Hello and Happy New Year! Okay, so it's a week late for that, but time moves slowly when you're out on recovery from open heart surgery. "Slow" is not usually a word in my vocabulary, but this has forced this fast-paced mom, wife, and news anchor to slow everything down.
I'm now 6 weeks out from surgery. On November 25th, 2019, I had my aortic valve replaced and an anomalous coronary artery fixed. It was my second open heart surgery. In case you don't know my backstory, I had my first surgery in 2012. That one came as a complete shock. At the age of 26, after never having had heart problems and being an active and otherwise healthy person, I found out I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. Because of that faulty valve, I developed an infection that was essentially eating away at my heart and I was rushed in for emergency surgery.
This time was different. I knew I'd need a second surgery (because of the type of valve I chose) and I’ve been closely monitored for the past 7 years. About a year and a half ago, my annual echocardiograms started to show signs of the valve wearing out. Those annual echos turned into an every-6-month regimen with some additional tests thrown in. I tried not to panic, but this was earlier than we had hoped. We hoped this valve would last 10 years. It was too early for this to be happening, but it was. No one really had an explanation for why the valve wore out so quickly. Maybe it was just my young age or maybe the physical stress and extra blood volume of pregnancies contributed.
Finally, this past summer, my cardiologist told me what I didn't want to hear: “It's time.” Full panic set in. Sure, I knew I'd have to have another surgery. Truthfully, that part didn't really scare me. What scared me was having two little boys who need me. The youngest was less than a year old and couldn't even walk at the time. How would I help take care of him? And would the oldest, who's 4, understand enough to be careful around me, or would he understand too much and be scared? That was the hard part, but other than let my valve fail and my heart stop beating, I didn't have a choice. I looked into less invasive procedures, but it turned out that those weren't a good option for me right now.
So I accepted that it was time to have another full open-heart surgery, and with that came a lot of decisions, tough decisions. What type of valve to get this time around (you may remember 7 years ago, I thought I'd for sure get a mechanical valve but science is advancing to the point where I had a lot to think about. More on that in a later blog), what type of surgery to have, where to have it, and whether to fix this anomalous coronary artery that the additional testing had uncovered.
Basically, an anomalous coronary artery is one that doesn't quite start or go where it should. Sometimes it can mean nothing and you can live a healthy life; other times it can mean problems or even sudden cardiac death. Since I needed surgery anyway, I opted to have surgeons fix it.
All of these decisions led to a lot of anxiety over the summer and fall, but finally things fell into place and I had surgery on November 25th. Surgery went very well! My valve was swapped out for a new one and my coronary artery was fixed. I was off the ventilator and talking to family just a few hours after surgery. I was in pain, but I was alive and better than ever. I am so grateful to the surgeons, doctors and nurses, and I feel so blessed to have such a great medical team (both those directly involved in my care, and those indirectly involved who checked on me every day).
I spent 8 days in the hospital, including Thanksgiving Day. My husband and mom brought me turkey (although I'm sure the hospital's would have been lovely, there's nothing like the real thing!) I had tough days, ones where I thought, 'Why me?,' and questioned all of my decisions; but that's a place that I long ago resolved to never let myself stay. I slowly had tubes removed, started walking the halls of the cardiac floor, and feeling better and more optimistic each day. I watched a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies and time moved slowly towards the end of my stay. I would have been out sooner, but developed a small problem with my heart's electrical system that needed some more monitoring and testing. I thought I might need a pacemaker, but passed the test, and instead got sent home with a 30-day heart monitor to further evaluate things. I'm waiting on the results of that and continuing my recovery at home--walking more than a mile a day, enjoying time with my husband and boys (although I can't pick either of them up), and starting to do more around the house. I even made a brief appearance at the WFMZ Christmas party to say “Hi” to everyone!
More on my at-home recovery in the next blog. I hope everyone's New Year is off to a great start!