Today marks 2 full years since my aortic valve replacement and repair of an aneurism on my upper aorta. The anniversary of this life-altering day is cause for both celebration and reflection. On one hand, I remain grateful for the wonders of modern medicine and Dr. Svensson's miraculous care. Thankfully, my bovine valve and dacron tube are holding up well. On the other, I cannot help but to feel forever changed by this experience. The past two years have been busy--we welcomed the birth of our third child (and first daughter) in June 2016, I was promoted to Colonel in the Air Force in May of this year, and we subsequently moved from Princeton after 3 terrific years as a graduate student to Little Rock, AR, where I am serving as the vice commander of an airlift wing. The Air Force has decided to retain me and return me to flight status--only the 9th person in the history of the USAF to return to flight status after a valve replacement. My family remains happy and healthy. All in all, I feel blessed beyond measure. Yet simultaneously I remain acutely aware of my own mortality and pained by the ways this experience has changed life for me, my amazing wife, and our three wonderful children. I am 90-95% of my former self, and in a profession that demands 100%, I find it hard to accept the need to slow down a bit. I work harder than I should. And I anger more easily than those who love me deserve, often because of my inability to fully accept that my 95% self is the new me. So, today I rededicate myself. To gratitude. To patience. To acceptance. And above all to love for all of those who have helped me through this experience. I’ll check back in next year! Godspeed to all of you on this journey!
Today marks 6 months since open heart surgery to replace my regurgitative bicuspid aortic valve and repair an aneurism on my upper aorta. It is hard to believe that half a year has already passed since that angst-filled morning in Cleveland when I put my life in Dr. Svensson’s highly capable hands. It feels simultaneously like yesterday and a lifetime ago. The experience definitely changed me, but on the whole this change was for the better. Facing my own mortality at the age of 39 provided clarity--separating true friends from acquaintances and the meaningless from the important in life, while reminding me of where my priorities should always lie.
I will forever be grateful to all of those who rallied around me with their support, love, and prayers during this experience, particularly my amazing wife Melanie. She was an incredible source of strength--an unbreakable rock--throughout the stress of surgery and challenges of my first post-operative month. Thankfully, life has returned to its normal pace and rhythm. God has even blessed us with a baby girl (our third child but first daughter) due later this summer!!
For those facing surgery, have faith that you will awaken on the other side of surgery and begin the process of getting on with your new life. Stay strong and trust that this experience will change you in more good ways than bad. And, as a former boss and mentor told me on the night before my surgery: "Choose courage…God’s not done with you yet!"
Wishing everyone in this community all of the joy and good health they deserve!
Recovery has not been without its challenges. I wound up coming down with pneumonia after returning from Cleveland. Coughing after OHS is not fun. Then, I landed in the ER Friday before last because of my first bout of atrial fibrillation. My HR went to 140 bpm, but fortunately I converted back to normal sinus rhythm on my own within 40 minutes. Then, on Tues of last week, during a follow up appointment with my cardiologist, my HR went to 150+ bpm, which landed me back in the ER where they were unable to bring my HR below 150 bpm for the next 7 hours. By 1700, the plan was to move me to the ICU overnight and then run a TEE and cardiovert me using electric paddles first thing Wed morning. Fortunately, I slipped back into normal rhythm and went to the telemetry ward overnight. The following day, during an echocardiogram, the doctor discovered I also had a pericardial effusion. The cardiologist came in and told me his plan was to have a surgeon open a permanent “window” in my pericardium through a 4” incision in my abdomen and insert yet another drainage tube the next day. This struck Melanie and I as a pretty scary prospect just three weeks after OHS. Fortunately, we talked him off the ledge and they were able to treat the issue using medications. I was just released from the hospital yesterday, and have developed a debilitating case of nausea due to the strong meds I’m taking. Discovered yesterday that puking brings an entirely new level of hurt compared to coughing:-)
Any of these complications is reasonably common after OHS. Somehow, I managed to get all three! The current plan is to continue to let the medications run their course and go back to the cardiologist on Friday for a status check on the effusion. If things have worsened, I’ll likely travel back to Cleveland for further treatment. But, I’m praying for the best.
Anyway, that’s the news from Lake Woebegone. I’m upright and moving forward. Despite a few setbacks, things are bound to get better!
Sorry for taking so long to check back in. Dr. Svensson made two unsuccessful attempts to repair my valve before replacing it with a bovine variant. Although I'd hoped fora repair, I'm confident that one of the world's most respected surgeon's in valve-saving repairs gave it his best shot. I was released from CC within 5 days of surgery. Melanie and I spent 5 days convalescing at a local hotel, and just flew home to be reunited with our two sons.
Overall, I feel reasonably good and am grateful to be making slow but steady progress on the road to recovery. I also feel blessed to have such an amazing wife who worked tirelessly to care for me. Blessings to all of you on the left side of your surgery date. Waiting is hard, but trust the good Lord will see you through this experience.
This is Melanie (his wife) writing again. I guess I was exhausted yesterday. I completely forgot to thank Dr Svensson and his wonderful team for performing an amazing surgery on my husband. I am the happiest wife on earth to have John back. Unfortunately, despite two attempts to repair the valve, Dr. Svensson was unable to stop the cuspids from prolapsing. He was able to replace it with a bovine valve using a minimally invasive incision. The ICU team that worked with John was wonderful. The nurses answered all my questions and took excellent care of my husband.
In the morning John had some problems keeping his blood pressure up, but the meds helped. Thankfully all his vitals looked good by the late afternoon and he was moved to the stepdown unit. Let the recovery begin! Hugs to all of you.
This is Melanie, John's wife writing. John's surgery went well. It was a long day, but he is doing well. I am heading back to the ICU now. Thank you everybody for your prayers and happy thoughts.
All showered with antimicrobial soap and tucked into bed. Tomorrow's the big day. I'm feeling grateful for all of the love and support I've received. I'm ready to get "fixed" and step onto the long road to recovery tomorrow. Thanks to all of you on this site who've offered your wisdom and support.
Our thoughts and prayers will be with Lisa and Gram tomorrow as well. Let's do this! My amazing wife Melanie will post statue updates as able. Back soon...
I just saw my name on the upcoming surgeries board. Definitely makes things feel "real"..... I can feel the anxiety building, which is undoubtedly a normal part of this process. But I can also feel my resolve stiffening. Mixed emotions, and plenty of prayers that all goes well for both myself and all of you!
One month from today, I will surrender myself to God's will and Dr. Svensson's highly capable hands. After 9 months of anxious anticipation, I'm ready to get on the other side of the knife and on the road to recovery. In the interim, my thoughts and prayers remain with all of those navigating their own experiences. God Bless all of you.
For those of you with young children, how did you break the news of your impending surgery? I have two boys (soon to be ages 4 and 6). My wife and I plan to leave them in her parents' capable hands while we travel to Cleveland Clinic for surgery. Both boys know I have a "heart issue" that negates our normal rough housing for the time being. Any thoughts on how much to share with them so they are prepared for my weakened state upon return? I have been unable to locate a children's book that could help them process things. Any suggestions from parents with young children who went through this journey would be greatly appreciated.
Okay, after nearly seven months of monitoring this website daily and vicariously sharing in each of your journeys, I have finally taken the plunge and built my profile. I want to begin by thanking each of you who has contributed to this community. It has been a source of information and strength for me since my unexpected diagnosis in January of this year. Surgery is scheduled for the end of September. Countdown begins!