Hard to believe it's been 2 years since my Ross Procedure at Mt. Sinai in NYC! I absolutely love how Dr. Stelzer's patients stay in touch and help other through the intimidating choices and decision making processes. It's so much to take in if you're blind sided with surgery as I was in December of 2011. I've learned that helping others is rewarding in so many ways especially when it's something near and dear to your heart (see what I did there?)
I want to again personally thank my Ross Brothers and Sisters for having my back these past 2+ years: Ralph Creel, Jeff Shebovsky, Elizabeth Devaney, Stretch Ledford, Sylvia Yasgur and Rob Lauro. I also want to say thank you to Mitch Friedman and his mother Diane who came to see me several times while at Mt. Sinai. Such amazing people.
I have my annual checkup in March and I'm looking forward to passing with flying colors. I haven't taken any heart meds in 18 months and my blood pressure is perfect. I push myself pretty hard and it's not uncommon for me to burn 1500 calories in under an hour at the gym. I gave my family and friends quite a scare in the OR 2 years ago, but it looks like Dr. Stelzer buttoned me back up pretty well! :-)
Even though I rarely post these days, I still view the world with new eyes. I'll never forget being rolled into the OR while the drugs began to take affect. I remember turning and straining to see Niki one more time as I rolled down the long cold hall. She looked pretty calm I thought -- "Doesn't she remember where I'm going!?!"
So, I refuse to get back into the daily grind and feel I'm part of an elite club. I've earned it. Scars tell stories and this story definitely has a good ending.
BIG HUGS to my HVJ Family & Friends and all my love to Dr. Stelzer and his truly gifted staff. Above all, thank you Lord for giving me a little more time.
Been a little while so I thought I'd check in. I had a full work up earlier this month and everything looks perfect! My pulmonary and aortic valves are "snapping" perfectly and it looks like I never had surgery in there. I've pushed myself hard this past year and all my vitals are perfect.
Since my Ross Procedure with Dr. Stelzer, I've been in contact with several folks considering using him. I think all of them did go with Stelzer. Like I said before, once you meet him, it seals the deal. My only request is that THEY help people as so many Stelzer patients helped me (Elizabeth Devaney, Charles Ledford, Ralph Creel, Rob Lauro, Sylvia Yasgur, etc..)
It's really incredible watching people transform from panic-stricken worrywarts into confident optimists. We're all the same, it's just hard to understand unless you've been through it. LIFE is good.
So I'm 1 year old today and I'm a little big for my age, what can I say? :-) I'm so excited to be alive and am STILL buzzing with excitement a year post op. Being a sales guy, I spend a lot of my time driving to various appointments around Houston and it's amazing not having to worry about dizziness / vertigo any longer. For about a year there I was in a pretty bad way. I literally used to pull over while on my way to a meeting, get sick, clean myself up, then make the mtg. And flying? Not a chance. Now, I catch myself looking around and think, "Man, I'm not dizzy anymore?! This is awesome!!"
This past year has absolutely flown by and I could not be happier overall. Niki and my kids have been incredible during this whole process. I'll never forget the look on my children's faces when I first told them about surgery; and I'll never forget their faces when I came home. Feeling well again has improved every part of my life because I truly understand what's important since I was living a shell of myself for so long. Yes, heart surgery is serious stuff but the payoff is HUGE. The payoff is LIFE. And finding lifelong friends along the way is the whipped cream and cherry on top!
10 Month Ross Procedure Passes the Disney World Test!
Journal posted on January 3, 2013
We just returned from an amazing road trip to Disney World in Orlando. We had a blast but as they say, there's no place like home!
I'll admit, I was a little nervous about riding some of the thrill rides because of all the "Don't Ride if You Have Heart Issue" signs posted EVERY WHERE. Well, I can officially check this off my list because my heart was nothing but smiles on all the rides. I guess Dr. Stelzer buttoned me up pretty good in there! :-) We spent New Year's night at the Hollywood Studios Park and were blown away with the live band and fireworks finale. I couldn't believe all the people there -- not sure if I'll do it again but it was definitely an experience.
I thank God for a blessed 2012 and look to him for wonderful things in 2013.
Happy New Year to all my valve brothers and sisters!!!
Today is so special. I finally came through this morning with a promise I made to my kiddos back in February during heart surgery. I promised a fun vacation and they awoke to Disney World tickets under the tree this morning. And we leave tomorrow!
Thank you Lord for blessing me with such wonderful family and friends.
Hard to believe 3 months has passed since my last journal entry. Shame on me. The thing is, I don't really FEEL like a heart patient and forget to post updates. So this morning when my wife sent me a text message that said, "Happy 9 months" I was like, "What in the world? Are we pregnant or something?" OH YEA!!! HEART SURGERY!! :-o
It's really funny, I still think of my nurses and surgeons all the time at Mt. Sinai but fail to make the patient / caregiver connection any longer. They are simply old friends that I miss and hope to see again -- and not for heart surgery! I can't wait to get back to NYC (miss you Mitch). I continue to be amazed by life and often stop and look around me knowing that I could easily be somewhere different. Life is unquestionably different now and I pray I never lose this perspective.
With such a fun time of year at hand and big plans for the holidays, I put God first in all I do. I'm so blessed with such a wonderful wife, mom & dad, and kiddos. My friends and family are always there and I'm back to a "guy with the truck that can help me move" place and that's right where I want to be. Oh, and if there is an award or something for showing your scar the most amount of times, I'm pretty sure I've got that one stitched up! :-) I've been known to show people in restaurants. That's dedication people. lol.
SO, I'm healthy as a horse and was basically back to normal 3 months post op. Thank you Adam for what you've done for us here -- support is a beautiful thing.
Today is a big day for me. This time 6 months ago Dr. Stelzer had my chest open and was working his magic to repair my bicuspid aortic valve and repair my ascending aorta. It's funny, I'm still hyper-sensitive to the smell of rubbing alcohol, certain hand sanitizers, and certain perfumes that the nurses would wear while checking on me.
Over the weekend I made it over a major hurdle. For the past 2 years I have been unable to have our annual "Fun Day" (i.e. amusement parks, movies, etc..) celebrating the close of Summer vacation because of my dizziness. Caden, my son, was cautiously optimistic about our chances and said, "Daddy, it will be ok if we don't make it again." Well, we did make it. In fact, we waved and laughed at the spot in the road where I had to turn around last year. We had a great weekend and I even smoked 2 briskets and had the neighbors and family over for pre-season football. I'M BACK!! :-)))
As I watch my kids grab their backpacks and put on new clothes for a new school year this morning, I smile and thank God that I am here. I guess I'm still buzzing from that "New Heart Smell" you get when you get a new Heart! :-P The wonderful people of Mt. Sinai in NYC have changed this Texan forever and for that, I am forever grateful. 6 months later, I am still thrilled with my choice of Ross and traveling to Dr. Stelzer -- wouldn't change a thing.
Hard to believe my surgery was 4 months ago today. It feels like so long ago now. It's so bizarre how time can play such tricks on me. The weeks and days before surgery were like months and the months after surgery seem like years. I've continued my daily exercise but still don't have all my wind back for long runs. My lungs are great, just need more conditioning which I guess anyone can lose with time off. I'm playing in my first racquetball tournament since the surgery this weekend so we'll see how that goes! If I medal, I plan to send the hardware to Dr. Stelzer! I think he's earned it! :-)
I had my first Cardio visit last Thursday and she took me off some meds -- I'm down to 2 now which is nice (Enalapril & Metoprolol). My aortic valve sounded perfect but there was a little bit of a murmur (in the "normal" range) on the pulmonary side. Since the pulmonary homograft is oversized to account for later shrinking, I'm sure this will subside on its own. On Friday, I had my first echocardiogram and I played a little game with the tech. I asked her to tell me what she thought I had done. Keep in mind, this was the best Tech at St. Luke's specifically requested by my Cardiologist. After looking for quite a while, she said everything looked perfect and she gave up. When I told her I had Ross done on 2/27/12 she was amazed. She finally looked hard enough to see faded suture marks on the Pulmonary / Aortic valves. Getting all this good news again affirms my choice of Ross and Dr. Stelzer at Mt. Sinai -- can't say that enough!
Kids are off for Summer and keeping Niki and I busy. We have lots of Summer projects planned around our house and are looking forward to some impromptu vacations. I'm blessed on so many levels and continue to keep God first in all I do.
I'll check in with you guys next month! Stay strong and I'm here if you need me.
It's truly amazing how time flies. 2 weeks before my surgery, every minute felt like hours. I felt like I couldn't read enough, couldn't research and absorb enough about surgery and what to expect. Looking back, I can't help but to think how lucky we are to be living in a time of medical marvels and to be in the greatest country in the world protected by the greatest men and women in the world.
Since my last post 4 weeks ago, I've continued to get stronger and more entrenched back into "normal life." I made myself a promise though: I will never again take anyone for granted and will live the life God has extended with urgency. I never want to lose the connection to myself I discovered days before my surgery either. I think we protect ourselves from hidden fears / emotions that we have to face in our darkest hours. At the time, this was a very frightening exercise for me; but if I can face those fears I can face anything.
I've been so blessed with a quick recovery and have been back to 100% for many weeks now. Just last week I did four sets of 10 on flat bench at 225 lbs which was a good win for me. I'm also playing again in a competitive racquetball league with some awesome friends. I'm finally getting my wind back. If I medal, I'll be sending my first trophy to Dr. Stelzer -- I think he's earned it! :-)
If I could say anything negative at all about my recovery, I feel that my immune system did take a hit. I've been sick twice in 3 months which is unheard of for me. I had a cold and an upper respiratory infection. Seems like I catch anything going around so I have to continue to be careful on that front. I should probably slow down a little too and get to bed earlier.
That's all for now, if I can do anything for anyone please don't hesitate to contact me. God is good and life is good. Don't forget, we have some AMAZING folks here at HVJ that want to help you. We're a family here so let's take care of each other.
As time goes by, I realize my choice for Ross was a good one. I bounced back quickly and I've been back in the gym now for 3 weeks doing light weights and playing racquetball regularly in addition to my walking. The mosquitoes have been so bad in our area that I've been walking on our treadmill at home. My "everyday" strength was back at 3 weeks and I'm still working on getting the "gym' strength back. Pushups still feel a little weird so I'm being careful there. I promised my wife that I'd stay off the heavy weights for good since I probably won't make the Houston Texans this close to 40!! :-)
Needless to say, my life is forever changed in a spectacularly positive way -- God is good. I recently spoke with 2 people that have similar Aortic issues and I find that sharing my experiences and research with them helps both of us. This is obviously serious stuff and it helps SO MUCH when you have the opportunity to speak with people that have been there and done that. Little secrets go a long way when you're in ICU. I remember when I spoke with Ralph Creel, Stelzer #444, about Ross. This had a huge impact on me.
The amazing and talented Dr. Stelzer continues to text me notes to see how I'm doing which is so thoughtful. I continue to marvel at his work ethic, attitude, and kindness. I honestly miss the man!! In the end, I'm another heart patient in a long line of heart patients that adores him.
BIG Texas Hugs to all of you, I'll check in again next month! :-))
It's difficult to describe the way this surgery has affected me. Not only do I feel fantastic, but I truly see the beauty and value of life and those around me. I almost feel cheated that I couldn't see this before surgery. In short, I've been given a gift of sight.
Thank you HVJ brothers and sisters for supporting me every step of the way. As 1 month turns into 2 and 3, I'll be here supporting others preparing and recovering from surgery. I feel like I have so much to share with folks -- it's a difficult ride but the reward is both spiritual and physical. At 4 weeks, I feel back to normal -- the bad news is, it's time to go back to work!! :-)
First of all, it feels amazing to be home. Seeing my kids and family makes everything seem so real. Being in NYC for 2 full weeks was very difficult on us but I would would do it again tomorrow. I had my first Cardiologist appointment this morning and everything was perfect! I go back in 3 months -- that seems so far away! My chest scar is healing very fast and I don't require heavy pain meds. The anesthesia is still working it's way out of my system so I do feel a slight brain fog. My lungs are back to normal and I'm walking every day.
I cannot properly describe the excellence of Dr. Stelzer and Mt. Sinai in NYC. Dr. Stelzer came in to be with me so many times during ICU and stepdown. His smile warmed my heart and pushed me to get strong. He is everything one could ever hope for in a surgeon. I also became quite close with Dr. Robin Varghese, his partner who also assisted in my surgery. Both of these men are very close to my spirit now. I feel a deep connection and honor in their presence. I also have a list of special nurses which I will be contacting very soon. This list is about 8 people total -- all VERY special to me.
As I continue my recovery, I want to thank you all again for your thoughts and prayers. I honestly felt them and I had peace. Thank you Mitch and Diane for seeing me all those days in the hospital. I also thank Jeff Shebovsky and Carol for their support. It's funny, I know so little about all of you, but you feel like family to me. I have made some amazing friends on this journey so far and look forward to helping others.
I'm looking at my last journal post and am cracking up! Wow was I looped out. I'm actually not even taking pain meds aside from motrin and Tylenol at the moment. I'm feeling very good but experience "cold sweats" which are flu-like symptoms. This will go away very soon.
I need you all to know something. YOU gave me a lot of strength that I could honestly feel. They got me down late and I woke early -- I remember a lot. There was a fairly major complication while closing me up due to my own anatomy which caused massive sorenesss. I remember feeling miserable. But never weak. If you are ever in this dark place, dig deep and find your own way. Its there, look. Today, I look and feel great and feel stronger by the minute. Thank you for your love,support, and pushing me through.
I plan to recover in record time and look forward to returning to the racquetball courts as soon as possible. I will always be here to help you all and will forever honor those that have helped me. Today and tomorrow, my thoughts are with Jeff Shebovsky and his family. Godspeed brother, I'll see you in ICU.
Has a great day folks. Took 2 walks and Peed on my own! I'm still waiting for a better room and the first 2 days postop royally sucked. They had to work hard to keep me under and even harder to pull my ribs back together. So ohs surgery sucks for guys that lift a lot.
You guys are the best and I'll be posting more very soon.
Chris had a good night and started the day sitting in a chair for 5 hours. We are planning on a calm day to wean him off of the meds that are supporting his heart. All that goes well, he will be able to leave ICU tomorrow.
Your love and support means so much. A special Thank You to Mitch for stopping by to see us and Jeff for his helpful information and keeping our fellow "Stelzer Rossers" up-to-date!
Chris went to the OR about 30 minutes ago. He was calm and relaxed just as you all said he would be. Dr. Stelzer said that we should expect to hear from him around 3:00 this afternoon. Please say a prayer that all goes well.
I can't believe it's my turn tomorrow. Today is such a beautiful day here in NYC. Niki and I have had such a wonderful time. My mom and Niki's sister, Mandy, just arrived at the hotel. Mandy has set up a surprise dinner for us tonight. I should probably stay away from the spicy stuff! This morning we walked to Dr. Stelzer's church and had such a heartfelt experience. Niki and I also had a chance to briefly visit with Mrs. Stelzer. She is a very special lady indeed.
As I come closer to my surgery date, I've been very aware of my surroundings...my existence. During the church service this morning I noticed something that really touched me. As if put there on purpose, a beautiful hanging piece of art positioned above the pastor. The snow topped mountain scene had a fitting scripture for me -- Psalm 46:10. "Be still and know that I am God."
Arrived in NYC yesterday at noon and rushed over to Mt Sinai hospital for my 1:30 pre-op appointment. I wasn't nervous at all during the 3 hour ordeal. I will arrive Monday morning at 5:30 am for surgery. I remain confident in my choice and am enjoying NYC food and new friends.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Mitch Friedman and his mother Diane. Such beautiful people. Mitch had surgery 3 weeks ago and is doing incredible! His chest scar looks remarkably healed as well. We walked a few blocks and had some burgers then went back to his place to visit. So happy I have a local "coach" to guide me along. I also called Diane "Mom" too! She is great.
Weather is wet and cold tonight. Room service anyone?
Woohoo, I'm in the patient spotlight -- look at that! :-) Special thanks to Mitch Friedman for scooting over a bit to share the spotlight. I've been emailing Mitch and boy does he sound great. Though I haven't met him yet, I'm very proud of him and look forward to having lunch with him this Friday in NYC.
Yesterday was a tough day for me. For some reason, I was just hit with tons of emotions while preparing for my NY trip. I haven't cried like that since I was a little boy. It was strange, but it also felt good because I connected with a part of me I haven't seen in a long time. I sorta feel like I'm back in my own body now....hard to explain but I feel different this morning. I feel good.
Today is my last day in Houston before surgery. I've got courage in my chest and trust in my Dr.
Niki and I just got back from NY. We visited Dr. Stelzer and his staff at Mt. Sinai Hospital. We know where we'll do the pre-op stuff and are ready for the big show on the 27th. Dr. Stelzer answered my 3 pages of questions and even prayed with us at the end of our visit. I must say, I'm completely blown away with this guy on a few different levels. He is truly a gifted, technical surgeon and I now know why his patients adore him. Sandwiched between degrees and medical recognitions, his office walls have letters, picture frames, and medals of former patients now competing in Iron Man's, marathons, etc.. I really debated on flying to NY to see him; boy am I glad we went. It was a wonderful visit and these New Yorkers are good people! :-)
Niki and I fly back next week on the 23rd for pre-op and will goof off Friday - Sunday. My mom and Mandy (Niki's sister) will come in the day before my surgery to support Niki and I. I can't thank my mom and Mandy enough for their help. I'm staying positive and have lots of incredible people praying for me...and I feel it. I honestly feel God set me on this path having put Dr. Stelzer in my life in such an interesting way. Seems like all things point to NY now. Let's stay positive and enjoy the ride.
I told my kids this morning on the way to school that I loved them so much that I had to have surgery to add some more space in my heart. At 11 & 9 I'm fairly certain they bought it with my fine salesmanship and all.. But when I thought about it, it should be fairly simple. Figured I'd throw a C note in Dr. Stelzer's tip jar in the OR room for some extra "memory" while he has my batteries out.
Niki and I are flying to NYC in the morning to see Dr. Stelzer and seal the deal. Hard to believe it's less than 2 weeks from surgery! Thank you Lord for my awesome wife, family and HVJ family!
Well. I did it. After another week of agonizing research and phone calls to patients, I've set my date for February 27th with Dr. Stelzer. Yup, this Houston boy is heading to New York. I have to admit, It's hard to believe I'm leaving the medical metropolis in Houston, but Dr. Stelzer is simply the best I can find and location doesn't matter.
Niki and I are flying up next Wednesday, Feb 15th, for quick Dr. visit and to familiarize ourselves with the area. Me being the planner I am, this will be sort of like a dry run for the big show on the 27th. With all that I've collected, I'm 99% sure I'm going Ross -- Stelzer will close the deal with the extra 1% during our visit.
Special thanks to my new friend Jeff Shebovsky here at HVJ for being my research partner. Jeff's surgery date is March 7th with Dr. Stelzer so I'll be giving him a high 5 in the hospital hallway when they wheel me out. :-) I've honestly had such great support from all my friends here at HVJ. I recently received an encouraging email from Adam Pick as well -- what an amazing thing he has created here for us all.
I've narrowed my AVR down to two choices -- mechanical vs. ross. I thought I had it figured out till I met with a world famous heart surgeon in Houston this week.
Just when I was ready to pull the trigger on Ross, I was told to strongly reconsider. My potential Houston surgeon has 40+ years of surgery experience and worked closely with Dr. DeBakey for 25 years; I have no choice but to step back and look at things again. I mean, if he did Barbara Bush's Aortic valve in 2009, I should probably listen to the guy right? As for Ross, he has performed them in the past and knows Dr. Ross personally. So... back to the fence I go...
As he said, "the most conservative and tested approach at your age is a St. Jude mechanical valve." He rattled off dozens of world class Doctors, references, statistics, and even shared some online resources for my own continued investigation. It's difficult to argue with the fact that there are over 2 Million St. Jude valves walking around with published studies showing excellent results at 15 AND 25 years out. On the other hand, I haven't been able to find long term Ross results which I find a little interesting since it's been performed for so long? The best I can tell from my research is that one can expect reoperation with Ross at 16 years post-op (normally due to dilated autograft).
So it's time to make a decision. I'm getting tired of not feeling well and not exercising (per Dr.'s orders) so let's get the show on the road!!
A.) Mechanical Valves are the de facto standard with solid long-term results and low reoperation risk for single Aortic Valve Replacement at my age. The obvious negative is anti-coagulant therapy for the rest of my life which sucks bigtime. On the bright side, I learned that a new type of Coumadin will be released in the next 2-3 years, once FDA approved, which will greatly simplify anti-coagulant therapy and greatly reduce potential bleeding events. Most people say they can't hear the St. Jude valve, but some folks can. I can hear my own heart now with my severe regurgitation so what's the difference?
B.) Ross is great because your diet (vitamin K) and lifestyle isn't affected at all. I'm young and can remain active without the fear of cutting myself for example or any other restrictions. Your own tissue + another homograft is used so Coumadin / clotting concern is out the window. However, the numbers I've found show a higher death risk in the OR (3.9% vs. <1% for mechanical) + the need at some point for reoperation.
For me, I REALLY don't want to go through this again so do I have to just put up with Coumadin to ensure that? Some Ross patients have been given a "40 year guarantee" that their autograft / homograft will work. Quite frankly, I just can't find the evidence to support this?
I'd love to get your comments if you've been through this! It's a huge choice that I need to make, and make soon.
Heart cath was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. HOWEVER, I do have the bestest wife in the world there waiting with me. The folks at St. Luke's in The Woodlands, TX are fantastic although I'm already tired of hearing everyone say, "you're too young to be in here!" Uh yea I know.. Actual procedure took 20 minutes with Dr. Acquino but I had to lay flat for 2.5 hours after. Caught up on some Melbourne Tennis and ordered a tasty turkey sand.
So, I have my TEE and now my Cath which I'll be overnighting to Kathy at Dr. Selzer's office. My coronary arteries and pulmonary valve look great so I hope to be a good candidate for Ross. I'm staying open minded but Ross certainly seems to fit the bill for me. We'll see soon enough!
Well, the Dixon family had a pretty good weekend. Both kiddos won their basketball games and we had a couple beautiful warm Texas "Winter" days. After basketball on Saturday, we went to our favorite sushi bar and we decided to tell the kids about my heart. My goal was to wait till we were more certain about the procedure (mechanical vs. Ross) and had a surgery date pinned down. But, we sort of spontaneously decided to let the cat out of the bag. They took it pretty well but I did choke up as they stared at each other with watering eyes across the table. At 11 and 9, they naturally had lots of questions. And my 11 year daughter, which we affectionately call an "old soul," requested to be present at future surgeon visits because "she had some specific questions." Lol, leave it to her for some unintentional comedic relief in a tense moment.
Moving forward, I have my heart cath set for the 26th and have a pending appointment with Dr. Lawrie here in Houston. Things are moving, albeit, s-l-o-w-l-y. I'm nervous, but ready to feel better and start the healing process...and not be DiZzY!! I just recently built a nice home gym to get in great shape -- never knew I'd be using it to carefully recover from open heart surgery. Thank you Lord for always having a plan in my life.
Patiently waiting for the next step (well, not so patiently)
Journal posted on January 18, 2012
Seems like everyone I need to speak with is either on vacation or "out." I've always considered myself a fairly patient person but when it comes to something like this, I've still got some learning to do.
I'm waiting for a heart cath then my cardiologist wants me to visit with a Neurologist to make sure my dizziness is not related to anything else. I'm pretty convinced my "brain fog" and constant dizziness is a result of my severe aortic regurgitation. My TEE showed half of the blood pumped out is "jetting" back in. In fact, it's coming back with such force that it could potentially beat up my mitral valve over time.
I've started telling friends and family about my upcoming procedure and it's actually making me feel a lot better. Now that I have my heart-valve-surgery family, it's making me even stronger!
Anyone else experience any dizziness?? I'm definitely a cheap date these days!! :-)
Reading "The Patient's Guide to Heart Valve Surgery"
Journal posted on January 10, 2012
I'm having a hard time focusing on work stuff today. I ordered The Patient's Guide to Heart Valve Surgery" eBook today and haven't been able to stop reading it. I'm like a sponge reading and absorbing as much as I can about this entire process. I have so many questions for my Cardiologist who believes a mechanical valve is the way to go. The Ross Procedure is certainly worth my time & investigation. I've only told a few people about my upcoming surgery. That's about to change.