Tuesday, February 05, 2013

How to fix a broken heart!

I have a broken heart -- you might think I’m using this as a metaphor for the emotional state of feeling very sad or deeply hurt --  as in “I’m heart-broken because ….”

And you might be wondering if I’m going to give advice for the love lorn – but no - I’m not going into competition with Dear Abby.

It is literally true – I have a broken heart – or to be more medically correct I have severe aortic valve stenosis. 

Because of that I want to put in a plug for the Heart & Stroke Foundation. February is Heart Month.

For  several years I have canvassed door to door in my neighborhood in February. It is ironic that this year I said I couldn't because I planned to be away all month.

Instead I’m at home waiting for surgery – and if I had said I would canvas I would have had to back out

This series of blog posts will be a record of the steps that I followed to fix my broken heart starting with …

Step 1: Find out it's broken (diagnosis).

Maybe something’s wrong?  In my case it was almost accidental – I was in emergency (just before Christmas)  because of a cough. I mentioned that I had some minor indigestion-like “burning” pain in the right side of my chest. (I actually thought it was likely a pulled muscle from coughing). Tests showed I was NOT having a heart attack and everything looked OK.

Doctor scheduled stress test to follow-up.

Nah – it’s just indigestion!  I was fairly confident that it wasn't my heart – although I had been noticing for a month or so that I would get this “burning” (right side of upper chest and that’s not your heart – right!!) and be mildly out-of-breath when walking briskly for a relatively short period but I had “compensated” by just backing off and walking a little slower.

OK- something’s wrong but what? Morning of stress test (January 4)  I drove myself to hospital for the test and I “failed”  ( mild pain, minor shortness of breath but “wacky ECG”  resulted in terminating the stress test.

Time for a conference with God!! I have a deep and abiding faith in God – my “Abba” Father and I often find myself in conversation with him, Sometimes thanking, sometimes asking and always listening in my heart (metaphorical sense) for his guidance and answers.  Sometimes more frequently than others – and especially when things are going well I may not be as grateful as I should be.  When I  heard the Doctor say “There’s a problem – we need more tests – prayer was  immediate and  while hopefully not  “demanding” I was pretty clear that I was trusting Him to make this “go away” – Well I learned  that for now his answer is “my grace is sufficient..” (2 Cor. 12:9)

Maybe it’s clogged arteries?  -- Doctor was able to schedule me into his angiogram clinic that morning – which caused a bit of frantic activity for Linda to get a ride so she could be there for the procedure.  

Doctor was pretty sure there’d be serious blockages and he was preparing me for needing to have that treated.

Nope – plumbing is clear – Now what? The angiogram showed arteries were clear but doc couldn't get the catheter to “thread” into left ventricle which suggested problem with aortic valve (stenosis)

As part of the angiogram the catheter is “threaded” into the artery (from my wrist – sometimes from groin) and up through the aorta and into the left ventricle through the aortic valve where the dye is released to allow the cardiologist to see the shape and size of the left ventricle.  

When the cardiologist was unable to do this despite trying several larger (stiffer) catheters  he strongly suspected a serious  “narrowing” of the valve

Waiting isn’t my strong suit:  The doctor says he needs echocardiogram to confirm and they’ll call in 3 to 4 weeks to set it up. So we come home from the hospital to wait. 

First thing is to let our family and church family know. It is good to know that many will be praying for a speedy test (and maybe a less serious diagnosis).

Next thing is ResearchWhat is it and what are the treatment options?

Aortic valve stenosis? — or aortic stenosis — occurs when the heart's aortic valve narrows. This narrowing prevents the valve from opening fully, which obstructs blood flow from your heart into your aorta and onward to the rest of your body.

There are many sources that can be found describing this disease and its’ treatment by searching  for   Aortic valve stenosisThis one  by Mayo Clinic  seems to be one of the better ones.

Treatment is surgery!!  Most frequently  Open Heart Surgery  where the chest is opened by cutting through the breast bone (sternotomy). 

There are other less invasive surgeries  but  they seem to be less well established and I begin to prepare myself for the sternotomy. 

Now I know lots of people who have had this surgery for “bypasses” and I tell myself this is  not as complex because they don’t remove the  vein from the leg to graft into the heart – they “simply” replace the valve. 

I also  learn there are two options for the "new" valve - “mechanical” and tissue both with advantages and disadvantages – more on that later.

I start telling people what I've found out – and soon Linda is saying “ You've read so much – next thing you’ll be picking up a scalpel and doing the surgery yourself. 

Yeah right – NOT!! I would likely faint at the first sign of blood!!

A new diet In addition, Linda wants to be sure that my diet is the best possible to be prepared for surgery if it comes. 

So we consult with a nutritionist - Tammy at the Country Way who suggests a high alkaline diet.  Now I’m a little skeptical of the underlying science – and  we aren't going the route of checking pH balance. However adhering to a healthy diet plan that keeps us away from processed foods, sugar and meat seems like a reasonable thing to try for at least a month or so prior to surgery (if it comes to that). 

I’ll warn you that doing this is not for the faint of “wallet” – the supplements and vitamins recommended are way beyond anything that our budget could sustain in the long run – however we have been blessed with the resources (money!!) that will allow us to do this for 6 to 8 weeks.

I’ll post a separate item on the diet plan – for now suffice it to say it’s almost a full-time job that fills our day trying to keep on top of it J

Throughout this waiting time I am operating on the “hope for the best- prepare for the worst” philosophy and I’m working on getting our finances in order – updating our records and preparing a “DRAFT” 2013 budget. 

Praying: Linda & I talk about the “what if’s” and we continue in prayer. 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) says pray without ceasing” and I’m probably closer to this being a literal fact  than ever before in my life.

We were geared up for  waiting and were  pleasantly surprised when the Doctor’s office called within a week and scheduled the echocardiogram  for January 19 and a  visit with the Doctor on February 5  to get the results

Yep –it’s  a bad valve: January 19  the echocardiogram confirmed that I have severe stenosis and that the valve needs to be replaced.

I’ll pick up here next time.
God Bless

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