Thursday, December 19, 2013

All I want for Christmas is a new pulmonary valve

... and that's just what I will be getting early in the New Year!

About a month ago (shortly after my latest round of regular heart tests), I got a phone call from my cardiologist. The gist of his call was to let me know that, based on the results of these tests, it's now time to think about (and start planning for) having my pulmonary valve replaced. He had consulted with the rest of his team at the University of Chicago, and the collective agreement was that it's time for intervention. (It's interesting to me how "intervention" can be an attempt at subtlety when the real meaning is "surgery.")

The next step was to schedule a consultation with the surgeon. Can you say deja vu? (However, unlike two years ago, I've decided this time to wait until I was sure about my final decision before blogging about it.)

On December 6, I went to the University of Chicago Medical Center for a consultation with Dr. Gerhard Ziemer, a world-renowned heart surgeon who has performed more than 4,000 congenital heart surgeries. While his primary focus is on children with congenital heart defects, he also serves as the director of the hospital's Adult Congenital Heart Surgery program. During the meeting, Dr. Ziemer said that, based on the results of my recent heart tests, he was actually surprised at my cardiac ability, specifically my endurance for cycling and running. He feels confident that I will be even stronger and able to cycle and run farther post-surgery and recovery.

Just this morning (after getting the obligatory second opinion yesterday and asking a countless number of questions along the way) it became truly official. Three weeks from today—on January 9, 2014—I will be having my second open heart surgery (OHS) to replace my pulmonary valve. (You may recall that my only other OHS was back in 1981 when I was just eight months old.)

Dr. Ziemer specializes in homograft valves, and it was confirmed at my consultation that I will be getting the one they have "in stock." My expected hospital stay is 7–10 days, and I am planning to take 6–7 weeks off work for recovery.

While I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to the surgery, I'm feeling good about it. Fortunately, I have a very supportive home and work environment (including great health insurance!). And I am looking forward to testing the surgeon's belief that I will be even stronger post-op. Just this morning, I signed up for my very first triathlon—the 2014 Chicago Triathlon (sprint distance) in August!

Looking back, I realized that 2013 was a fairly uneventful heart year for me (in a good way!), which resulted in very few blog posts. While 2014 will clearly be more eventful (and, I'm sure, more challenging), I am looking forward to documenting my journey from the operating room to the finish line!
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Postscript: An abbreviated version of this entry was published on the ACHA blog in December 2013.