Matters of the Heart, Part 28

This one is actually not about Ben’s heart journey. Certainly we are still being cautiously optimistic that he will be doing well for quite a while. But still there are those times we get concerned and wonder if we’re back on that emotional roller coaster again.

It’s a natural feeling when you’ve been on such a long journey.

But this story has a somewhat different story line. But it still concerns matters of the heart.

The day of Ben’s valve replacement surgery several months ago, Dr. T had mentioned a book to us all that he said was a fascinating history of cardiac surgery. I figured, “yeah I’m sure. You’re a doctor so I’m sure it’s really technical and way past my understanding.”

However, our friends that were there with us bought a copy, since our friend Ron had just had valve replacement surgery several months previously. And they enjoyed reading it so much, they gave us our own copy.

Which of course I didn’t start reading right away, because I was finishing a couple other books. So I picked it up this past weekend, and was immediately thrown back into a world in which cardiac surgery was unheard of.

I won’t delve into a lot of detail about what I’ve read so far. But it’s changed the way I look at all the procedures Ben has undergone, and made me realize how fortunate we are that we are in an age of technology that had made what was unthinkable 50 years ago an everyday occurrence today.

I hadn’t really thought about it before. Or I guess I had, but not to the extent this book is making me think about it.

In the early days of heart surgery, more patients died than lived. The only human patients operated on by the early cardiac surgeons were those who had no chance without such experimental surgery. To them, and their incredible doctors, who were pioneers in a new field of medicine trying to perfect techniques to save lives, we owe so very much.

Ben would not be here without each and every one of them.

Bear in mind I’ve only started this incredible book, and I’m just in the part where the surgeons are attempting to mend holes in the hearts of infants and children, the “blue babies” of years ago.

Those many stories reminded me of our friends whose son was operated on at the age of two months old to mend a hole in his tiny heart, which actually turned out to be three holes when the surgeons opened him up. The skills these early pioneers developed led to life saving surgery for baby Cash who is now three years old, and whose chest scar is barely noticeable. Who has a long and healthy life ahead because of this lifesaving surgery.

But the stories also reminded me of another baby in my own family, who was one of those blue babies. Her story, unfortunately, was much different from Cash’s.

Margie was born about 10 years after me, I think. I really don’t totally remember. I don’t even know if I ever met her, because it was around the time my father had died, and my mom and I were trying to piece our own lives back together again in our new normal.

Margie was the second or third daughter of my oldest cousin. She and her husband lived about four hours away and we didn’t see them much. My mother had told me about Margie being very sick, and how the doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong with her right away.

My cousin and her husband took their daughter to several specialists, and it was determined she had a hole in her heart and needed surgery to repair it. To me at the age of 10 or so, that sounded quite scary. I’m sure it was even scarier for my cousin and her husband.

But Margie had a successful surgery. The hole was closed up, and she was brought into the surgical recovery area. She seemed to be responding well, but as we were told, she opened her eyes, then closed them and rolled over and died. We were told her heart couldn’t handle the normal blood supply because it was so used to the heart’s diminished capacity, and the normal blood flow overwhelmed it.

That was almost 60 years ago. Open heart surgery was very new, and risky. But for patients like Margie, it was their only chance, because eventually they would drown in their own blood.

From reading this book so far, the evolution of such surgeries is amazing. And we are so thankful for all of the early cardiac surgeons who were willing and determined enough to continue to try when there were so many failures. And we are more thankful for those brave patients who were willing to risk it all for a chance at a normal life, instead of an early death. Because of them, thousands of patients every year now undergo such procedures, which today are regarded as routine.

Although I haven’t thought about my younger cousin in many, many years, this book has already brought about a lot of questions…so many what if’s.

What would she be like today? What would she be doing? Would her heart issues have prompted her to go into the medical profession? Would her children have inherited a propensity for heart problems?

When Ben’s heart issues first surfaced 34 years ago, it was scary. I had no idea what to expect or what would happen. I never thought about how if it had been 15 years or so earlier, well, the results would most likely have been a lot different.

I never thought about all the work, the research, the trials and errors, the unsuccessful surgeries that took place in the years before that led up to that first successful surgery he went through. And all the ones that came afterward to make his future surgeries successful.

For those of you who would like to read this fascinating book, it is “The Heart Healers” by James S. Forrester, M.D. and is available on Amazon.

More to follow as the saga continues, most likely in ways we never anticipated. But one thing for sure…it’s always an adventure.

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