Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Heart Journey Chronicle

With seven children, I promised myself I was too busy to blog, but two weeks ago, my life took a huge turn in a different direction.  Prior to two weeks ago, my husband and I were planning to build a new house on a two acre parcel, and making many other plans with travel, education, and career.

A month ago, on October  6, 2012 I had a "heart event".  I wasn't feeling well that day after suffering seven days of severe sleep deprivation taking care of my littlest one.  I have a hiatal hernia, and I had eaten too much, and as my stomach pressed against my heart, it tickled it and started a heart beat that eventually went up to 200 bpm.  

I ended up in an ambulance with two attempts to start and stop my heart with adenosine to convert it back to normal rhythm, and a ride in an ambulance to the ER.  In the end, I was fine, and have been fine, and given a clean billl of health. I was told, however, to follow up with my cardiologist.

My husband had been complaining of fatigue, and tired arms since he went on his Boys Scouts troop's high adventure in Colorado in July.  He was not feeling the classic chest pains that start in the center and radiate to the left arm.  Instead, it was located near his shoulder and radiated across the top of his chest toward his right arm and ended under his chin, but faint.  He had numbness and mild pain in the back of both arms when he got home from Colorado, but it had improved to being just the left arm with time, so we thought he was recovering from the flu.  He had no neck, jaw, or tooth pain, and not much shortness of breath.  Early on during the fatigue session of three months, he had no chest pain. As time went on, however,  fatigue had gotten progressively worse, and the pain was being felt in his chest.  This prompted me to book an appointment with my cardiologist the same day I had my follow up from my supraventricular tachycardia event.

The doctor enjoyed telling me I was doing fine, and nothing heart related should kill me.  My husband, having good cholesterol numbers under 160 total, and excellent blood pressure, and looking healthy, caused the doctor to agree that  my husband might have just pulled a muscle in his pecs, but because he had a "horrible family history and was over 45",  he had two risk factors strong enough to "warrant a  CT angiography".  

He was scheduled for a CT angiography, a type of CT scan (one of three in the country), a non-invasive and inexpensive test where dye is shot into the arteries and a CT image of the heart is created.  This test was to be two days later.  

It was the Thursday before last, October 18, 2012 when my husband had his CT scan.  After the procedure we were given a paper with the report on it, stating that he had a calcium score of 250, notating mild heart disease.  We were relieved and resigned to the pain being muscular and not cardiovascular, but feeling cautionary that he should stay on healthy low-fat diet to stop any further progression of plaque build-up.

After the scan, we went to lunch at a local grocery store that has a healthy salad buffet and he had 1/2 piece of cake and some salad dressing, but the rest was low-fat plant based.  Then we went home, only to walk in the door to a ringing phone.  It was Dr. Rough, the cardiologist who was assigned to read the CT scan since our cardiologist, was having his gallbladder out that day.

Dr. Rough commented that the score showing over all mild heart disease did not reflect the fact that he had two blockages in two arteries and that he needed to come back to the clinic right away and be prepped for an angiogram to confirm the findings that afternoon.  He was told to prepare to stay the night in the hospital, and at that point, we knew that the news was not good!!!  We were told the blockages were 70%, at least.

I'm really shortening the story, and probably will give more details in future posts, because a lifetime worth of feelings, and details happened in a 3 hours period once we got to the hospital.  But, I will say that one of the worst feelings in the world is to be sitting in a cath lab waiting room by yourself, wondering how your spouse is doing, only to have a peppy nurse come in and tell you that, "I just came to tell you, that your husband's arteries are not 70% blocked but at least 99 percent blocked, and we're only going to fix one of them."  No more details given, and when I asked, "So how do I keep him from having a heart attack", and she answered, "We'll have to see,"  I was sent into tizzy.  My limited knowledge of my husband's condition, made me feel like I was by myself in a long dark hallway, with a bunch of closed doors, and there was no way out.

To make a very long story short, the end result was that my husband had developed his own natural bypass, that can only happen through the healing of endothelial cells, which we had been working on through diet and exercise the whole of 2012 (for which I believe kept him from having a heart attack), and that that natural bypass had taken over for the artery that was not repaired in the cath lab that day.  I didn't even realize what a tremendous blessing the natural bypass was until many days afterwards because I had forgotten of a couple people I had known, a neighbor across the street, and my brother-in-law had developed their own natural bypasses, too, and had forgotten that the process of developing vessels to assist a blocking artery was a possibility.  

When Dr. Tannenbaum finished the antioplasty and stent placement on my husband's left circumvex artery, he had a consultation with me.  He was happy and giddy.  I was distraught and like a blinded deer on the freeway.  I didn't understand, at the time, that collateral vessels were what helped us to avoid a heart attack, that they were helping my husband to avoid an emergency by-pass surgery, that they could become stronger and healthier, and that they were assisting the 100% blocked right coronary artery feed a good portion of his heart.  Dr. Tannenbaum was seeing this as good news, and all I could think about was the one 99% blocked artery that they had fixed, and the other 100% blocked artery that they didn't have to fix on that day. I didn't think about the miracle of the left anterior artery and the right coronary artery being bridged together by the collaterals was giving my husband a second chance at life and helping him to heal from the first procedure before going into the more difficult procedure of unblocking a 100% blocked artery, and I didn't realize that those collaterals would be used to help with that procedure, and if successful help him to avoid by-pass.

This day of October 18th, changed our lives, and created a new set of schedules, future plans, and focus.  Our new normal has put our building project on the shelf, and my new focus is spent in the kitchen and at the Internet, cooking low-fat plant based recipes, and studying up on the research being done by, actually quite a few nutritionists, naturopaths, and medical doctors, such as Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., John McDougall, M.D., Dean Ornish, M.D., and Jeff Novick, M.D., R.D.

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle our journey.  We have a theory that the journey we had begun in December 2011 of eating a low-fat plant based diet, saved my husband from having a heart attack, even when he was hiking in Colorado with a 99% blocked artery, and we are hoping that this new lifestyle will not only help him to heal from the stent placement, but also help him to reverse his heart disease.  We needed a place to put all of this information in one place. Hence this blog.  If it is successful, perhaps it can validate research and help others, and we hope it does.  

Thanks for stopping by and reading!