Matters of the Heart, Part 31

Just when we thought we were clear and weren’t going to have anything else happen relating to Ben’s heart for a while, life comes up with something else. 

Guess why that’s why it’s called “life”. 

Because you never know what’s next.

You may not know this, but every person who has a pacemaker has a routine yearly checkup on the pacemaker itself. The technician has a device that is put on top of the area where the pacemaker is located and it gives out readings on how the pacemaker is functioning, checking that the settings are still correct, and reviewing its remaining battery life.

Yes, you may remember that Ben has two of them, because when the original one was put in, for some reason it was implanted in such a way that tissue had grown over it so that it couldn’t be replaced. Therefore, when he needed a new one with a defibrillator it had to be implanted on the right side instead of the left, which is the normal location for pacemakers.

Should we have expected anything less?

After two pacemakers, we figured now he was done for a while. The “bionic man” could take a break. For at least 7 years or so until he needed a new battery in this newest one. Well, this will be about five years since the new one was put in.

We never really thought about that, though, and what it entailed.

Until several weeks ago when he had his annual pacemaker checkup.

Everything checked out fine. Until he was told he had about 15 months of battery life left on it.


Then what?

And how would we know when it needed replacing? Since the technician told him the pacemaker was keeping him alive, that was a fairly important question.

“Let me show you how you’ll know,” she said. And she hit a button on the machine and a beeping noise went off. And it was definitely audible.

“That’s what will happen about 4 months before we need to replace the battery. It’ll do that for about two minutes. And it’ll keep doing it every day until you call our office and come in for us to turn it off. And you’ll make the appointment for the replacement then.”

When I told the story to a friend of ours, he said he could just picture Ben being at a client’s business when it went off and saying, “Excuse me while I take this call” as his chest is beeping! And knowing Ben, he may do just that.

The technician also demonstrated how important it is for the pacemaker to be in good shape by turning it down just for a few seconds. Ben said his whole body suddenly felt limp and exhausted. It was a weird feeling, and one he doesn’t want to experience again.

We assumed he’d just have a simple battery change. But we didn’t know how that would work because we never really thought about it. But we discovered it wouldn’t just be a simple battery change. It was a total pacemaker replacement! And we remembered that last time his doctor tried to replace the one he had, which ended up not being possible because of the way it had been installed, so he ended up with a second device on his right side. 

Well, since the same doctor would be doing the replacement, we can only assume he did it so that it’ll be simple to change out.

I guess we’ll find out in about twelve months though. 

So stay tuned, because there’s probably going to be more to come before this next procedure.

Matters of the Heart, Part 30

As I said in Part 29, I didn’t expect to have a Part 29 of this series, let alone a Part 30. But here we are.

Looking back, Ben and I have been dealing with his heart issues for 36 years. We’ve been married for 37 years. What does that tell you?

Deciding on having the Watchman procedure done was easier than the steps involved to actually get the procedure itself approved. And it certainly wasn’t his doctor’s fault.

There were several tests he had to have first, including a new EKG, and echocardiogram. Those were simple and of course showed he was a good candidate for the procedure. 

Then he needed a second opinion from another cardiologist in his group. Time was ticking until the end of the year, and we were getting a bit antsy. 

But that appointment was finally scheduled and the doctor confirmed that with his history he was definitely a good candidate for the procedure 

Now to get it approved and scheduled before the end of the year. With Thanksgiving and Christmas affecting schedules as well.

But our doctor assured us we’d get it done by the end of the year, and we’d get a call from the office as soon as it could be scheduled.

We just didn’t realize we’d get the call just five days before the surgery date, with two of those days being a weekend. It was scheduled for TWO DAYS before Thanksgiving! And we found out on Thursday which was the Thursday before Thanksgiving Day!

He’d be the first surgery of the day, which meant we had to be at the hospital at 5:30. In the morning! And I am NOT a morning person, which meant we’d have to get up at 4 am to get ready and be there that early. Ugh.

Well, we’d take what was available. Which meant frantically rearranging both his and my work schedules, as well as finishing putting up all the Christmas decorations! Fortunately we’d started early, and if you followed the stories about our 8+ Christmas trees, plus the Christmas ledge in our two story foyer, well you can imagine how much we needed to get done since we were having Thanksgiving dinner at our house.

I finished all the big trees, and he finished the ledge. Boxes for the decorations were still sitting around which needed to be put away, but I figured our daughter and son-in-law could do that since Ben wouldn’t be able to lift anything for several days after the procedure. Talk about rushing around…!

But plans don’t always go as planned, shall we say. The night before his surgery he got a call from his doctor around 6:30 PM. From his doctor’s personal cell phone. (Yes, we have that number.) That’s a call you don’t ignore.

And you guessed it. Surgery was postponed. The insurance company still hadn’t approved it. We weren’t happy at all. However, as Ben told the doctor, “my wife will be happy she doesn’t have to get up at 4:00 in the morning.” He said the doctor laughed himself silly over that comment! After apologizing profusely, the docotr promised they would reschedule as soon as they got the word from the insurance company, and it would definitely be before the end of the year.

Things did work out for the best, though, because not only did I not have to get up before the crack of dawn, we were able to put all the decoration boxes away, and I didn’t have to beg for extra help from our daughter to get Thanksgiving dinner ready. And Ben was able to play with the grandkids on Thanksgiving without being concerned about his incisions. 

But how was this going to affect our Christmas plans? Would we have to scramble to change other things?

Fortunately, the next week we got a call rescheduling the procedure, for the following week. Our doctor must’ve remembered Ben’s comment about early mornings, though, because the new surgery time was 1:00 in the afternoon and we didn’t have to be at the hospital until 11:00 am. That worked really well, at least for me.

Then we found out the insurance company had actually approved the procedure at 4:30 pm the day before the original surgery date. They just didn’t notify the doctors in time.

Go figure. But it did all work out for the best, since Ben had a week’s vacation already scheduled for the following week after the surgery to make recuperation easier.

Surgery went perfectly. In fact our doctor told him he’d done hundreds of these procedures and usually he had to do a little maneuvering to get the device precisely where it needed to be, but this one went in perfectly the first time! Thank goodness!

Ben will now be on blood thinners for 45 days after the surgery while the tissue grows over the device to seal it in. He will then have a CT scan to be sure everything is going well, which we’re sure it will. Then he will be on a different blood thinner plus baby aspirin until 180 days after the procedure and then no more blood thinners; just a daily baby aspirin.

Naturally we’re all pleased with the results, and so glad he made the decision to do it.

What’s ahead in this saga now? Hopefully only 6 month follow up visits that will show everything is still doing well.

After three heart valve replacements, two pacemakers, and now the Watchman, I think he’s had enough.

We are so thankful for all the great doctors and nurses he’s been fortunate enough to have over the years, and I do have to say that the last two cardiologists that have been caring for him have been the absolute best!

If any of you reading this have any heart issues, or have loved ones with these issues, please be encouraged. It’s not always as bad as it seems. Yes, it’s scary, but look what we’ve been though over the years. And if you have questions please feel free to message me with questions.

And Ben is still going strong after all of this!

Matters of the Heart, Part 29

I really didn’t expect to be writing another installment of this series. After all there’ve been 28 installments so far, the last one being in September of 2019. A little more than two years ago.

Certainly enough stories, right?

Well, you would think so.

But after the last heart valve procedure, which is still doing very well, thank goodness, both of Ben’s doctors determined that he was a very good candidate for a device called the Watchman. This device is implanted in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage. It permanently closes off that area of the heart in which blood clots can form for patients like Ben who have a history of atrial fibrillation or AFib (which can lead to a stroke).

AFib patients, even those with pacemakers, like Ben, are on blood thinners daily to prevent blood clots from forming. This particular device prevents such clots from forming, thus eliminating the need for patients to take blood thinners daily, which in Ben’s case have also caused a number of blood vessel ruptures in his left eye, which has had numerous recurrences of iritis, which is another story altogher.

Naturally we had a lot of discussions on this procedure, as it’s only been around a little over ten years, and we’d never heard of it. But we did a lot of reading about it, and after several talks with his doctor, we decided that it was the right thing for him to do. Particularly since it was a non-invasive procedure in which the device was inserted into his heart through an artery in the groin, much like his last heart valve replacement. An overnight stay would be required, which was no big deal.

There were several tests that had to be done prior to getting final approval by the cardiology team (not to mention his health insurance, but that’s another matter entirely).

But before we could start the process, Covid hit, and although we’ve been extremely fortunate and neither of us or his medical professionals have contracted it, all elective surgeries were put on hold until further notice.

Of course the Watchman is an elective procedure. So we were on hold. For quite awhile. About 18 months or more.

We kept checking with the hospital and his doctors and finally the restrictions on elective surgeries were lifted. We made an appointment as soon as we could with his doctor to discuss the next steps.

When we were finally able to get the appointment  with his doctor we all quickly decided this was the best way for him to go, and proceeded to schedule the testing involved to be able to apply for approval not only within the cardiology group, but also with his insurance company for their approval.

Nothing is ever simple, though. And we also needed to do the surgery by the end of 2021 to avoid a huge out of pocket expense, since he’d already met his deductible for that year. And it was already early in October 2021.

So the process began…but not without a few complications along the way. Of course.

Read the next installment of “Matters of the Heart, Part 30″, to be published on January 24.

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.