On August 14th, 2007, I entered the Mayo Clinic for the purpose of having open heart surgery or as it is technically known, a myectomy. This is something I never envisioned at the age of 32.
In April of 2007, I went to my doctor because I had been having continual breathing problems. I had been ignoring the problem for a couple of months. Like many Americans I am not as healthy as I should be so I assumed the breathing problems were related to my physical health. I didn't go to the doctor until I noticed I was becoming short of breath by simply getting into bed. After listening to my heart, my doctor told me he heard a heart murmur that he had never heard before. He performed an EKG and within 1/2 hour I was in a cardiologist's office. Did I mention I was only 31 at the time? The cardiologist initially diagnosed me with Mitral Valve Prolapse more commonly known as a leaky heart valve. He told me that many people live completely normal lives with this condition. He scheduled me for an echocardiogram the next day to confirm his diagnosis. I went back the next day and after the echo was done I was fortunate enough for the doctor to have time to evaluate the results right away. He told me his initial diagnosis was accurate but incomplete. He further diagnosed me with Hypertrophy Obstructive Cardiomyopathy (HOCM). Basically, there was an obstruction on my heart wall which among other things caused breathing difficulties.
Once you've been diagnosed, you wonder what to do next. There is a risk of sudden death associated with HOCM. The first thing my wife and I did was have an open and honest discussion with my two oldest kids. My daughter was too young to understand at the age of 5. The boys needed to understand all of the possibilities. I've always felt that being truthful was a far better idea than sugarcoating things. I would be lying if I said that I was not scared. I was not scared to die, but I was scared of the things I would miss out on like school accomplishments, graduations, weddings, grandchildren, etc.
My doctor suggested going to the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic for all additional care. I chose the Mayo Clinic because if its reputation and for the fact that I have a cousin who lives 10 minutes away. One month later, the Mayo Clinic confirmed my local cardiologist's diagnosis and started me on a beta blocker as a possible treatment. The beta blocker would not eliminate the problem it would only address the symptoms. Since the symptoms are the part that can be deadly I was ready to get started. Within two weeks of starting treatment, it was obvious that it was not working. In fact, my breathing issues were getting worse. I called my doctor at the Mayo Clinic and he put me on a different beta blocker but the results were the same. My doctor told me the only other option was surgery. Fortunately, I had mentally prepared myself for this so the news did not affect me as much as it could have.
This brings us to August 14th and the days preceding it. My mom and dad followed us the 10 hours it took to get to Rochester, MN from Fairmount, IN a few days before the surgery. We had dinner the night before the surgery which felt ominously like the last supper. There is very little chance of death (1%) but the thought looms in the back of your head anyway. You just hope you are not the 100th surgery. I actually slept very well the night prior to the surgery. I was at peace with what was taking place and I truly was not worried. My parents on the other hand were. I really was not sure if my dad was going to release me from his hug. I am 6'0, 230 lbs and he is 5'4 130-140 lbs and I do not think I could have forced him to let go. My mom was just as nervous as I am sure I would be if one of my kids was going through something similar. I said goodbye to my wife and daughter (my boys stayed home because they started school the day of my surgery) and I was wheeled away to the pre-op room.
I remember looking up at the doctors/nurses in the room and that is about all I remember. My next coherent thought was knowing that I did not like the respirator that was shoved down my throat. The next five days went fairly slow. I have nothing but praise for the nurses and staff at the Mayo Clinic. I did not have one bad experience. My surgeon told me they had successfully removed all of the obstruction. Five days following my surgery I was released to go home. My parents had left a couple of days after my surgery (another emotional time) but my grandparents had driven up to help my wife get me home. The trip home was long but uneventful. We spent the night in Rockford, IL to break the trip up into two 5 hour drives. Upon arriving home, we found about 20 of our friends on our front porch to welcome us home. These same friends brought us dinner for the next two weeks since I was not able to help around the house. My grandparents came and sat with me for the next several days so my wife could go to work.
There are some things that I already knew but I was reminded of. You cannot replace family and good friends. We could have done it ourselves, but the support we received made our lives so much easier. Our Sunday School class presented us with an envelope containing 150.00 to help with gas and food on the trip to the Mayo Clinic. I received well over 30 cards of encouragement over the next several weeks, some from people I did not know. My neighbor came and mowed my lawn because someone had once done the same for him. I am truly blessed to be surrounded with family and friends who love us and who will sacrifice their time and energy to make sure we are inconvenienced as little as possible.
Today I am feeling great and am looking forward to being released to return to work. I want to thank the viners who sent encouraging e-mails when they learned that I was having health issues. They may not know it, but I greatly appreciated the thoughts and kindness they showed me.