Monday, March 28, 2011
No Good Way To Find Out You Have Heart Valve Disease
Yellow Trumpetfish - Columbier Beach, St. Barths (click on the photo to enlarge it)
People have a wide range of experiences with valvular heart disease. Some people find out that they have a heart valve issue all of a sudden and need surgery ASAP. This can be very upsetting, to say the least. But for others, years and years can pass in between the initial diagnosis and eventual surgery. I'm in the category of knowing since childhood that I had an "innocent" heart murmur (is there such a thing?) It wasn't until age 55 that I had my first diagnostic echocardiogram (in the cardiologist's office) that was ordered before a routine colonoscopy. Then I found out that I had moderate aortic stenosis (calcification and narrowing of the aortic valve.) That didn't bother me much at the time. But four years later when I began to notice a loss of exercise tolerance I went to an advanced university heart center for an echoardiogram. Then I found out that I have a congenital aortic valve abnormality - a bicuspid aortic valve, with an aortic aneurysm (ballooning of the ascending aorta.) That shocked me more, especially when I learned from a surgeon that I wasn't "ripe" for surgery. Open heart surgery is serious business. They only do it when the risk of dying without the surgery outweighs the risk of the surgery itself.
It really bothers me that I have this congenital heart problem hanging over me and I can't get it fixed now. I'm an active guy and kind of a bull type, you know, push the car to get it started, shovel snow all the time, etc. So I want to stay healthy. But no, I have to wait until I get weaker and sicker. So I don't know what's worse, really: finding out all of a sudden that you need surgery ASAP, or lingering on coping with a slow progression of the disease for years and years, fighting to lead a normal life but you really can't, and not knowing when you might finally get the surgery you need, or keel over or blow a gasket first. There is no pleasant way for any of us with heart valve disease.