In honor of National Heart Month, and in light of my husband’s recent cardiac event, I am adding a new feature to my blog. It will be called “Our Journey to Heart Health” and will appear weekly. My hope is that those who have experienced heart health issues might draw encouragement from our story and also that we may glean information from others who have walked this road before us. I will write about my husband’s diagnosis, our coming to terms with it, his triple by-pass surgery, and our journey to heart health as a family as we initiate a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle plan.
The Journey Begins
A little background:
My husband has always been an athlete. He began swimming on the local swim team at an early age and continued to swim throughout middle school and high school. He played water polo during high school and was named an all-American. He then went on to swim at the college level. As an adult he has continued to indulge his swimming habit at the local YMCA and the city pool. My husband is also a very good bicyclist and a pretty good runner. As a young adult, he began to participate in triathlons and has completed many of them in the 23 years that we have been married, frequently medaling in his age group. In addition to swimming, biking, and running, my husband’s fitness routine has always included weight training. I have never known my husband to go an extended period of time without exercising regularly at a pretty intense level. In addition, my husband has never smoked and has never been overweight.
My husband has a friend (from the early “swim team” days) who is a cardiologist in our town who he occasionally has lunch with. One day in late November, 2015, while having lunch with this friend, my husband told him that for several years he had been experiencing a sort of “flutter” when he would lie down at night, especially if he had worked out extra hard that day. His cardiologist friend told him that since he was over 50, he should probably get a stress test just to make sure nothing was wrong. He told us that he was pretty confident they wouldn’t find anything of much significance.
Unfortunately, the stress test did show a subtle indication of “abnormal wall motion”. Our cardiologist said it was almost undetectable. With this finding, we were a little concerned, but still hoped for the best, knowing that my husband was extremely fit and that he was relatively young to have heart problems. My husband was quickly scheduled for a CT of the arteries and much to our surprise, it showed that he had a 70 % blockage in his right coronary artery. We received the news on Christmas Eve, 2 days before we were to leave for a family ski trip to celebrate our son’s 21st birthday. After talking it over as a family, and considering our cardiologist’s advice, we decided to go ahead and go on the trip. My husband took it easy and didn’t ski as much as he normally would, sticking to the easier slopes and taking plenty of time to rest. It was a wonderful bonding time with our kids and we are so glad we went.
The shocking diagnosis:
As soon as we returned from our vacation, my husband was scheduled for a heart catheterization to determine if a stent needed to be placed in the blocked artery. My husband was very nervous about the procedure. It just so happened that he had been a manager over that very catheterization lab several years back when he had worked at this particular hospital before he had made a complete career change. Therefore, having been in the medical field, he knew all of the things that could possibly go wrong. I was a little nervous for the procedure as well, knowing that there were risks involved such as a punctured artery or an allergic reaction to the anesthesia, but I trusted the Lord to bring him through and thought the worst case scenario would be that he would come out with a stent in place.
After the procedure, even before I was taken back to see my husband, I was ushered into a little room where our cardiologist was sitting in front of a computer screen looking at a video of my husband’s heart catheterization. As he asked me to sit down, I knew right away it was not going to be good news. He told me that my husband would need open heart surgery and proceeded to show me where the 4 blockages were in his heart. Three of them were 70% and one was 50% (the left main artery, which I later learned is called “the widow maker”). I immediately thought of how my husband would handle the unexpected and shocking news. Thankfully, our cardiologist friend was going to go in with me to tell him.
Before we had even left the hospital, we were scheduled for an appointment with the heart surgeon. He was the best in the area and we had heard about his skill and godly character for years as other people we knew had gone under the knife for similar procedures. We went home and anxiously awaited our appointment the next day, praying for wisdom and peace to walk through what was to come. Our life had changed in an instant.