I am 59 years old and at my annual checkup with my PCP, which I had not had in about 3 years, my doctor ask me "has anyone every told you that you have a heart murmur?" My reply, I recall, was, "well if anyone had, it would have been you!". He looked back at his records and, sure enough, he mentioned it last time... but I did not follow up. This time I took his advice and got a stress test echocardiogram... and that's when everything starting rolling towards next Thursday.
Over the past year or more I had been feeling unusually tired, weak and found myself exhausted after short periods of exertion. It turns out that those symptoms, as well as some lightheaded feelings and sometimes feeling like I had "forgotten to breathe" was due to a failing mitral valve. I was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation. And my first cardiologist said "you heart is tolerating the condition" and took a wait-and-see approach.
When it came time for a six month follow up last December I opted to see a second cardiologist, Dr. Fahad Gilani, at CMC. I had a new echo done and was not in the room 5 minutes with Dr. Gilina who asserted severe mitral valve regurgitation and said "I'd like to schedule you for a pre-op cardiac catheter next week". I told him I was busy at work and asked if it could wait until April. His reply "I wouldn't wait". I took his advice and schedule the catheter - which turned out to be a 12 hour day in the hospital and included the cath, x-rays and echo test of carotid arteries. The result of those tests: my heart is strong, no enlargement, less that 50% (the threshold) blockage in the carotids and not enough artertial plaque to warrant stents. Aside from the mitral valve, I was in good shape. So... how about some surgery?
My wife and I met with surgeons and cardiologist in New Hampshire and nearby Boston. During the short time since the cath on January 11 we've learned so much. While there are a few different approaches to addressing mitral valve issues, I became convinced that the best option for me is open-heart surgery. I am in good health now, the time on life support is shorter than some other methods, the access provided to the surgeon is the clearest and it is, by a large margin, the way most surgeries of this type are performed.
I made the decision to have the surgery at CMC with Dr. Westbrook. I'm relieved to say that when I called my cardiologist at a high-profile hospital in Boston and told him of my decision he immediately said: "that's great, they have a wonderful team up there!".
I have never had surgery in my life and, as the nurse in the cardiothoracic office said, I'm starting at the top.
The stories here on the website, and Adam's book have been helpful in my understanding and helped me build confidence. As others have written, I look forward to feeling better, feeling stronger and getting back to life. I'm grateful to those of you who have shared your stories and I hope my story is helpful to others.