Some of you have heard about this through my friends and family; some haven’t and thus have no idea what the title of this blog entry entails. The short, short version? Dad had open-heart surgery on Thursday and seems to be recovering nicely. (I hear that generic orange popsicles are “the best popsicles ever” when they’re the first thing you eat after surgery.)
The longer story about Dad’s heart goes back about six years. First off, he’s a mutant. Seriously. He has a genetic mutation that resulted in his being born with a bicuspid aortic valve (vs. most people’s tricuspid valve). That never kept him from being active and playing sports better than his friends as they got older (probably not a result of his being a mutant, but you never know…).
Back in November ’07, Dad had a heart attack and needed double-bypass surgery, so they replaced his aortic valve at the same time. If I remember right, it was leaking a little bit at the time, but not enough to do anything drastic. Still, since they were already performing open-heart surgery—the blockages were in places where the doctors couldn’t just use a stint—they found a piggy that may or may not have volunteered to have its own aortic valve put into Dad’s chest. Thus, he received a new tricuspid valve that was supposed to last for 15, 20 years.
If you’re taking notes, highlight the term “supposed to”.
A couple weeks ago, Dad came down with a case of pneumonia. He’d spent a lot of time coughing and hacking and trying to catch his breath, but it took a while to finally get him to visit the doctor. Why? Because he’s a badass, that’s why. But as it turns out, his level of badassery made nary a bit of difference.
I can’t count the number of doctors who’ve poked their heads into Dad’s hospital room with a stethoscope, placing it at various points on his chest and back and telling him to take deep breaths. When his regular doctor did so, he heard some interesting sounds. The first was fluid in his right lung, an obvious sign of pneumonia. The second was something about his heart. He wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was, so he sent Dad to get a CAT scan right away.
My understanding is that when he got that CAT scan, he became one of the only (if not the only) patient who’s been admitted into the hospital immediately after his scan. They shipped him via ambulance to another hospital that specializes in cardiac treatment. It’s where he had his first open-heart surgery; it ended up being where he had his second as well.
They kept him for about a week, doing all sorts of scans and tests, injecting fluids and withdrawing blood, poking at him with stethoscopes… they did a lot. When looking at the overall results, they saw that both his aortic valve and mitral valve were leaking. They’d pump blood out, but some would wash back in. The mitral valve wasn’t too bad, but the damage to the aortic valve was officially “severe”.
What’s more, they detected some vegetation near the aortic valve, which could signal a bacterial infection. If that was the case, the bacteria could break away at any point, wash into his blood stream and infect God knows what other parts of his body. Much like the valve itself, they couldn’t just leave it sitting there
Most of the doctors thought he’d need to have his aortic valve replaced (again) within the next few months, a decade less than the 15-20 years we expected from the first replacement valve. One doctor thought the damage looked really old and recommended antibiotics for 40 days to get rid of the vegetation, then they’d take another look. If Dad had been okay for this long with a leaky heart, maybe he wouldn’t need surgery at all.