Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Heart's Story

A few years ago, in preparation of starting a family, I sought out an OBGYN that I could trust to take me through the journey of becoming a mom. My dear friend, Elin, recommended her physician Dr. A. She had so many good things to say about her and I found all of them to be true with the very first visit.

As a new patient of Dr. A's, I filled out all of the typical paperwork to include a list of all previous surgeries. I wrote down "Open Heart Surgery when I was 6 or 7". Once in the exam room, Dr. A began to go over things I had written down and asked me about the above statement. I was unable to go in to much more detail and felt a little uncomfortable that I didn't know more about my medical history. Dr. A was very nice and told me that when I got a chance to investigate it, she would like to know more.

A couple years went by and in the fall of 2010, I became pregnant with #1.  I went into my 8 week appointment so excited to see the ultrasound and ready to begin the path to motherhood. We were so filled with joy when we saw our little baby and his strong heartbeat. Dr. A told me that it was time for me to get more information about my surgery. She emphasized how important and empowering it is to know your medical history.

Immediately, I began to research how in the heck I was going to get a hold of my medical records from over 20 years ago. I called my parents to get the year of my surgery and then contacted the medical records department at the location of my surgery. The receptionist informed me that my records were in microfilm archives and would cost money to retrieve. $50 later I had a stack of papers 1/2 inch thick with all the information on what happened to me so many years ago. With little success, I scowered the pages trying to understand what it all meant. I went and made copies of the file and headed to Dr. A's office.

She read over the information and told me that everything seemed in order but that she would like a cardiologist to partner with her in overseeing my pregnancy. 2 weeks later I was in the office of Dr. S at the Adult Congenital Heart Clinic. He preformed an echocardiogram (doctors call this an 'echo' - it is a sonogram of the heart). Below is a video clip of my echo on that day. It is only two seconds, but is pretty awesome - this is an actual picture of my heart :)

Dr. S was great. He spent over any hour with me, drawing pictures, reviewing the file from my open heart surgery and taught me a few important pieces of information.

Diagram of the repairs
made to my heart.
1. I was born with a Ventricular Septal Defect. As I grew, I developed Subpulmonic Stenosis.

Ventricular Septal Defect = the wall separating the right ventricle from the left ventricle had a hole in it causing blood to flow between these two chambers.

Subpulmonic Stenosis = restricted blood flow into my pulmonary valve one of the biggest passages for blood within the heart. Because of the hole in my heart, excess  blood was putting pressure on the septum causing muscle to build up in that area and creating a smaller opening for the valve.

Basically, my heart was operating inefficiently and took a lot more resources to run properly than it should.

2. I needed to see a cardiologist each trimester of my pregnancy. A woman's blood volume doubles in nine months and puts extra pressure on the heart. I needed to make sure that the anatomy of my heart was not negatively affected by this increase in blood volume.

3. For the rest of my life, I will need to see a cardiologist every one to two years. Wait! What? My parents told me my heart was fixed. What?!!!!! Dr. S told me that 20 years ago the thought was that surgery was a permanent fix for certain congenital heart defects. They now know this is not the case, because there have been many instances of adults (young and old) who have come down with heart problems after previous surgery. The reason - life puts a beating on your heart.....lifestyle....pregnancy....illness. I can't just assume that all is good.

4. Good News: I no longer have to pre-medicate before going to the dentist. Yea!!!!!!!! I have done this my whole life and it is annoying.

5. I may (not likely, but possibly) have to have surgery again in old age. Yikes!!!! This is intense to think about. But, hopefully with regular check-ups, any issues can be caught early and such drastic measures won't be necessary.

At this point my eyes began to open and my attitude changed about maintaining my health. My journey of restoration began here.

Currently, my ticker is in excellent, tip top shape. My cardiologist told me that if he didn't see my scar during an examination, he would not be able to tell that I had ever had my heart repaired :)

Thanks to Dr. A for encouraging me to learn about my history and my health.

Thanks to Dr. S for being so kind and patient as I was learning about my heart.

Thanks to my friend Elin, who's recommendation set me on this path of learning about myself.

I am a stronger, more complete person now that I understand my 'heart's story'.

Read more about my health journey on my Restoration Page.

-Mama Bee No E


  1. Great to hear. It's very important to be aware and awake to your body.
    C.S. Lewis has a great quote - reminding me to take better care of my body.

    “You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” - C.S. Lewis

  2. Molly - that quote is very apropos. thanks.

  3. That was the scariest time of my, then, very young life.

  4. Wow.. I only have mild heart issues but know the weight it bears (for me), especially with pregnancy and labor considerations. I'm so glad you learned more! Think of people who still think the surgery just "took care of them". Yikes. This may be the reminder I need to take better care of myself...

  5. It has been and continues to be a journey of learning about my physical self.
    There are so many who are really sick, in their honor, I don't want to take it all for granted.

    I am glad that this has inspired you :)