Robotic Heart Surgery in a Lucky Leap Year

Robotic Heart Surgery in a Lucky Leap Year

February 29, 2012, Lucky Leap Year, almost 20 years after my husband had open-heart surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, we were back on the same floor, only this time it was my turn. How did that happen?

Five months previously, I was passing out on the tour bus the second day on our Peruvian trip. By 10 that evening I was turning grey, and Fred dashed downstairs, asked the hotel to call a doctor. When this doctor arrived, he immediately  listened to my heart ~ and in Spanish said, you must see a cardiologist the minute you get home, and do nothing the rest of your time in Peru! He drove me to the hospital where I was treated for altitude sickness, over-medicated, and well-attended overnight. Since the doctor didn’t call in a cardiologist or tell me to go directly home, I didn’t even consider my heart was the issue. Hospital diagnosis read altitude sickness. Weak the whole ten days of my trip, I struggled climbing Macchu Picchu, and rested at the lodges as much as possible. Every step was a great effort. But I was sure I would be fine once home again.

Back home I actually waited 2 months before seeking medical attention, trying to get myself stronger, and past tiring effects of the medication from the Cusco hospital. St. Joseph Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia features a wonderful Heart-Screening for Women Program. Fortunately, I signed up. Thinking I’d ace it, of course. I’d been following a Macrobiotic Diet these last 20 years, particularly for the heart, and felt so protected.

After the first few minutes administering my EKG, Stacy abruptly left the room to get the cardiologist, Dr. Gina Lundberg, from another appointment. Dr. Lundberg rushed into the room and said they had an emergency situation. I replied, Oh, I can wait, I’m not in a hurry. Then, the blow! She verified I was the emergency situation. You are going to need heart surgery, I’ll see you after Stacy completes your other tests.

An hour later, sitting at a desk, Dr. Lundberg apologized for her shocking news upon just meeting me. Yet she was insisting on protocol tests I’d never dreamed of having. It came down to: if I didn’t agree to have the tests, then she would not keep me in her practice. I would have to seek help elsewhere. I couldn’t believe my ears. And she couldn’t believe I’d had no symptoms. Tell me what the symptoms are, and I’ll tell you if I’ve ever had any.  She explained  this mitral valve leak had been with me most likely since childhood, til it just couldn’t hold up any longer. And the Peru experience was because of my heart reacting in that higher altitude. A later Echocardiogram verified a 40% leakage. So that’s why I was always tired, and pushing myself ~ my heart was having to work twice as hard. I agreed to the tests.

Dr. Lundberg said you’re lucky. The valve leak needs repair – not replacement. You’re  just under the wire ~ and if you qualify, in the care of world-renowned Dr. Douglas Murphy.

Most likely in shock, I was in still in denial, and as Bill Spear says, not the river. What about having eaten Macro-style food? and besides that, following a careful regime? Fred had no medication for over 19 years because we were careful how we ate! I’d certainly had my fair share of shiitake mushrooms, daikon, and lots of cleansing remedies over the years. So what went amiss? Nothing, according to Warren Kramer and William Spear – both very esteemed Senior Macrobiotic Counselors. This was purely a structural defect – fix it, and move on. Fred, our daughters and my sisters agreed: have the surgery. Scared, and many prayers and tears later, in just three days I made the next appointment to proceed.

Not so easy!  I felt like Dorothy seeking the Wizard of OZ!  One angiogram and Cat-scan later I had the all-clear for Robotic Surgery! And became a Dr. Murphy’s Girl ~ Celebration in Dunwoody, Georgia! Macrobiotics had served me well! Dr. Murphy’s office called me with the good news saying, Dr. Murphy said you have the aorta of an 18-year old! It’s a go ~ robotically! That daikon had done the trick! I grew up on the oreo-cookie, pizza, fried chicken and barbecue diet of Houston, Texas ~ so Macrobiotics had a lot of work to do! My cousin, a physician in NYC, emailed me congrats saying he hadn’t had an aorta of an 18-year old when he was 18! And being a doctor, he must have known!

Everyday Fred and I are grateful for Macrobiotics, and what this way of eating and lifestyle have meant to us. In my macrobiotic cooking classes you’ve heard me say please learn this well! Learn everything you can about Macrobiotics. We never know when health challenges may arise, and it’s always best to know what to do beforehand, than to cram-course it in emergency situation. Kinpira Soup, Arame and other sea veggies dishes, nishimi, pressed salads,  millet with sweet vegetables, sardine spread, fish soup ~ strengthened me beyond my imagination. And the magic three: grains, beans, greens with all the variety possible, I was one lucky chick arriving in my pink pajamas at 5:30 am for Dr. Murphy and team! Did I mention Charlie Kendall’s Natto! The icing on the macro cake!

This, and my Macrobiotic Counselor knowing me well were my greatest assets. What does that mean? Having seen Warren Kramer several times a year when he counsels in Atlanta, Warren knew me well enough to guide me long distance before my surgery. Especially through the side-effects of the strenuous pre-testing. And the emotional strain of the unknown before heart surgery. Robotic or open-heart, there is still the heart-lung machine connection, and the heart is stopped for the duration of surgery. A pretty awesome thought. Do I dare this? Many prayers later, the only answer was yes.

Macrobiotics brings amazing healing after surgery. The drinks, the remedies, the food, the body rub all play a part expediting comfort, lessening medication, and getting us home sooner! A thermos and someone cooking for you ~ voila, macro food replaces the hospital jello and chicken soup! Sweet Vegetable Drink balanced my blood sugar and blood pressure. Hot apple juice, Hot Amasake and Ame Kuzu eased my pain and discomfort and we were dancing’ around the Nurses Station well beyond my required 7 times. Nurse Adam checked me out for home just 3 days after surgery.

Once home, resting was still my number one agenda. Macrobiotics views rest important to healing, and I really walked my talk. Support, love and prayers from family and friends, rest, walking outside, macro meals and remedies ~ and my healing is right on target! Cardiac rehab at St. Joseph Hospital and the Berkeley4myHeart programs further enhance my strengthening targets, and I’m well on the road to fulfill my life’s dreams!

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