Saturday, December 31, 2011

Successful Stent Procedure

On Thursday (December 29, 2011), I went to the University of Chicago Medical Center to have a stent implanted into my narrowed left pulmonary artery. As instructed, I arrived at 11:00am to get prepped and to meet briefly with the interventional cardiologist who would be performing the procedure. He told me that he expected it to take about two to three hours depending on how everything goes. I was wheeled into the cath lab at 1:00pm, and the procedure began.

I was sedated throughout it and recall going in and out of consciousness while I was on the table. Although I had no real concept of the amount of time that had passed, I got the sense that things were taking longer than originally expected (in part because my back was getting sore laying on the hard table for an extended period of time). At one point, the doctor informed me that they were having difficulty accessing the narrowed artery. He explained that, while passing through the site of the aneurysm (in my main pulmonary artery) with the cath, it was tough to find the very narrow opening to the left pulmonary artery on the other side. He said they had a couple more things they were going to try doing but that there was a possibility that they wouldn’t be successful.

When I asked him what exactly that would mean, he said he wasn’t quite ready to go there yet but that, if they couldn’t access the narrowed artery to get the stent in place, the only other option might be invasive surgery. So there I was lying on the table, partially sedated, and thinking to myself, “Well damn, today’s procedure was meant to avoid another open heart surgery!”

I must have received more sedation at that point because the next thing I remember was waking up on that table and being told that they were finally able to access the narrowed artery and that they had put a balloon in to open it up. The doctors were now discussing whether or not to just leave the balloon in place or to go ahead and put the stent in as originally planned. Fortunately, the doctor in charge felt that, as he and I had discussed prior to the procedure, the stent was the best option.

At that point, more sedation must have been given to me, as the next time I woke up, I was surrounded by the interventional cardiologist and my two ACHD cardiologists. I instantly thought, “Okay, either this is a really good sign or a really bad sign.” But they all had smiles on their faces and informed me that the procedure was completed successfully and that the stent had been placed exactly where it was intended to go! When I asked the doctors what time it was, they told me it was 7:00pm, six hours after I had first climbed onto that table!

I barely slept that night; but, then again, I don’t know many people who get a restful night’s sleep while in the hospital. Fortunately, everyone that I dealt with there was great. The medical staff enjoyed (at least outwardly) my corny humor while I interacted with them, and they quickly addressed any questions and concerns that I had.

The next morning, the interventional cardiologist came to check on me and to share some more good news. He told me that within minutes of getting the stent placed, the blood pressure at the site of the aneurysm went down considerably! This is exactly how the doctors were hoping my body would respond. Although I had experienced some mild chest pain and pressure overnight, all of my vital stats and measurements looked excellent. The post-procedure x-ray, EKG, and echocardiogram all showed that everything was functioning very well. I was released from the hospital right around 3:00pm and put on a regimen of Plavix and chewable aspirin.

Next steps:
  • Electrophysiology study on January 9
  • Follow-up appointment with ACHD cardiologist on January 24

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Getting and Staying Motivated in 2012

Below is my second posting for the ACHA blog, which was published today.
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As the holiday season winds down, many people spend this time of year reflecting on the past 12 months, taking stock of both the good and bad in their lives, and thinking about how they want to improve themselves throughout the coming year. Oftentimes, people like to think of the start of a new year as a chance to hit the reset button, to put the challenges of the old year behind them, and to embrace the promise of new beginnings. As clichéd as that may sound, I suppose I’m no different.

I’ve gone though my own share of health-related challenges this year, and I’m looking forward to putting those behind me as much as possible. But the reality is inescapable: for those of us with CHD, the journey is ongoing. There is no magic reset button that can erase all of our past year’s challenges and struggles and just allow us to start the new year with a completely clean slate.

But we can start 2012 with a new outlook and make a resolution to do everything in our power to always make the best of our situation, whatever it may be. For me personally, I find it easier to stay motivated and positive when I’m connected to a mission and pursuing a vision that’s larger than myself (perhaps that’s why I decided to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector). As an avid cyclist, I feel like I recently found the perfect thing that will keep me even more motivated than normal throughout 2012 and—hopefully—beyond.

The Ironheart Racing Team was created as a way for everyday endurance athletes to raise awareness for healthy heart living and congenital heart disease. About two weeks ago, I contacted David Watkins, the founder of Ironheart and a former ACHA board member, to express my interest in joining the team. Through a few emails and a great initial phone conversation, we talked about ways for me to get even more involved than just becoming a member of the team. David is actually in the process of expanding the Ironheart Racing Team to include five separate divisions, including one focused specifically on cycling. He explained that cycling is going to be a big part of the organization’s growth and that he’s looking for people to help him drive that effort forward. While our conversations have just been preliminary so far, I’m quite excited about what the coming year has in store.

So as 2011 comes to a close and we prepare to welcome 2012, I hope that everyone who reads this blog post is able to find the inspiration and motivation they need to make 2012 their best year yet! You certainly don’t have to be an endurance athlete to make that happen, nor does congenital heart disease have to be your driving force. But I am a strong believer that people can best pursue happiness and success by pursuing their passions. It’s your own life to live, and I hope you chose to live it the best way that you can.

Here’s to a safe, happy, and heart healthy New Year!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Electrophysiology Consultation

This past Tuesday (December 13, 2011), I met with the electrophysiologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center. This was an initial consultation (at the recommendation of the cardiologist at the U of C) to assess for arrhythmias that may have caused my bike accident back in August. As expected, the doctor recommended an electrophysiology study (EP study), which has been scheduled for January 9, 2012.

Depending on the results of the EP study, we talked about the possibility of getting an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which would constantly monitor my heart rate and rhythm and—should it detected a very fast, abnormal rhythm—would deliver energy directly to the heart, causing it to beat normally again. At first, this sounded rather extreme to me, especially since I have never been aware of any heart rhythm issues. Then again, I didn't even feel the arrhythmia (NSVT) that I experienced back when I was in the hospital right after my bike accident. One of the many things I've learned about CHD over the past couple months is that patients with tetralogy of Fallot are at a significantly higher risk for arrhythmias, which have the potential for causing sudden cardiac death.

Once the EP study has been done, I intend to meet with both the electrophysiologist and the cardiologist to review the results and talk about next steps. While I don't really want to get an ICD, it may be necessary. That said, however, the possibility of doing so is not causing nearly the level of anxiety that the possibility of having another open heart surgery had been causing over the past couple months. As I've said in the past, life is a journey; and it's important to just take it one day at a time.