2 posts tagged “heart bypass surgery”

Rediscovering Life’s Simple Pleasures: An Interview with a Heart Patient

Posted October 10th, 2012 by

Learn About World Heart Day 2012

Last week, we recognized World Heart Day on the blog and discussed why there is an urgent need for awareness about heart disease and stroke, the world’s number one killer.  We also talked about how heart disease can be an abstract concept until you are exposed to someone’s personal story.

That’s why we are pleased to introduce you to Alan, a PatientsLikeMe member who is living with congestive heart failure (CHF) following a heart attack.  A few years ago, he had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) – or a battery-operated mechanical pump – surgically implanted to help his heart continue to pump blood to his body.  What has he learned from his experience, and what’s his lifestyle like today?  Find out that and more in our interview.

1) Tell us about your heart attack and how this journey began.

I suffered a heart attack some twelve years ago. While working in the yard one very cold afternoon I had “cold sweats” and a very sore throat. I started feeling better and decided to go to work the following day. Late in the morning of the second day I began feeling much worse and called my wife and told her she needed to pick me up and we should go to the hospital together. I told my wife and the triage nurse in the ER that I was developing pneumonia.

After a short time in the ER a technician came in and conducted an EKG. He immediately told the other personnel in the ER that I was exhibiting “tombstone T’s.” I was rushed to the Cath Lab and had a stent inserted into a vein in my heart. I never suffered any of the “classic” signs of a heart attack (crushing chest pain, pain in my arm(s), losing consciousness, losing the use of any extremity, etc.) Eight weeks after the stent implant I had open heart surgery (aorta valve, four bypasses, repair aortic aneurysms, etc).

2) What’s your lifestyle like today with your implanted LVAD?

Living with the LVAD has changed for the good and for not so good. I am somewhat limited in what I can do and not do, as opposed to my pre-LVAD life. There are activities I absolutely cannot do, and some I choose not to do. I cannot swim, bathe or shower without a special waterproof bag for electronics, fly the airplane we owned, drive fast cars and fast boats, hunt in the mountains, or bass fish in Mexico and South America. I have found that I can cook, watch grandchildren graduate from high school and college, watch great grandchildren come into the world and watch them grow and change.

3) What’s been the most unexpected part of your experience?

The most unexpected part of the heart disease journey was discovering that it did not take a club and a ball, a gun (shotgun or rifle), a rod and reel, flying an airplane, going off to fish and/or hunt, owning a fast car, etc., to be happy. Some of the other things I discovered were: vacations do not have to be long (distance and duration), they just have to be taken with someone you deeply care for, and who deeply cares for you; you discover which of your friends are sincere and true, and endeavoring to be a true and sincere friend in return; and many of the simple pleasures in life have been lost along the way in life’s journey.

Soaking in the Sunset:  One of Alan's Rediscovered Pleasures

4) What do you want others to know about their hearts?

Hopefully, even if it is only one person, what I say here might preclude that person from making the same misguided and poor decisions I made concerning diet, lifestyle, stress and the “things” it requires to be happy.


Battling the Complications: An Interview with Diabetes Patient Michael Burke (Part II)

Posted November 9th, 2011 by

Last week, in Part I of this interview, PatientsLikeMe member and blogger Michael Burke shared his sister Linda’s struggle with type 1 diabetes.  Today, we learn about his own type 1 diabetes journey, including his June 2011 kidney transplant as a result of diabetes-induced kidney failure.

1.  What diabetes complications have you faced?

PatientsLikeMe Member and Diabetes Blogger Michael Burke

Diabetes is a disease that appears to be misunderstood by most people, in that the consequences of the disease can lead to many different complications.  As I mentioned earlier, both Linda and I suffered from diabetic retinopathy…essentially, you can go blind from diabetes.  Another complication is nephropathy, or kidney disease.  For me, this led to kidney failure and the eventual need for a kidney transplant this past June.

Heart disease is another major complication.  Personally, I never knew that I had any heart disease until one day my primary care physician sent me for a routine stress test.  During the stress test, the cardiologist felt it necessary to immediately admit me to the hospital and do a cardiac catheterization the next morning.  When he did, he found two blockages in my right coronary artery – one was a 90% blockage and the other was an 85% blockage.  I then had several stents placed.  After two years, those stents were becoming ineffective, and I required heart bypass surgery.  Lucky for me, there was a heart surgeon in Boston who was doing bypass surgery robotically.  What this meant for me was a much smaller incision (about an inch and a half compared to the whole chest being opened up), and being a diabetic, less risk of infection and a shorter recovery time.

Another complication is [diabetic] neuropathy, or nerve damage.  Typically, this usually affects the feet, but other parts of the body can be affected as well.  As for Linda and I, the neuropathy is/was primarily in our feet.  For Linda, it was extremely painful, with the feeling that you are constantly being poked in your feet with something very sharp.  For me, the feeling has been quite different, in that there is no feeling, at least around my big toes, which in turn has caused some balance issues for me.  Neuropathy is serious, it’s not just that it is painful for some and a loss of feeling for others.  It can also lead to amputation of your toes, your foot, or in drastic circumstances, part of or all of your leg.

2.  What was your kidney transplant experience like, and how are you doing now?

I went through a whole lot of emotions over the course of getting this new lease on life.  Although I had been prepared by my kidney doctor over the last several years that I was most likely going to need a kidney transplant, the day I sat with the transplant team for the first time was absolutely frightening and surreal at the same time.  It’s hard to explain.

I just remember sitting with the transplant team and when the transplant doctor said, “Ok, we will put you on the transplant list within the next few days, and we will move forward,” my heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going pop out of my chest.  There is also a lot of anxiety that goes along with the whole transplant process.  At first, I didn’t know where the kidney would come from.  I knew there were family members who said that they wanted to be tested and now I was also on the national transplant list.

Michael Burke's Brother and Kidney Donor Tommy

When my brother Tommy was starting the testing process, I kept going back and forth in my head.  It would be great to have someone close to me donate, but then there was the guilt.  If I ever rejected their kidney now they are left with just one.  As it turned out, Tommy was a 5 out of 6 antigen match, and he donated his kidney to me in June.

I had often heard before the transplant that you won’t understand how badly you felt or how sick you were before the surgery until after the surgery.  That could not be a truer statement.  I never really felt sick before, and I have been told that is because kidney disease can be very slow and progressive.  However, looking back today, I can honestly say that there has been a 180 degree turnaround.  I have much more energy and I just generally feel well – it has been a huge difference, and I have Tommy to thank for that.

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Are you a diabetes patient as well?  In honor of American Diabetes Month, share your thoughts and stories at CallingAllTypes.com.