
After the CT scan, they told me that during the prep period, I had 3 irregular heart beats and they wanted to put me on a heart monitor for 48 hours. So, I had this device strapped to my chest for the whole weekend and upon turning it in, I later discovered that it ended up showing only 1 irregular heart beat during that time, which is normal for most people.
After the CT scan, I began playing the waiting game. I didn't hear back from the doctors and my calls weren't returned. My wife and I began getting really frustrated and angry. The doctors made it sound very urgent but they weren't getting back to us and letting us know what was going on. I wanted to know what the results were of my CT scan and when the surgery was going to be.
Finally a nurse called me back and scheduled an appointment at Children's Hospital, which is where they would be doing the procedure since they were more attuned to fixing these type of congenital defects. She revealed that Dr. Cook wasn't going to be doing the surgery as he wasn't a surgeon. Instead, a Dr. Phillips would be performing the procedure. They scheduled an appointment for us with the surgeon at Children's Hospital.
On the day of the original appointment, the hospital called to cancel due to an emergency that had occurred. They rescheduled and, on that day, my wife, parents, and I went to Children's Hospital and waited to meet with the surgeon, who we were told was still in surgery when we got there. We waited and finally they said that he was going to be in surgery for about another hour and a half. We asked to talk to somebody to find out what was going to happen because we were tired of not knowing anything. One of his nurses agreed to talk to us and explained that they were going to replace the aortic root. She didn't mention anything about fixing the tear in the patch, though. We were more confused than before and we asked about it and she said she wasn't aware of any plans to fix the patch. Eventually, though, we found out that the surgical date would be Friday, July 17. So by the time they will finally do the procedure it will be 2 and 1/2 months rather than the 4 to 6 weeks that they were hoping for when we first me with the doctor.
We contacted Dr. Cook's nurses about the lack of communication we had received and told her that we wanted to meet with him. We met with him and he told us that the patch situation wasn't urgent and could be fixed non-surgically. Today, they have the technology where they can go up through a catheter and put a stent in the aorta where when I was a child, surgery was the only way to fix it. He said they might not fix it anyways because there was a calcified build up around the tear, which kind of seals the tear. He said the main concern was the aortic root replacement and that was where they were going to concentrate their work. He and his nurse promised to set up another appointment with Dr. Phillips on a day where he wasn't going to be in surgery and also get us an early look at the ICU, where I would be after surgery, so that Abby can begin to get a feeling about what she will encounter following the surgery.
We finally met with Dr. Phillips at the end of June and he seemed to be a nice, experienced surgeon. He said that the surgery time would be dictated based on what they encounter when they get inside. The best case scenario would be where the aneurism is located below a certain point where they could put me on a heart by-pass machine. They could then just flow my blood to the rest of my body and then cut out the aortic root and put in the replacement and sew it up. The worst case scenario would be where the aneurism is above the point where they can use the by-pass machine. They would have to ice my body down to lower my heart rate and send only blood to my brain while they fixed the point where the by-pass machine can be hooked up to first. Then, they would have to replace the root once the by-pass machine was running. The first scenario would be about a 4 to 5 hour surgery. The second scenario would be about a 7 to 9 hour surgery. I also got to pick out how I wanted the root to be repaired. I was given the choice of a mechanical or bio-mechanical replacement. The mechanical choice was fully artificial. The good side of this would be that it would last forever. The down side was that I would have to be on a blood thinner for the rest of my life. The bio-mechanical choice was basically a part from a pig. The good side was that I wouldn't need to be on a blood thinner. The down side was that it only lasted 15 to 20 years and another surgery would be inevitable. Regardless, I chose to go with the mechanical version because I would rather go through taking medicine for the rest of my life rather than having to go through another surgery. They also revealed that they usually do surgery on an adult patient at least once a week at Children's Hospital, so that was comforting. He also said there was 1% or less chance of about five things happening during or after the surgery, so that gave me a positive outlook that there was a 95% chance that I'd be alright.
Afterward, we went on the tour of the ICU and got to see what it was like. It was really hard there because a lot of the patients in there were tiny babies and little kids. It was hard to see them because they were just starting out in life whereas I've been around for 30 years. But, Nationwide Children's Hospital is one of the highest ranked children's hospitals in the country and if they can successfully repair children's hearts, than an adult heart should be no problem for them.
So, now the surgery is 4 days away on Friday morning, July 17, at 8 a.m. The time is getting closer and I am trying to stay positive.
Last weekend, my cousin Carla, her husband Rasheed and their 15 month old daugher Marie came into town from Chicago to celebrate the 4th of July festivities and to see me before my surgery. Marie is an adorable little girl and I enjoyed spending timme with her and watching her play with our dog, Sloopy. It kind of makes me depressed that I have not become a father yet and I so don't want to miss out on being one.
My last day of work was on Friday and I feel terrible that one of my co-workers is getting the burden of my incredibly hard job on top of her incredibly hard job. I had asked my store director to see about obtaining a replacement for me for while I am out but apparently the only managers-in-training that the company has in Columbus would be impediments to the job rather than helping out. But, I was able to accomplish getting the things set for Back To School season that I wanted to get set and ready for them. Hopefully I'll be able to go back 4 weeks after surgery with restrictions so that I can relieve some of the burden placed on my co-worker while also getting paid full pay as my short term disability pays only 3 weeks of full pay and 70% for weeks 4 and after. That is why I am taking a second week of vacation after this week to make sure I can get 4 weeks of full pay.
We had a community garage sale this weekend to get rid of a few things we don't need anymore. I got some things from my aunt's house that I keep there and found my Curious George plush. He went with me to my heart surgery in 1982 and I plan on taking him again with me to this procedure.
Abby threw me a party on Saturday night called "Chris' Tickerpalooza" and several friends shown up to have one last party before the surgery and before I'll be out of action for a while. They wrote encouraging messages on a pillowcase that I will be able to take with me to the hospital.
This Wednesday, July 15, my wife and I our celebrating our 3 year anniversary. We will probably go out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and then take in the new Harry Potter movie that opens that day. These past three years have been wonderful and a lot has changed. We went from living in a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment to owning a beautiful home. We went from having just each other to having a wonderful dog to take care of as well. We went from being healthy adults to one of us having medical problems. We are literally living the vow of "to have and to hold, in sickness and in health" right now.
So, this week will be full of lots of things to do before my surgery and it will have its ups and downs. I love my wife, I love my family, I love my friends, and I love Sloopy, Heidi (parents' dog) and Sammi (aunt's dog). I love all of the people that have touched my life in some way and have given me encouragement along the way. They say that God has a plan for all of us and I hope that God's plan is for me is a positive plan and that he watches over my family and I as we go through this rough time.