While in my freshman year at Monmouth University, I was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. On January 13th, 2004 I had a heart attack and 2 weeks that followed were the hardest 2 weeks of my life. Or so I thought. I was admitted to St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan because my local hospital "couldn't handle" a condition of my magnitude. While in the hospital, it was discovered that I also had amyocardial bridge. On January 20th, I had open heart surgery to free the artery and they did a single bypass in case there was scar tissue. Later in the week, my doctors implanted a cardioverter defibrillator/pacemaker to treat my ventricular tachycardia. I came home on January 25th and was back at college trying to get my life bak to normal by Valentine's Day. I guess having this done at 18 has it's advantages.
I graduated from Monmouth with a BA in Graphic Design on time in May of 2007. I had a few minor incidents here and there but nothing major. I was one of the lucky ones to find a job right after graduating. I'm a graphic designer for Smiths Detection, a global security company that manufactures X-ray equipment and chemical identifiers for government agencies. I didn't tell them about my pacemaker until after I was hired and realized that there were metal detectors in the office. Pacemakers and metals don't play nice together.
My life was pretty normal for about 3 years after i graduated. This past Spring however, I noticed I was getting more tired. I began to see my doctors and got sent to a Heart Failure specialist over in Manhattan. He informed me that my heart was weakening and that I would most likely need a heart transplant. (I had gone through this same situation a year earlier and had found out that the closest Heart Transplant Center covered by my insurance was The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. My doctors preformed a cardiac ablation and my symptoms had seemed to have gotten better so a transplant was taken off the table) I informed my doctor that I would have to go to HUP for insurance and he new of a doctor there off the top of his head. He gave me her information and I made an appointment. Unfortunately I had to wait 2 months to see her.
On July 28th, my parents and I departed for my appointment with my new heart failure specialist, Dr. Susan Brozena. We arrived at the brand new Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine and where overwhelmed by it's size. It's huge glass atrium and modern art around the lobby felt more like a trendy hotel rather than a hospital. We met with Dr. Brozena and she said that by what she saw in my medical records, I would be a "perfect candidate" for a heart transplant. The only thing that would make it difficult was my blood type, O negative. I was a the universal giver but could only receive an O heart. Since i was still pretty active (for someone in heart failure), she said I would be listed as a status 2. Which pretty much I wouldn't be getting a heart anytime soon. She said I would have to come back for a few days of testing to determine what I would be listed as. After the appointment we got Potbelly's for lunch.
The transplant center called to set up my testing. It was 3 days of testing and my Mom (after much deliberation with my Dad about who would take the time off work) came with me. The testing was Monday through Wednesday so we went down Sunday afternoon since we had to be at the Hospital early on Monday morning. Kris' roommate was able to get us a deal at a hotel close so we didn't spend too much money. The first day was meeting with a financial coordinator and the Nurse Practitioner. She went over what to expect before, during and after transplant. They also drew about 15 vials of blood to test for everything under the sun. After lunch I had a routine echocardiogram and then a pulmonary function test. For those who haven't had this, pretty much they are checking how well you breath. Some of the breathing exercises make you a little light headed. The woman who did my test was nice but a little odd. I later learned that she was originally from New Mexico, which explained a lot. After the day of testing I went to dinner with Kris. My Mom was tired so she didn't come. It was nice to catch up with him. I didn't realize he would play such a big role in helping me get through what I was to endure for the next couple of months. The second day of testing had some X-rays and an abdominal ultrasound. After those were done I had to have a right heart catheterization. Depending on the results, I maybe admitted. My results were borderline but Dr. Brozena felt they were good enough for me not to get admitted. On the third day I only had one test scheduled for the morning, a VO2 stress test. The hooked me up to a heart monitor, had me walk on a treadmill and had me breathe into a machine that checked the oxygen level in my blood while I exercised. After the test my Mom and I headed home but not before stopping at Monmouth University so I could see my former coworkers at the Copy Center. They were very pleasantly surprised to see me. I briefly caught up with them and told them of what was going on with my health and then headed back north.
I returned to work the following day but we had a picnic in the afternoon so it was an easy day. Reading through emails in the morning then relaxing in a park in the afternoon. Not a bad first day back. While at the picnic I received a phone call from Nicole Hornsby, the Nurse Practitioner from the HUP transplant center. She told me that the results from my VO2 stress test were less than stellar. A normal 25 year old should have had a result of 35 or so. Mine was about 7.5 which meant that my body wasn't storing any oxygen for exertion. That explained why I could barely walk 2 blocks without getting short of breath and needing to rest. They wanted me to come back on the following Tuesday to see me. They recommended that my family and I pack a bag because I may be admitted.
So again, my parents and I drove down to Philly in the early morning. After meeting with my doctors we decided that admitting me now would be best. I was going to go on a drug called milrinone. This would help with the oxygen levels in my blood. The doctors gave me a letter saying that I was being listed that day as a status 2 but once I was admitted I would be bumped up to a status 1B and as long as I was on the milrinone I would remain there. Depending on the dosage I may even be bumped up to a level 1A. I was in the hospital for 8 days. My parents stayed for a few days and then headed back home for the Labor Day weekend. My brother visited me on Friday which was also the day I got moved from the CCU to the CICU. Saturday was another great day. Well, as great as a day can be when you're in the Hospital. Cait was in the area and visited me along with our friend Ange and of course, Kris was there. God, I really don't know how I would have gotten through any of this without him there. My Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Don came to visit me on Sunday.
I was released from the Hospital on Wednesday and came home and was on short-term disability for another 3 weeks or so. It wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the fact that I can't drive while on milrinone. It's administered via IV and I have a PICC line in my arm and I must wear a stylish fanny pack that has a pump to constantly administer the drug.
During the next few weeks, my Mom (who was battling breast cancer for the second time) began to get more and more sick. Her sister Judy had come out from Pennsylvania to help care for her. My Mom was in and out of the hospital for most of September. I was finally able to return to work on September 30th. I had set up a schedule where my brother Bob would drive me to work in the morning and my Dad would pick me up at 5pm. That my Mom lost her battle with breast cancer. The next few days seem to be a blur but there is no way I would have gotten through it without the support of my friends and family.
My coworkers are another huge part of my support group through all this. Through various fundraising events they raised money to help me pay for the mounting medical and travel expenses. They have so supportive and even had a "Vacation Donation" so I would not have to take days without pay since I went through all my vacation and personal days.
I've been back to work for about a month now. I am still pretty tired but I try to take things one day at a time as I wait for a new heart. I am currently still listed as a status 1B and I was told that I would have to wait about 6 months for a new heart. I am writing this blog as way to keep all the people who care about me informed as to what's going on. I still go down to Philly for routine check-ups and will be going down for another right heart catheterization next week and will keep post how that goes on here.