In September of 2007, at the ripe old age of 38, I was awakened from sleep by a mild pain in my chest and very shallow quick breathes. Had it just been the pain, I would have thought nothing of it, it was so minor. My wife was 2200 miles away at the time. I yelled for my son, but he didn't answer. He was a teenager at the time, so I figured he was listening to music and I got up and walked to his room. He was at work. Got the neighbor over and she called her husband (a volunteer firefighter) who brought the fire department. Nitro glycerin is HORRIBLE - worst headache of my life, it dilates every artery in your body and your brain gets slammed with blood. Ambulance took me to the hospital, who didn't believe a 38 year old was having a heart attack, so they treated me for acid reflux, indigestion, heartburn, and everything related to those and were going to send me home. I convinced them to keep me overnight "for observation." The two enzymes that show up post heart attack didn't show up until 4 am the next morning. Heart attack confirmed, the sent me to a cardiologist at another hospital, who at the time was setting up the best heart hospital West of the Mississippi, that will play a role later in my story.
This cardiologist did an angiogram and then an esophageal echocardiogram and determined I had a bicuspid valve who had calcium buildup, which caused the heart attack. I'm put on metoprolol, lisinopril, and lovastatin for life and told I'll need that valve replaced sometime between 50 and 60.
Fast forward to early 2014 and I'm going in for my biannual checkup. They tell me I've developed an aneurysm and need my surgery very quickly, at the age of 44. So on my wife's birthday, at 7 am, I had open heart surgery (at this same hospital, now established as the leading heart care hospital on the west coast) to replace my aortic valve with a bovine valve and repair the aneurysm in my aorta. The surgery lasted about eight hours, but my next memory was just a few seconds at about 2 am the next day. I don't wish this surgery on anyone, having your chest ripped open is no picnic, but it saved my life. Had that aneurysm popped, I would have been dead in seconds. My surgeon told me three times in my pre op appointment, "you're a big guy, you're going to hurt." He was right. The strain put on your shoulders and back when your ribcage is spread open is inhuman. Vicadin was my best friend for nearly two months.
But now I'm coming up on two years post op and I'm doing fine. I need to lose weight, but its hard. I'm trying. Heart surgery patients have a condition called "poundhead" that afflicts us. It is the term applied to the memory problems. For me, it manifests as an inability to remember names. I've also noticed my math skills have declined.
If any of you reading this are ever told you have a murmur, get it checked out. Could be nothing, or it could be a life changing event. Better to suffer through all this and live to tell about it than keel over someday in ignorance.