This journal is a quick survey of my heart surgery experience.
I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. By the age of 30, my aortic function was impaired by 40%, and I was advised that surgical replacement of the valve was a necessity. My valve was rather enlarged by that time, and no human valves were available in an appropriate size. So I was given a St. Jude mechanical valve.
The surgery, at St Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida, went very well. I struggled a bit with depression - for the first and only time in my life - during recovery, but I bounced back quickly.
Flash forward to 2006: I was advised as the result of a routine echocardiograph that an aneurysm had formed just above my valve. I went to see a surgeon, reputed to be among the finest aortic surgeons sin the country, at University of Pennsylvania. He shared that a valve replacement would never be done today as it was done in 1989 because of the high risk of an aneurysm - exactly what had happened to me. But, while my surgical care was excellent in 1989 and the valve itself had performed flawlessly, the risk of complication was simply not statistically known at that time.
And so, November 7 2014, I entered the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for my second valve replacement, this time to include the aortic root and a graft of the ascending aorta.
This was a vastly more difficult procedure - removing the "old" valve alone was a two hour process - and recovvery was much harder the second time around. Of course, I was somewhat older.
Now I can look back from this vantage point: two years since my last surgery, and 28 years since my first. What can I share?
Surgery is scary, difficult, and toughest of all perhaps on the family.
Recovery is slow, painful and also scary. But it happens one day at a time, and one day you'll wake up feeling -- OK.
Living with a mechanical valve is something you adjust to over time. My first valve kept me awake nights with its inescapable ticking. It was months before my brain learned to fully filter out the sound.
My new valve assembly doesn't tick constantly - but it becomes much, much louder when I do hear it, most often when I take a deep breath. Something about that occasional loud ticking sensation still gives me a feeling of fragility. But perhaps this too will fade over time.
I would never choose this. But some things are thrust upon us, and we deal with them as best we can.
My sister is a schizophrenic. She suffers from a disease that has largely destroyed her life. And she did nothing to deserve it.
For those of us who survive heart surgery - once, let alone twice - it helps to have the perspective that life is always precious, despair is imaginary, and just surviving such an experience makes us greater.
This drawing was done by my surgeon during a post-op visit for surgery #2. I had an aortic valve replacement (St Jude) in 1989. After many years of trouble-free ticking, I was then diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm. My aortic valve, aortic root