Matters of the Heart, Part 10

If you’ve been following my stories in this series, by now you’re probably wondering when this saga is going to end.

Well, so are we. And I can’t answer that yet. I wish I could.

When you’re dealing with a hurting heart, a damaged heart, you just never know. And when the damage is caused by rheumatic fever at an early age, it just seems the older we get, the more problems which seem to occur.

It’s not easy by any means. It’s very difficult for the patient because they’re the ones going through the physical part, the exhaustion, the procedures, the pain, as well as the emotional stress of wondering when they’ll ever feel normal again.

For the family, it’s a different kind of stress. We worry. We’re anxious. We feel the stress in different ways. These feelings are normal. And as much as we try to hide them from our loved ones, because we don’t want to worry them any more, well, it makes things even harder. We try not to show our stress, but sometimes we just can’t help it.

Waiting to have the cath was like that for us. Surely we could wait the two and a half weeks. It’s not a long time, right? Well in this case, yes it was. We just wanted answers. And for Ben to feel better.

Then we found out those answers weren’t going to be as quick as we’d like.

Because of his history with two previous open heart surgeries, he has what is termed a “hostile chest,” because of the scar tissue and two sets of wires holding his rib cage together. This condition makes a third open heart surgery more troublesome and complicated. More risky.

Therefore, they need to go in through the femoral artery in the groin if at all possible to do the valve replacement to avoid complications, and make it easier on the doctors as well as the patient. But in Ben’s case….nothing is ever simple!

Meeting with his primary cardiologist a week before the cath was scheduled confirmed that. The procedure they were hoping to do is called TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement. Never heard of it? Neither had we.

Simply put, it involves inserting a catheter with the new valve thru the femoral artery in the groin and replacing the valve that way, without having to open up the chest cavity. In Ben’s case this would be the best way to do the surgery, but he has to be a good candidate for it. And that can only be determined by a series of tests, starting with the heart cath, which looks at not only the valve but the arteries to be sure there is only minimal plaque buildup. If there was too much blockage that would prevent him from being a candidate for the procedure unless the blockage was handled first.

If the cath results were good, he would then need four other tests to be done, all of which would be analyzed in conjunction with the cath results by a team of surgeons to determine if the TAVR would be acceptable in his case.

Four other tests??? How long would that take?

Fortunately those tests are relatively quick and non invasive, but still, there is time involved. There is a pulmonary function (breathing) test, carotid artery ultrasound, a CT scan of the chest and abdomen, and X-rays of the mouth to be sure there are no bacterial infections in his teeth which could lead to that infection going directly to the heart.

Why didn’t we know all of this before? Good question. But nothing is ever simple when dealing with cardiac issues. It seems we learn something new with every doctor visit, every procedure.

The catheterization was scheduled for President’s Day, Monday, February 18. We were so looking forward to that day, getting the results and being able to move forward quickly with the other tests, and hopefully schedule the replacement. Everything was on track. We thought.

Until Ben woke up with a horrible throbbing toothache Saturday morning before the procedure. Of course… And the dentist’s office was closed, of course, and we couldn’t find our dentist’s cell phone number, which we had somewhere. Which meant he was in pain all weekend. I made him call the cardiologist’s office to tell them, and, you guessed it! The cath was cancelled due to the risk of the infection from his abscessed tooth going to his heart. Now he was not only short of breath, and exhausted, but his tooth was throbbing, making it difficult to eat, and giving him a pounding headache.

What next? How much longer would all of this take?

You just can’t make this up, as you will read in Matters of the Heart, Part 11, to be published April 4.

Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Matters of the Heart, Part 1
Matters of the Heart, Part 2
Matters of the Heart, Part 3
Matters of the Heart, Part 4
Matters of the Heart, Part 5
Matters of the Heart, Part 6
Matters of the Heart, Part 7
Matters of the Heart, Part 8
Matters of the Heart, Part 9

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