Thankful for the miracle & heart filled with loveThis past November 8th I had the second of two open heart surgeries - throw in a little battle with cancer and these past five years have been such a roller coaster - and yet, here I am sharing my story of hope and survival. Truly a miracle.
Five years ago I got a horrible staph infection. It did not go to my heart but I was beyond sick. My primary care doctor while listening to my heart heard something a little off and ordered an echo cardiogram. At 48 years old, I had never had one before. The next day I found out that I had a birth defect I knew nothing about - Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disorder. Truth be told I was overweight and out of shape. I had numerous symptoms but I had dismissed them. I blamed my weight and was embarrassed to say anything. By the time I had my surgery to have my aortic valve replaced, I was in complete congestive heart failure with aortic dissection and an aneurysm. I had a relatively normal recovery with no complications.
Fast forward two years later and I started spotting. My heart surgery had thrown me into early menopause and I had stopped getting my period. Within a month I was spotting and bleeding. I thought my period had come back, but just in case I made an appointment with my gynecologist. I was diagnosed with Uterine Cancer and ended up having a radical hysterectomy. My heart surgery had saved my life twice! Had I not had the surgery, I probably would not have noticed the bleeding and the cancer could have been a lot worse.
This past October I was not feeling well. Honestly I was not sick, sick - but just did not feel right. I was tired, out of breath walking up stairs and just not feeling myself. I made an appointment with my cardiologist who did not see anything worth worrying about and scheduled an echo cardiogram for two months down the road. Not exactly satisfied with her response I went to see my Primary Care Doctor (same one from five years ago) she immediately ordered an emergency echo and thus began my three month battle with endocarditis.
They never let me leave the hospital and all of a sudden I was in the midst of Infectious Disease and Cardiac Doctors. I was put on IV antibiotics and admitted to the hospital. After a week I was discharged and sent home on six weeks IV antibiotics. I wish I could say I started to feel better, but within a week I was so sick from the antibiotics I could barely get out of bed or eat. Back to the hospital I went, this time with a collapsed lung from all the vomiting and on to a new batch of antibiotics. I was in the hospital over a month when they realized the antibiotics were not working and I had to have my valve replaced.
This surgery was a lot more complicated - the infection had spread to other areas of my heart and my valve replacement surgery ended up being a more complicated eight hour surgery. My recovery this time was much harder - not only was I now on coumadine (I chose a mechanical valve this time) but I came home on IV antibiotics for six weeks and my body had a much harder time healing. It has been three months and I am still not a 100% - I would say maybe 70%. In addition to my physical health, my mental health has taken a beating. I am scared - scared of getting another infection and scared of not being around to see my girls grow up (I have two amazing daughters, 24 & 14).
It has been a struggle. I try and replace with my fear with faith in God. You know the expression - "fake it till you make it". I've been doing that and I can honestly say that the fear has become less and less - though I admit I wash my hands and use a lot more antibacterial lotion then most people!
I asked another survivor how he handled his fear - he told me that he visualized his valve with all the love he has for his family and friends, for all the love he has been given and for all the love he has for life. I've been doing that every day and I can tell you it helps. When I fear creeping in, I put my hand over my heart and whisper to myself "heart filled with love"
I don't take anything for granted. I know how truly blessed I am. I have an amazing husband and two incredible daughters. I have a wonderful group of people who have loved and supported me. From just driving my daughter to practice and talking in the car to sitting at a dinner table with my entire family, I am grateful for the miracle.