I'm an oil painter, hang glider pilot and volunteer ski patroller. I love painting animals and landscapes around my home in the Northwestern U.S. I started skiing when I was five in Japan where I'm from, and I'm now 51 years old. I joined White Pass Ski Patrol two years ago.
I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. I was aware that I had a heart murmur whenever I did EKG since I was about a third grader, but I didn't know why. I told my mom that I had chest pain (tightness) in the evening, but she never took me seriously.
I never liked hiking big hills and mountains. I always get exhausted and nauseated in a while. I was convinced that I was just out of shape and needed to exercise more to get strong. I joined the high school ski team and ran everyday.
After high school, I came to the United States, and went to University of Arizona, and I also started flying hang gliders. I had to go back to Tokyo before finishing my degree for my family reason. In 2003, I met my husband Peter at a hang gliding event in Florida, and moved to Central Washington. I went back to school, obtained my BFA at CWU in painting and drawing, and became a professional artist. Peter currently teaches Economics at CWU.
In the winter of 2018, I went to my dentist for the annual cleaning, and I was told that my blood pressure was too high to do the dental treatment unless I get a doctor's clearance. I went to see my primary doctor to get his signoff. He did EKG, and told me that I had a murmur, and that the wall of my left ventricle was very thick. So I did an echocardiogram in May, the day after I was diagnosed with significant cataracts in both eyes. I got a phone call from my doctor's office the next day that the doctor needs to see you in the afternoon or the next morning. He told me that I have a bicuspid aortic valve and aortic stenosis.
My husband and I did research about cardiologists and hospitals, and settled down with Swedish Medical Center - Cherry Hill Campus. I made an appointment with Dr. John Olsen. It turned out that he used to be a ski patroller at Alpental Ski Area until three years ago. So he understand what skiing means to me, and what our ski patrol activities are like. Based on the echocardiogram, he told me that I have severe aortic stenosis.
In mid-June 2018, I took a stress test. I was told that I did 110% of average healthy people at my age, in other words, I did as well as what they would expect from a healthy person at 41 years old. Considering that fact that I just came back from a ski patrol training at Mt. Hood at 8,000 ft MSL a few weeks earlier, I wasn't surprised to perform well in Seattle at near sea level. Dr. Olsen told me to check with him every three months and do another echo in 6 months. Since I did well on the stress test, he told me that I'm in a good shape and I could keep skiing. Over the summer, I didn't do as much exercise as I would do in the winter. I noticed feeling light headed and short of breath after intense gardening.
In September, Peter and I went to Glacier National Park and hiked up from Logan Pass toward Hidden Lake above 6,000' MSL. I kept monitoring the pulse-oximeter that I was carrying with me. My O2 level was below 90%, heart rate 145 bpm. As soon as I stopped or walked on the flat trail, my heart rate went down to 120's. I took my time a lot, and finally made it to the end of the trail after one hour. I painted there, and came down to the trailhead no problem. I mentioned this to Dr. Olsen, but he was reluctant to talk about my surgery schedule, and told me that I could keep skiing. So I did.
Around October, I started having pain and tightness in my left chest. It started out like once a month in the evening, especially when I'm on business trips, or preparing for art shows. But it usually stopped within 10 minutes.
Once the ski season began, I was still doing ok. But around February, the chest pain and tightness occurred more often, and in different spots of my left chest. The did another echo. The nurse called me and told that there was no change from June, and I should come back for another echo in 6 months. I had some nights that I woke up having shortness of breath in the past years, but it was happening again. I also started having shortness of breath when walking across a parking lot at the ski resort at 4,500' MSL. I got an appointment to see the PA in the beginning of March, and he told me to keep taking Ibuprofen for the chest pain. Since I mentioned to him about the shortness of breath, he ordered angiography/heart cath.
I did coronary angiography cath from my right wrist on 3/18/19. Dr. Olsen told me that my coronary arteries were clear, my aortic valve opening diameter is still 7 mm, and my chest pain is caused by aortic stenosis. I asked him about skiing. And he said my body would let me know.
I had an appointment with Dr. Ryan, cardiac surgeon, on 4/15/19. We decided on a tissue valve from a cow. I don't want to want keep taking warfarine, even if I'd need another surgery sooner than with the mechanical valve. I told him that I've been taking the maximum dose of Naproxen and Ibuprofen when my chest pain is bad. He told me to take Naproxen AND Tylenol as needed for chest pain, instead of Naproxen plus Ibuprofen, because one affects Kidney but the other one affects Liver. This way, I'm spreading the risk of damaging one organ.
I'm going back to Swedish for the Presurgical visit on 4/29/19. My open heart surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, 5/8/19.
I had cataract surgeries in both eyes in the past 2 weeks. I really wanted to "test ski" my new eyes with no contact lenses. I went to White Pass and patrolled, but sticking with just light duties. It was sunny and snow was still good. Everything I see is just amazing and breathtaking with my new lenses. I kept telling myself "Oh, that's my future painting!" It was one of the most delightful experiences since I was diagnosed. I felt so complete about my ski season, and now I'm ready for the new chapter of this journal.
More Info About Me & My Heart
More About Me
I am from:
My surgery date is:
May 8, 2019
I was diagnosed with:
Bicuspid Aortic Valve