My heart has been broken many times over my 59 years; the majority of which were not from romantic disappointments. Friends and family have broken my heart. My heart has been broken by the loss of pets. It broke when actress Bette Davis died. When I watched the tree outside the poet Robert Frost’s historical home be taken down due to disease, I experienced another heartbreak. A local business destroyed a historic old home after I (and many others) had offered to buy it, and my heart broke again. By the time my parents died, I did not think my heart was capable of any more breaks, but I was wrong. My heart has been broken many times and will break many times more before my time here is over. My heart is resilient; scarred and calloused, but resilient.
But that is my emotional heart; apparently, my anatomical heart is a different story.
On August 25, 2023 I woke up in the hospital with my cardiologist standing at my bedside. He had just performed an outpatient angiogram to assess the functions of my heart valves.
“Well,” Dr. P said. “I’m afraid it is time to get you some new valves.”
“Right now? Today?” I asked through an anesthetic haze.
“No, but soon. I will have the surgeon come in and speak to you before you go home.”
My heart has been struggling for the last ten years, after a couple of non-fatal drownings while scuba diving exposed a problem. I was diagnosed with heart failure and put on medication. I was told I would never scuba dive again. I fired that cardiologist and the next three, including the one that told me to take my medicine like a big girl, and I might live another 5 years. I was 50 years old at the time. My 60th birthday is in 7 months. Since then, my aortic valve limped along with little change. Although I was never heavy, I lost weight and changed my diet significantly. I started exercising even more than I had been. Eventually, the mediations were no longer necessary; for awhile at least.
I have been seeing the only cardiologist I didn’t fire annually for about four years. At my annual checkup in February I told him I was experiencing some fluid retention and shortness of breath. He prescribed water pills and when I expected him to say “see you next year,” he said instead, “see you in six months.”
Six months later I was scheduled for an echocardiogram, an ultra sound and the angiogram, which told Dr. P what he already knew – 2023 is the year of the new heart valves for me. He told me that my mitral valve is also leaking and will need to be replaced as well. He refers to me as the healthiest heart failure patient he has ever treated. I am perfectly healthy, except for these two bum heart valves.
My valves were damaged about 25 years ago, after mantle field radiation for Hodgkin’s Disease and six months of MOPP (mechlorethamine, vincristine, procarbazine, and prednisone)-ABVD (doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine, and dacarbazine) shoved into my veins when the radiation failed to get it all. The oncologist had told me then that the things he was using to save my life may cause other problems when I am “older;” problems like secondary cancers or even heart failure. Well, I guess I am older, now. Add insult to injury, the radiation caused the formation of scar tissue in my chest that will make it difficult for my surgeon to get through and also possibly tricky to put me back together.
My surgeon, Dr. H said “Oh, we have lots of things we can put you back together with – wires, staples, screws. I’m confident I can do this.”
So, unless the Lord heals me miraculously some other way, it looks like I will be having a double heart valve transplant on September 25, 2023. I am very excited. I am excited to get my quality of life back, to walk long distances without having to take breaks and to go up Sugarberry Slope to get the mail without huffing and puffing.
I am also scared to death.
This blog series will be a way of tracking my progress for myself, while keeping those friends and family who actually read this blog, advised.