On Sunday, October 6, 2019, the Washington Post Magazine had an article that is the most memorable and touching article I have read in a long time. It is one story in a book to be published October 22 called “One Day”. The premise is that the author asked 3 separate individuals to pull 3 separate pieces of paper out of a hat and together they pulled the one day that he would write about: December 28, 1986. The author then conducted research to in his words: “explore whether, in the insistent gyre of human experience, there even is such a thing as “an ordinary day.”
The story in the Washington Post Magazine was called The Beating Heart, and presented a multi-faceted view of a heart transplant operation that of course recounted the medical side of the story. But The Beating Heart also portrayed the very human account of how a tragic series of events led to a Northern Virginia hospital’s first heart transplant in a woman who was and still is (after more than 30 years), an admirable and wise and vital person.
A number of years ago, the band Maroon 5 had a hit with the song “Moves Like Jaguar”. The Jagger referred to of course was Mick Jagger. The Song Facts website relates the following about this tune:
Each morning, my exercise routine includes a series of Pilates, yoga and core exercises performed in my condo living room. Because I am still half asleep, I use the television news to keep me motivated and awake. Most of the time it rouses me and I learn something new and interesting.
The local morning news always has a segment from a reporter who travels the D. C. metropolitan area to find inspiring activities occurring in a local community. On a recent morning, she was at a town fair to report on Hands on CPR training. Given that I am aware that CPR stands for Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation I figured I should pay extra special attention. Of course, my implanted defibrillator is my very own personal safeguard for cardiac emergencies. But it is always good to learn about measures that I might be able to use to provide aid to others.
In a previous post, I discussed the steps we need to take to direct the distribution of our estates. But I did not discuss what we must do to distribute the gifts of life and wellness.
Once you leave this earth, you may still have an impact on it by letting a medical team harvest one or more of your organs or your tissue to save the lives of other human beings. I never really gave much thought to this until I was told that I might need a heart transplant. Now that I have lived with heart failure for a number of years now, I realized I needed to ask the questions: Where does the organ come from when your own organ is in failure and there needs to be a transplant? What are the chances of survival?
Now that I am a heart failure patient I must have a treadmill stress test each year. The name is appropriate because for some reason, this test always causes me a significant amount of anxiety.
I know you think I’m exaggerating. How bad can the test be? Well, since you’ve asked, my results have seemed to decline each year. So despite my commitment to exercise and a healthy diet, I seem to be taking a step backwards at least in the aspects measured by the test.
On September 13, I had a cardiac catheterization procedure. This is the third time I have had this procedure since my heart problems began. I gave you a preview of this process in an earlier blog post. But at the time, I had to base my commentary mostly on information found on websites. This is because I was sedated during the previous two procedures, and the effects of the sedation wiped out most of my memory in terms of what happened. But this time around – no sedation and lots of memory! So now I can tell you the complete and even most minute details of what really happens in the cath lab.
As always, there was some drama in just making sure I got to the procedure with no hiccups. My sister was supposed to accompany me, and was taking the train to Northern Virginia the day before the procedure. But they we started to see forecasts for Hurricane Irma, which looked to be on track through several of the Southern cities that the train would travel through. So we decided that I should look for a back-up. Our foresight turned out to be spot on, as two days later we learned that her train was cancelled.
I know you’re wondering what I mean by a cardiac road trip. Is it a vacation where everyone wears heart rate monitors, eats food very low in fat and sodium and visits rest stops frequently to check their blood pressure? Well of course not, because that would not be a fun vacation.
Actually it’s not even a vacation at all. Instead, I am asking you to be with me, at least in spirit, as I submit to yet another cardiac test to determine what is going on with my heart failure.
Earlier this year, my heart failure doctor told me that he wanted me to do another right heart catheterization. As always, I panicked a bit because I always assume that the need for more tests means that I am not doing as well. I cannot seem to get it through my head that if I’m still exercising and only having dizzy spells occasionally, I am doing well and there is no need to push the panic button.
Indeed, from what my heart failure doctor said, it appears that this is just one of several routine tests that they can do to assess the levels of pressure within my heart and between my heart and lungs. I actually have had this test several times: Once when I initially fell off the treadmill in 2012, and again in 2014 when the doctors wanted to see if I was a candidate for a heart transplant.
Why should I be worried that I have the misfortune to be clobbered with heart failure at such a young age in my life? (Hey, my friends keep telling me that 60 is the new 40!). Maybe it is time to look at the cup as running over with good fortune. Indeed, I have decided I am lucky that my heart failure waited until the 21st century before it arrived on my door step.
Why? Because this is a time when so many advances have been made, and there are many others in the pipeline. The innovation in the development of heart devices and treatments is uplifting, fascinating, and truth be told, maybe just a little weird.
Probably the worst moment of my life in the battle against heart failure (or my worst moment at all for that matter) was when I had the echocardiogram that showed my ejection fraction had slipped to 15. To recap, an ejection fraction is the measure of how well your heart is pumping out blood. It helps the doctors diagnose and track the progress of heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, a normal heart's ejection fraction may be between 50 and 70. So when the ejection fraction slipped to 15, this was not encouraging.
The fateful echocardiogram occurred in July of 2014. After that event, my heart device was upgraded to include a defibrillator function and I added an advanced heart failure doctor to my team. A number of tests were conducted to determine that I was not in the need of a heart transplant. So while my outlook on life was improving, I learned that I needed to be very sensitive to any signs of change and to keep maintain my disciplined approach to diet and exercise.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.