Friday, September 20, 2013


I've thought about how I would start this post. About what I would say. I've made it a point to be honest because I'm a bluntly honest person. And you can't sugarcoat something like this.

So here's the reasoning behind my newest, and most favorite twitter hashtag #cowheart.

I was born twenty-three years ago with an ASD - atrial septum defect - meaning there was a hole in my heart between the top two chambers. (Quick anatomy lesson - you have four chambers, two upper, two lower.) Only we didn't know I was born with this. I played fourteen years of soccer, starting travel when I was eleven. I was a three sport athlete during high school, including when I went to Holland, Belgium, and Germany for a week to play over there. I played my first year and a half of college, too.

And still nobody found it.

The heart palpitations started spring of 2012. They continued periodically for the next year. Doctors like to think that anything that goes wrong with the average college student is stress related. Which, maybe, could have been it. It had been a hell of a last six months or so, what with things going on at home, getting three D's on my transcript, and finding out that I wasn't going to graduate that May. But things like that don't really make me anxious.

But they didn't go away when I finished in December and moved back home to wait the four months to walk across the stage. So we kept at it. My primary care physician referred me to a cardiologist, who, first, hooked me up with an event monitor for a month. That was my wired for sound period, where I wore a monitor for a month straight and only unstuck myself to shower. If I had any palpitations I was to push the button, wait for it to stop screeching at me, and then call the recording in for the medical center to then send to my cardiologist.

There was nothing on the monitor at the end of the month. Still, I kept having palpitations where I thought my heart was just going to up and quit. So he decided on doing an echocardiogram. (An ultrasound, pretty much, for your heart.)

That's when, in March of 2013, they discovered the hole. We just didn't know how big it was, and because there was no baseline for this kind of thing, he decided he would monitor it. I had the instructions to carry on like normal - work, refereeing, whatnot - and did just that. Carrying on like normal involved going down to a soccer tournament in Gettysburg, taking a train to Chicago to take exams, and working 25-35 hours a week as a waitress. It also included getting a second job because my student loans went into repayment this summer.

A few weeks into July it was time for another echo. A few days after I had gone in for the exam I got a phone call from a nurse. One of my valves wasn't...functioning properly. And there was some enlargement. She royally freaked me out completely, and it took a visit with my cardiologist in order to basically be calm again. He did agree that the hole was larger than we had first thought, and that, as it appeared to have grown larger in a short amount of time, wanted me to have it patched. So he sent me to a cardiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Originally, when we talked with the cardiologist, he was going to use a little device like a double-sided umbrella to patch the hole. He needed a better picture of it, where it was and how big it was, and we scheduled a TEE - they knock you out, put a camera down your throat, and take pictures of your heart from the inside. It would give them what they needed to know. We scheduled that.

After the TEE is when things changed rather drastically. They learned the hole was huge, and couldn't be patched the little device. Using the device would have allowed them to go in through the leg, and involving a minimal hospital stay. And a shorter recovery time.

But you can't do that with a hole in your heart the size of a half dollar.

I had open heart surgery August 29. It's a heady thing, to know that in order to have a longer life expectancy you have to have your sternum cracked, heart stopped, and the hole patched with a piece of cow. Medicine has come a long way since they first started doing this type of repair, but it's still batshit crazy to think about. I was scared. Even when you know it has to happen, it's still terrifying on a certain level.

One of the things I remember from those first post-surgery moments in CVICU is writing "I love you" on my sister's palm with my finger. I stayed in ICU for 24 hours, and was moved a stepdown unit the next day. I was in the hospital three full days following ICU. I've since been back home.

I'm doing really well. We're following the recovery plan - dictates diet and exercise - and while it's driving me nuts to not be able to move my arms above my head or lift over ten pounds, I manage. I've done a bit of reading, some writing, and I've watched a whole lotta episodes of CSI:NY, and Flashpoint on Netflix. But it's also given me a lot of time to think about what I want to do with my life, and what my next steps are after I've taken my 12-14 weeks to heal properly. I've got an idea. But that's a blog post for later.

As for the cowheart? Well, I'm part cow. I joke that I'm Iron Man, and the family jokes that whenever anyone eats steak we're eating my new relatives. Sometimes a little humor goes a long way. And right now I'm just taking it day by day.

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"The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn't."

-Joseph L. Mankiewicz