Wednesday, September 2, 2020

From the Heart

A soft cloth graft sits inside my aortic artery, helping blood flow throughout my body. The graft, almost like a 32mm sleeve or about 1.2 inches, replaced an unruptured aneurysm (bulging of the artery) that was silently and dangerously growing inside my aortic root. The aneurysm was recently removed and replaced at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. The name of the procedure is a mouthful: valve sparing aortic root repair.
It's weird to think that my heart has a new part or an artificial section (featured in light blue in the above illustration along with my messy notes.) I discovered the aneurysm by accident. Before a colonoscopy in Boston, my heart wouldn't stop racing. It was as if I was running even though I was lying down waiting for the happy drugs. The gastroenterologist halted the procedure and strongly suggested I see a cardiologist which I did a few months later in Miami.

That led to an appointment with cardiologist Dr. Todd Heimowitz followed by a series of follow ups and tests (EKG, echocardiogram, CT scans) that eventually revealed the aneurysm or "slightly enlarged aortic root." It was being monitored and managed with blood pressure medicine (and I was okay with that.) Before I moved to New York last fall, Dr. Heimowitz had strongly suggested that at some point whenever I visited Miami again, that I seek a second opinion from Mt. Sina's chief cardiologist Dr. Steve Xydas who specializes in aortic repairs and aneurysms. Aortic aneurysms affect about 15,000 Americans each year and they are most common in men and people over the age of 60, according to Columbia Surgery.

After meeting him in January of this year, he strongly suggested I have the surgery done and not to put it off. The news struck a huge fear in me. Open heart surgery? I thought I was too young for that. I wasn't 60 as the statistics show and I am not a smoker. More importantly, I didn't want my chest carved open like a Thanksgiving dinner.

I had thought I could just live with this for the rest of my life (knowing in the back of my mind that I had a grenade in my heart) but that would not be the case. While I was in Miami, Dr. Xydas quickly ordered another CT scan which showed that the aneurysm had grown to 5 cm (or a total of two-inches.) I was right at the line, near the danger zone of bursting. He said it's better to do this as a choice than during an emergency. He and his staff were also confident that I would be a strong candidate for the surgery and come through well given my "young" age and my overall good health.

My family history played a role into the decision for surgery. I had two uncles (RIP Josito and Bartolo) who died from aneurysms in their heart and abdomen in their 60s and 70s so that added to the urgency of having surgery sooner than later. I held off as long as I could with the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic. But when summer rolled around, I knew it was time. An inner voice kept getting louder and nagging at me: You have to get this done! Don't wait any longer!

I had the surgery in mid-August (I had no idea that the nurses would shave EVERY THING even though I keep explaining that my heart was in my chest and not below my waist but that's another story.) The photo below is the second day after my surgery when I got my own private room after being in the ICU. If I look a little out of it, it was from the painkillers. After five days at the hospital (no visitors were allowed) and now several days recovering at home, so far so good, although my chest is really sore (they had to cut through my breastbone to reach the heart.)
My chest feels like someone took a hammer and struck me in the middle of my torso. It hurts when I laugh and when I cough (I have to hold a pillow to my chest for the latter.) I am somewhat limited in my movements; I am doing my best and feeling a little like old myself every day.

I am walking a few blocks a day. No running (which I miss,) no driving and no lifting weights...for now. And I definitely can't play Twister, not that I would. I went back to work a few days ago, eager to write news articles once again. In the meantime, I am thankful this is behind me. I'm also kinda getting used to my badass battle heart scar which you can see below. Maybe I can turn it into an awesome tattoo at some point. ❤️


10 comments:

  1. Good health is priceless- glad you took action in time- be well amigo

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  2. Johnny, It's the 4th, a month since your last entry, so I have just looked here (to urge you on) and have been shocked by what I have just read I am so sorry for the heart problem (and for your uncles), glad that it is fixed (but the breast bone is a bummer). All good wishes for a full recovery and return to the news reports. Roderick

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    1. Thank you Roderick. It’s a day by day thing. I would be feeling much better if it wasn’t for the breastbone pain but alas, this is temporary 😁🙏

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  3. Johnny, A few weeks ago I bought your "Providence" book on my Kindle and read it and liked it as I have all your other books. So you've been on my mind. While I'm sorry to hear about your surgery I'm so glad it was caught in time. Take care, get well, and do your yoga breathing! mwg

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    1. Thank you MWG for the good wishes and the nice note. I am doing much better and taking daily walks. I returned to work this past week so I am writing away again 😁

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  4. It's me, Roderick, back again because I am concerned. How is the breastbone recovery going? I hope all is well for you and at work.

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    1. Hi Roderick! It’s healing well, just till have some soreness/pain in the chest area which is expected but I am managing it. Post to come early next week 🙏🏻

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    2. Looking forward to reading it, but if it is delayed, no probs.! Roderick

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