In three weeks’ time, I will be laying flat on my back in the cardiac surgery wing of Kaiser Hospital in Downtown Los Angeles. Three weeks to the day, actually, I will likely be recovering in the ICU, the surgery having been a success and my family notified of my coming out alright. I was born with an aortic stenosis and diagnosed with the condition nearly a year after my birth, then operated on at the young age of two years old. My parents handed me over to the care and protection of Dr. Starnes, one of the most renowned Children’s Hospital pediatric heart surgeons in the nation; no, in the world, and he took my tiny heart into his hands and fixed me with a lifesaving procedure named the Ross Procedure. They removed my defective aortic valve (which pumps blood to my body) and placed my pulmonary valve (which pumps blood to my lungs) in it’s former position, as it is the perfect size, shape, and overall the best choice for long-term resolution to the problem. It is far easier to re-operate and repair a pulmonary valve than it is an aortic valve and is far more important to have the latter live longer. A child’s pulmonary valve was used in the place of my former (called a homograft) and I was sent home a healthy, happy child.
Over the course of twenty years, I would have full functionality of my heart. Twenty years is an extremely long time for someone to live with a homograft pulmonary valve that has not decayed or deteriorated. Of course, the size is deficient as I ended up growing right out of it entirely and it began to show signs of being too weak and too small for the proper amount of blood flow required to enter my lungs. I’ve grown rather tired of late, always running short on breath when I do menial physical tasks that otherwise shouldn’t have made me bend over like an old woman and catch my breath after every staircase landing. I sleep poorly, and often, and my quality of life has diminished significantly since I started feeling these issues arise.
This morning, I had my first consultation with Dr. Kristopher Kallin, a specialized congenital heart surgeon chosen specifically for adults with a need for re-operation on heart patients that require someone of his skill and capacity. Needless to say, he is exactly the surgeon I would have asked for to replace the extreme attachment I had at the idea of having Dr. Starnes once more. I needed some re-assurance…some peace of mind knowing that I was going to be placed in the same comforting and knowledgeable hands once again, though no longer a small baby but an adult who loves her life and wants to continue living it far beyond the age of twenty-two. When I looked into his eyes, they spoke volumes about his confidence, what kind of man he was and how serious he was about repairing me and giving me the best chance I could have. I’ve never felt more safe and secure than I do now with my choice to let him operate…I’ve never felt more ready to expose myself that way to anyone.
Dr. Kallin is a surgeon that I can believe will get me home safe and sound, and anyone reading this who is about to go through the same thing, I urge you to look into the eyes of your surgeon as he’s speaking to you and make sure you feel that same re-assurance I felt when he told me what he was going to do, how he was going to do it, and what my chances are for survival. Never forget that face. It will be the very thing that gives you peace and comfort in the days to follow.
I’m slowly beginning to realize that I have three weeks to do whatever I want to do before I’m confined to a bed for an unknown period of time. I can’t confirm that I’ll be 100% okay when the surgery is over. I can’t confirm I’ll even live. I want to do everything I possibly can do before I go…I want to take chance and experience life and love again. I have to. I will lay in the operating room, content that I have left behind no regrets in my wake and nothing to leave me missing or fearing for what I may or may not leave behind me. It is giving me all the courage in the world to pursue what I love and what I desire, and by God’s good grace, I will do my best to obtain it all.
My friends and family have been sent to me to carry me through this time of my life. I thank everyone who has been there and is continuing to support and love me the way no one else has loved me before. My figurative heart is spilling over with affection for the people surrounding me and if I should go that day and never come back, I will be the luckiest woman in the world to know I have them to look forward to seeing again someday. And when I open my eyes in the recovery room, I’m blessed to know they’ll be the first faces I will see and the first hands I reach out to hold. That, ladies and gentlemen, is everything.