Friday, September 06, 2019

Best Birthday Ever...

I know I haven't blogged anything for almost a year. Sometimes things don't go as planned..

But, I have good news!

I'll start this story a few years back...

Way back in 2006, my sweetheart, Nancy, had a very severe heart attack. It involved full blockage of her Left Anterior Descending artery. A heat attack commonly referred to as, "the widow maker". At that time, the Dr.s at United Hospital in St. Paul, MN told Nancy that if people survive that type of heart attack, most of them wont live five years.

Nancy is not one to be easily discouraged. We had 13 very good years... all things considered

Earlier this Spring, she started slowing down and had a lot more issues with shortness of breath and fluid retention. Both are indications of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). She had been seeing her favorite cardiologist, Dr. Bank, for years, and he had been doing a great job keeping her going and tweaking her medications. Dr. Bank thought that she would be a good candidate for a new, experimental medical device, aimed to help control CHF, the Vwave device. Nancy was excited to participate in the study and was really hoping that this would help.

By the first week of June, she was all set. The surgery to implant the device was scheduled and everything was a go! We went to United hospital and she was readied for surgery. The doctors brought her to the operating room and started the procedure. When performed a Right Heart Catheterization and a Transesophageal Electrocardiogram, they found that the pressures in her heart and the volume that it pumped, were not within the acceptable range to be in the study. They also discovered just how bad her mitral valve was leaking. There was still some hope, one of the doctors was suggesting a Mitraclip to improve the heart's performance, but after the group of surgeons discussed Nancy's case it was determined that the Mitraclip would not work in her situation.

Nancy was At United for 9 days while they stabilized her. She came home in mid June and went back to United a week later for a follow up visit. At that time she was doing worse than before, her shortness of breath and fluid retention were getting BAD. The doctors that saw her on that day told Nancy that there were probably only two options left. They immediately transferred her to Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. She was admitted, and after being stabilized, met with a team of cardiac specialists. They thoroughly examined her and reviewed her case. They agreed that her only 2 options were a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) or a heart transplant.

The LVAD could be thought of as something along the lines of an in-line fuel pump, except it pumps blood to assist a failing heart. It's powered by a battery system that is worn like a pair of shoulder holsters. There's also a control box that is worn fanny pack style. Nancy is far too active to settle for that system, she wouldn't be able to kayak or swim any more.

After a huge battery of tests it was determined that Nancy would be a good candidate for a heart transplant. The staff at Abbott Northwestern also informed Nancy of an experimental method of donor organ transportation that has been nicknamed, "Heart in a Box". Normally, a donor heart is transported on ice, not beating, and had a small window of viability, of about 4 hours. This limits the geographic area that the search for a donor heart can include. The "Heart in a Box" method of transport involves putting the donated heart in a high tech transport case that keeps it beating, oxygenated, and supplied with continuously circulating blood. This greatly increases the size of the area where a donor heart can be located. The transplant surgery stays the same, just the organ transportation method is different. Nancy was all for this, so she agreed to take part in the heart in a box program.

Nancy spent 42 days at the Abbott Northwestern cardiac unit while doctors adjusted her medications and ran more tests. The doctors set her up with a portable IV pump and IV medications that she could use at home. So as a trial, to see how she would do on her own, she moved out of the hospital and into a short term, no medical care, motel style room on the hospital campus. That was on the first of August... This was a really nice thing, as she had daily appointments and we didn't have to drive the 330+ miles round trip!

On the 15th of August, Nancy came home! She had been home only 8 of the last 76 days since the first of June!! Things went fairly smoothly at home. We had a couple of small hiccups involving the local hospital and follow ups, but nothing too hard to deal with. Nancy seemed pretty stable and was her usual happy self.

We carried on with life, just knowing that at any second the phone could ring with news of a matching donor...

Labor Day weekend was pretty uneventful until 5:25 Monday evening. First, Nancy's cell phone rang, but before she could get to it, the home phone started ringing. Nancy answered and started crying happy tears. It was the Transplant Coordinator from Abbott Northwestern calling to say a donor heart had been located! She instructed us to arrive before 8:00AM on Tuesday.

We left home at 2:00 in the morning and got to Abbott before 6:00 AM. It wasn't long and Nancy was brought up to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU). From then on it was a flurry of doctors, nurses, case workers, and support staff. She had blood tests, X-ray, and more tests... Non stop. There was even a visit by a couple of nurses from the other cardiac unit that came by when they found out Nancy was back for her transplant! In the late afternoon the doctors said they'd try to do the surgery by 10:00 PM, that became midnight, then 2:00 AM.. Nancy was finally brought down to the operating room at 2:45 AM. Nancy was so brave, never showing any fear of what was about to happen. When she ws being rolled out of the room, one of the nurses told Nancy that now she'd be able to celebrate 2 birthdays... Her original one in December, and her "new heart birthday" on September 4th.

Once Nancy was wheeled away, I went out to the parking ramp and climbed into the back seat of my truck for some much needed sleep. I woke up around 8:00 AM and went to see if there was any news. I spoke with a nurse in the unit to which Nancy would be returning, but she had no news. She said that she would look for me in the lounge when she heard anything. At about 9:30 she told me Nancy was back in her room but that they were a little too busy with her for me to see her. She told me the surgeon, Dr. Mudy (pronounced Moody) would talk to me shortly. About 10:00 I met with him and he said that Nancy's surgery went exactly as planned and that the donor heart looked very good. I was able to see Nancy for a few moments just before noon. She was sedated, intubated, and hooked to a wall of IV's.

Before surgery, Nancy and I discussed what I should do once she was done in surgery. She wanted me to go home, get some sleep and love up the cat! So that's what I did. I think I was in bed before 10:00 PM. My first good sleep since Sunday night! I woke about 8:00 AM to find that Nancy had been texting me at 4:00 AM wanting to know if I was awake!

I went back to Abbott on Thursday and found her sitting in a chair. She said that she'd had physical therapy already and had been out of bed and in the chair 4 other times already that day!!

Shes doing remarkably well and in great spirits

How does this make for a special birthday on my part? Her transplant surgery day and my birthday share the same day, September 4.

Best Birthday Ever!!!!