Somewhere along the way in my latter years, I developed congestive heart failure, which affects nearly 6 million Americans. Roughly 670,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in those older than 65.
Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working. Rather, it means that the heart’s pumping power is weaker than normal. With heart failure, blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, and pressure in the heart increases. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs.
The chambers of the heart may respond by stretching to hold more blood to pump through the body or by becoming stiff and thickened. Fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs or other organs.
I decided to take my case to Duke Cardiology to see what the specialists there might suggest. They have a whole department of cardiologists specializing in heart failure. A few weeks ago, they gave me a cardiac catheterization test and discovered that I had “anomalous pulmonary venous drainage to the right atrium.”
Translated, total anomalous pulmonary venous drainage is a rare congenital malformation in which all four pulmonary veins do not connect normally to the left atrium. Instead, the four pulmonary veins drain abnormally to the right atrium by way of an abnormal (anomalous) connection.
Duke doctors told me I was born with this condition, which normally occurs in newborn babies. I remember playing high school football and hockey and also running the quarter-mile on the track team. My best time was 55 seconds, which would put me in the lower percentiles of quarter-milers’ performance. I thought my heart would burst at the end of those races.
Playing rugby in college and riding my bicycle from California to Florida in 1998, plus actively exercising in one form or another, never gave me the feeling of CHF.
One of the tests required by the surgeon was a CT scan, in which the contrast (dye) had to be rushed through my veins. This required a larger-than-usual IV needle, which my veins rejected. The radiologist finally allowed a smaller needle, and after four agonizing tries the CT was successfully completed.
To rid my body of excess fluid caused by CHF, I daily take two 100 mg tablets of Torsemide, a very strong diuretic. This, of course, limits my expeditions out of the house. In some cases where it is important, I just skip the pill.
All of this has disappointedly skyrocketed my golf handicap. One benefit, however, is that I have lost about 40 pounds since January. Curious me here had to go on YouTube to see a live open heart operation. Wish I hadn’t! It looks like the incision is about four inches long, right at the sternum. I remember back in the 1980s visiting a friend who had bypass surgery, and his scar was huge.
The procedure will take five hours, the recovery time in the hospital will be about five days, and the recovery at home will be about a month. Can’t drive for at least a month afterward.
It frankly scares me to think about the event, but the risks, pain, and inconvenience of this procedure seem to be worth it to me, as the outcome will (may) refresh my riddled body.
I am so happy with the Duke people who are treating me: Dr. Karra, nurse Anders (niece of the late Ed Kennedy of Pinehurst) and Dr. Lodge, surgeon.