About Me (In My Own Words)
I was diagnosed with a heart murmur about 35 years ago. At my routine physical exam in the spring of 2015, my physician noted that my heart murmur sounded "louder than he had remembered." Subsequent echo showed severe regurgitation and heart cath. showed no other problems.
I was asymptomatic (except for all of the racket going on in my heart from the regurgitation), but I elected to go ahead with surgery while I was in good health.
I planned to carve out 6 weeks after surgery from work. My work is not physical, but it involves overseeing the research activities of about 60 people, teaching, and performing research myself. So I wanted to be mentally and physically sufficient before I come back.
My family is incredibly supportive and caring.
WHY DR. LEWIS AND PRINCETON BAPTIST?
For the surgery I was facing, mitral valve repair, I wanted the following: 1) robotic surgery for a repair and not a replacement, 2) a surgeon who did a good number of these operations, and 3) a surgical/hospital team that had weekly experience with all that this would entail.
If I could get all three in Alabama, it would be much easier for my family to provide me with support during the process.
So I found that Dr. Clifton Lewis and his team are quite good. Some of the nurses told me while I was recovering at the hospital that he has done as many a seven operations in one day although that is not his regular routine. They do the most valve surgeries in the country for non-university hospitals. Number 6 if you include universities. A hidden gem in Birmingham, Alabama.
The hospital is no 5-star hotel, but I felt like everyone was very capable and interested in my welfare. The doctor was never far away, and I saw him every day after surgery. The staff definitely know the way he wanted things done and ensured that I was taken care of.
My opinion is that Dr. Lewis might consider the robotic surgery on a broader array of clients than perhaps other doctors/hospitals because of his experience, the experience of his team, and his own strategies for success. But I can't really speak for him.
So, I felt that Princeton Baptist and Dr. Lewis' group had what I needed. My experience there confirmed these initial impressions.
HELPING MY FAMILY PROCESS IT ALL BEFORE SURGERY
Emily Rowley Asked: How did your children respond and feel?
At the time of my surgery, my three children were: Laura, age 27; Rebekah, age 22, and Anna, age 14.
Laura got involved. We had her come to the hospital from college to support my wife and me. Laura and I discussed all of the details of my condition and surgery beforehand. She is in graduate school in Marriage and Family Therapy and Counselling. So she kind of went on the journey with us.
Rebekah is quieter and a little overwhelmed with life at the moment. She and her little sister stayed behind with their grandmother. When my wife started freaking out before surgery, she turned some to Rebekah (As Laura was away at college) but Rebekah did not have the capacity to help her. We talked this through and I helped both of them as much as I could.
It was then that I realized that this surgery was much bigger than our family could handle alone. So I brought in a few more trusted friends to help us.
I think Rebekah held it all inside. I talked with Rebekah privately before surgery and arranged a friend to drive her and Anna to the Hospital two days after surgery for a short visit. I wanted her to be able to participate and not be overwhelmed. She, however, caught a cold and we canceled her trip. We talked on the phone. Before I left, I explained to her, "I feel this inside of me every day. I think it might be a little worse than they think. This is why I am not waiting. I have not told mom this, but I will after surgery."
Anna is my sensitive one. We did not go through the details of the surgery with her. We talked, and I gave her an outline of what we expected would happen as far as times, places, and activities. We talked on the phone after surgery, and she was my walking buddy after I got home. Anna got her comfort from her grandmother.
I think it may have been hardest for my wife. The thought of me not making it and going in on the early side for surgery was truly working on her. I was asymptomatic which makes it hard to rationalize a big operation. The rest of the family had to step back a little as she tried to process all of her thoughts and feelings about this.
What helped her was discussing details with the doctor and me sharing with her some of the research I had done and reasons for going ahead. She likes to plan, and we were going on an accelerated timeline: A mid-November, heart cath. before Thanksgiving, consult with Doctor Dec. 8 and surgery Dec. 14. I just had to hang in there with her and be glad to be with her even when her emotions were overcoming her.
Knowing that we were not withdrawing from her I think helped a lot. The final discussion with the surgeon was also helpful. She wanted to be sure that we had proper information necessary to go ahead with the surgery and that it all wasn't a misinterpretation of one ultrasound.
I also think what helped her also was my resolve at a certain point to go ahead. We are usually the opposite. I like to put things off, and she likes to get them planned and done. In this case, I was interested in getting it done.
So, that is a summary of how we processed things up front on the surgery. I had to be sort of the strong one to help everyone else process the upcoming events. That's what dads and husbands do if they have the capacity to pull it off.
GETTING MYSELF TOGETHER FOR SURGERY
When you consider someone working on your heart, serious thoughts start going through your mind. There is something much more personal about someone working on your heart than perhaps your gallbladder, or other parts.
Even if you can be “strong” for others, the thought may come to your mind, “Hey, I might not make it!” There are a lot of moving parts with this surgery. Even if they did not touch my heart, the rest of the aspects of this surgery are a big deal. Even though the odds of dying appear quite small, we are talking about me this time and not statistics.
You and those around you are processing these same thoughts and how things might play out. It is good to process your thoughts with yourself and others, so you don’t get stuck in your own negative emotions.
About 3 weeks before surgery I had not felt fear, or dread, or sadness, or anger, or hopeless despair. I had been able to keep my emotions on an even keel. But as things got close, I had to have a conversation with Jesus.
Notes from my journal:
“Lord, who would you like me to consult with to get your perspective on this situation? Not only the timing of the situation but the preparations for my family.” Four names came to my mind: Richard, Mark, Chris, and Bill. All mature Christian men who knew me and my family well. I consulted with them, and they were a great help.
Thinking about going to surgery in less than a month and not really feeling any symptoms was difficult.
“Lord, what do you want me to know about my heart?”
I felt like this is what the Lord wanted me to know:
“Your life is always in my hands. Number your days before me so that you can apply your heart toward wisdom. Three weeks to a December surgery. Twenty-six weeks to a May surgery.”
“Are you ready to come and be with me today if I require it? This is a question I would like you to ask yourself each day.”
So that day and every day afterward I put myself in the Lord’s hands. Not just for the surgery, but every day. This was a significant step toward having peace about the whole situation.
The second thing I realized was that this situation was bigger than my family could handle on its own. The Lord prompted me to have some others help us think it through and prepare. With each member of my family having different emotional responses, we could not always have the capacity to help each other. So the people the Lord directed me to help our family a great deal. This website too has been a great encouragement for me.
The key thing for me was realizing that every day, not just on surgery day, my life is in the Lord's hands. He will keep me, and my departure will be in his time.
PRE-SURGERY EMAIL to FRIENDS
The day before surgery, I send out a sent an email to friends and relatives. The email I sent brought an outpouring of kind messages and prayers. It was good in our case to send it out the day before surgery so that Lynn did not have to process all of the responses and explanations beforehand. It helped her to read the kind notes that people mailed to her while I was in the ICU.
EMAIL TO FRIENDS THE DAY I LEFT FOR HOSPITAL
Here is the email I sent to my friends the day before surgery. I sent it to all my home email list (about 125 people). We received a good response from this.
I will be in Birmingham Alabama for heart surgery on Monday, December 14, 2015.
Dr. Clifton Lewis and his team will be repairing my mitral valve using the di Vinci Medical Robot. It has damage that has developed from a congenital condition. I feel fine, but the condition will continue to get worse if untreated. I feel very calm and hopeful for a good outcome.
Please pray for any aspect of this endeavor as you see fit. We should know how things are progressing after the surgery by the end of the week. I am planning medical leave until 1 February 2016.
Lynn's email is _____ if you would like to send her a note of encouragement. She may not have time to get back to you (this email is going to 125 people) but would appreciate hearing from you if you have time.
POST SURGERY AT THE HOSPITAL
My recovery has been miraculous. Here is the overview:
Surgery last Monday 12/14/2015 about 9:00 AM where Dr. Lewis and team completed a mitral valve repair. They took me off the ventilator before leaving the operation room. I went to intensive care. The longest night of my life. I think they have special clocks in the CICU where the minute hand runs like an hour hand. They removed one of the lines from my neck.
I left ICU with the shift change on Tuesday morning after they removed my catheter.
Walked to the bathroom 4 times on Tuesday. Just concentrated on hanging together. Started eating. Still having back pain.
Very talkative. My particular body had trouble regulating temperature going from sweaty to bone-shaking chilled when I took off my blankets etc. I kept up my pain meds. like clockwork.
The nurse wanted to make sure I did not lie in the bed so I got up and said "OK, glad you asked!" got ready, buzzed him and we went for a short walk at 5:30 AM before the 7:00 shift change.
Took the first shower. Walked 5 times total that day in the hall. Big chest tube came out. (Something to look forward to) Back pains greatly reduced.
Went into Atrial Fib while taking AM medications. They began to treat it immediately. Told AF happens about 50% of the time after surgery.
Subsided within hours after the start of the treatment. Elected to go off narcotic pain med. and replaced with Tylenol. It was messing with my mind at night. Walked some but the AF was a small setback in my energy. No shower.
Slept great except when they awoke me a 9:00 PM, 11:30 PM, 1:30 AM, 3:00 AM, 3:30 AM, and 5:30 AM that night for various tests and medications, etc. :)
All lines, drains, tubes, etc. out. Lots of walks. Scheming to smuggle food into the hospital. Preparing for the home trip. Appetite returning. Took shower.
Watched White Christmas on Netflix with Wife and daughter while eating Domino's gluten-free pizza. Heaven. Cried six times before the movie was over. Must be the after effects of something.
Good shower. Dressed. Walked. Hugged my nurse. Released for the drive home. Completed 2-hour drive home (my wife was driving) and climbed up one flight of stairs and took a 2-hour nap. Felt good to be home.
Very restless sleep first night: up 4 times. This is an important consideration for your helper because this will wear them out if they are doing a day shift (of any kind) too.
I found that after surgery, my internal body thermostat was very touchy. I could get a little sweaty in bed and then go into total shivers if I had to get out to the bathroom. Even after I got home, I was very sensitive to temp. The breeze from walking across the room could send me into the shivers and cause a rise in blood pressure.
I found that layering clothes and a good body length blanket that I could get under in my chair or throw over my shoulders when walking helped me regulate my temp. I also have used a little electric heater in the bathroom extensively (a special friend). I turn it on whenever I go in there and can open the door to regulate the temp as required.
When I got home, I was up the first night 4 times. Three times the second, and it has lowered to one. I think it was mainly to pee as the catheter had made things a little sensitive.
I also had some very busy, elaborate thoughts after going to sleep. I had to tell myself before going to sleep that I did not have to act on any of the items that my mind was working on through the night to relieve myself from the burden of trying to resolve all of these thoughts.
Surely the disruptions of surgery, medications, and some pain will affect each of us differently. Just know that It will get better each day.
THREE WEEKS POST SURGERY:
I can walk and feel fine doing most activities. I am on some medications that I think make me a little drowsy from time to time and I am still coming back from the surgery. Walk about 30 minutes per day. Usually, take one or two naps during the day.
I am waiting until Feb. 1 to reappear at the office. My job has high demands, so I am leaving it to my colleagues to handle things until I am at least 90% back so I don't set myself back in the long run.
FOLLOW UP WITH SURGEON
Saw Dr. Lewis today. He is very pleased with my recovery. I am walking 2 to 4 miles per day. Also returned to the ICU, the floor, and the surgery to express my gratefulness to those who helped me.
The success of this surgery and this team makes me feel very grateful. They have relieved me from the emotional strain of knowing that something was wrong inside of my heart. The mitral valve repair will undoubtedly allow me to live a much longer and more active life.
JANUARY 1, 2017
Well, I have made it for one year! I feel great. I have continued cardiac rehabilitation. Remember, to keep your relationships more important than solving problems or completing tasks.
October 30, 2018
Continuing to steam on. I turned 60 this year, and I still feel good! No medications, no restrictions.
December 2018. I feel great. Played Saxophone for the third year at Cardiac Rehab Christmas party! See photos
December 2019. I feel great. Played Saxophone for the fourth year at Cardiac Rehab Christmas party!
Feb. 2020. Played Saxophone at Cardiac Rehab Valentines Party.
Dec. 2021 Feel great. Played sax at Cardiac Rehab
Dec. 2022. 7 years since surgery. Still working. Plaing sax at cardiac rehab christmas party. Feel great.
More Info About Me & My Heart
More About Me
I am from:
My surgery date is:
December 14, 2015
I was diagnosed with:
My surgery was:
Mitral Valve Repair
My hospital is: