Monday, August 16, 2010

Jeremy's Heart... and Mine.

It all really started a couple of weeks ago. I'd been nagging at Jeremy to build the firepit we wanted in the backyard for almost two years. We had the pavers and the paver gravel for drainage - just needed to dig the hole and do the work. So on the HOTTEST day of the year, after working in 102 degree heat, he came home and said "Let's get started".

We walked down to the creek where the pavers stacked and waiting and discussed how we wanted to build the firepit. Then Jeremy grabbed a shovel and dug out the perimeter of what we wanted. It was HOT and he was pouring with sweat. I told him we should wait until in the morning when it's cooler, and he agreed that he was awfully hungry. So we went inside and I fixed dinner.

After about forty minutes and a few bites of dinner, he started telling me didn't feel good. He said he was having chest pain - he got up and laid down on the floor. Then he said he felt nauseous - I gave him some Mylanta and it took care of the nausea. But his chest still hurt and he started rubbing his arm. He was scaring me to death. I kept asking him if he was having a heart attack or if we should head to the emergency room. He said no, he thought he was going to be okay - we really thought it was severe dehydration. I had him sip on water all night and have a few saltines. He started feeling better and we went to bed. By Sunday he felt more or less back to normal.

Fortunately, he had his annual physical scheduled for the following Thursday. He'd been having issues with fatigue for a little over year, so I told him to make sure he discussed that with her, and I added his chest pain to the list of things he needed to tell her about. Our PCP, Dr. Maureen Stoffa (who is now my hero), does an EKG at every physical. So at his visit she told him that his EKG was abnormal and since he was talking about chest pain - they needed to look into this a little further. So they did an echocardiogram that day as well. It was normal, but Dr. Stoffa wasn't satisfied. She wanted to schedule him for a stress test the next week.

We were both certain that it would be normal as well and that since this was his first EKG, they'd probably discovered a normal deviation in his heart (I have one). But we were okay with Dr. Stoffa wanting to be on the safe side. Jeremy's stress test was scheduled to start at 8 AM on Wednesday, August 11. He was still in bed when I left for work that morning, enjoying the opportunity to sleep in, and I told him to call me and let me know how the stress test went. My phone finally rang a little before 11 and it was Jeremy. I answered and he said "Hey babe". I asked about the stress test, but he didn't answer me. I thought maybe we had a bad connection so I got up and moved to a different spot in the office, "Can you hear me?" Still no answer. But I could hear him now and he was crying. Adrenaline shot through my body immediately. "Honey, what's going on - you're scaring me." I could hear him try to answer me, but he couldn't. "Where are you? I'm coming to you." I didn't even know where he was having the stress test and now I was shaking like a leaf - adrenaline was pumping and I was freaking out.

I heard shuffling on the other end and faintly I heard Jeremy say, "Can you?" Then there was a woman on the other end of the phone and the first thing she said was "Jeremy's okay."(Um, hello lady - obviously he's not okay. He's crying.) She told me that they'd found something in his stress test and they thought he might have a blockage. (A blockage? Are you freaking kidding me? He's 36 for God's sake!) She said they were sending him to Missouri Baptist Hospital to the Cardiac Cath Lab for an angiogram. (An angiogram! What's that? Isn't that the balloon thing? That sounds serious and for old people.) She said if they found a blockage in the angiogram, they'd probably insert a stent. (A stent?!? Now that's definately an old people thing. This is scary as hell.) I asked her to tell me where they were and to tell me how to get there, and to tell Jeremy I was on my way. She put Jeremy on the phone. He'd calmed down a little and said he could make it to the hospital on his own and he'd just meet me there. We cried together on the phone and said lots of "I love you"s. Finally I hung up and went into the office of my friend and former boss. I needed to tell someone I was leaving work and didn't know when I'd be back.

As soon as I walked in his office and shut the door I started sobbing. And I mean the ugly, slobbery, hyperventilating, shaking kind of sobbing. That's nice, huh? Of course everything the nurse had explained to me had immediately left my head and I did a very piss poor job of explaining to Mark what was going on and that I had to leave. He said he'd take care of letting myVP and the rest of my team know I had to leave and would possibly be out for a while. Luckily it was lunch time so there weren't many folks around when I went to my desk to shut down my laptop and grab my purse. So I managed to leave the office without giving explanations to anyone else.

I called Mom and she said she was on her way. Thank God. The drive from my office to Missouri Baptist Hospital was probably the longest drive I've ever made. And every other car on the road had a moron behind the wheel that was clearly trying to get in my way. God and I had a long chat during that drive. I did most of the talking. Lots of "please God" and exposition that I'm sure He was already well aware of. I explained to Him that Jeremy's the center of my existence, he's my everything, I have nothing to live for if You take him, he has to be okay, etc.

I spoke with Jeremy and let him know I was almost there, he said he'd meet me in the lobby. I finally got there (thank goodness they have free valet parking for panic-stricken people) because I just parked in front of the door and ran inside. Jeremy was standing there waiting for me and I already felt a little relieved just seeing him. It was like dying of thirst in the middle of the dessert, and seeing Jeremy was my first big gulp of water. We held each other and just stood there for a long while. Obviously the valet guys are used to this kind of thing, because they didn't even ask which car was mine or anything - they just handed me a tag and took my keys.

Jeremy and I went up to the Outpatient Cardiac Cath Lab and told the lady there who we were. She said they were expecting him and to just take a seat, it wouldn't be long. We were the only ones there. They gave us an information sheet on having an angiogram and asked if we had any questions. Jeremy said, "Just everything." She said they'd take him back to prep him and then once he was prepped I could come back and sit with him until they took him in for the angiogram. I called his brother, his dad and his mom to let them all know what was going on. Jay (his Dad) decided to take off the rest of the day and come be there with us. Poor Cathy (his Mom) lives near Phoenix, so I'm sure she felt incredibly helpless so far away. I told her I'd update her as we had anything to update. Cathy is the only woman on earth that loves my husband as much as I do - so I can only imagine how she must have felt.

They took Jeremy in to prep him and after he left, a nurse came out to calm me down. I was freaking out a little. She said that more likely than not he'd walk out with a clean bill of health. And even if there is a blockage it'll be repaired right away. She told me that the other tests he'd had done weren't 100% accurate, but the angio is. So we'll know what's going on very soon - and it's probably nothing. He's so young...

Finally they let me go back to sit with him. Mom got there right after I went back so she came in, too. Dr. Hess (the cardiologist) came in. He walked us through the procedure and said that he'd be going in through an incision in Jeremy's wrist. They'd thread the catheter up into his heart and take a look at what's going on with a camera. Jeremy would be awake for the whole thing. If they find anything, they're going to leave the catheter in, bring him back out and discuss it - then go back in a put a stent in. He told Jeremy they'd be giving something for anxiety - Jeremy interupted with an emphatic "Good!" - and taking him back soon. Jay came in shortly after than and then they were ready for the angiogram. Mom, Jay and I went back out to the waiting room and chatted. About gun safes. Of course.

When they called us back in - and it was only about 45 minutes later - Jeremy wasn't in the room yet, but Dr. Hess brought in an extra chair so that everyone could sit. That's when I knew we weren't getting to good news and we weren't going home. They brought Jeremy back in and he was a little loopy. :) Dr. Hess explained that they'd found a blockage. His left anterior descending artery was completely blocked. The rest of them looked okay. While tears start streaming down my face, Jeremy interupts with "No more bacon cheeseburgers, huh?" God bless good drugs. I wondered if I could have some, too... Dr. Hess told us that this is exactly what kills 50 year old men while they're shoveling the driveway - they don't have any symptoms before the blockage "ruptures" (breaks loose) and kills them with a massive heart attack.

Dr. Hess told us that he'd be going back in and putting a stent in place. The balloon would push the plaque up against the artery wall and the stent would hold the artery open. Mom asked about anticoagulants. (Huh?) Dr. Hess said he had been trying to decide how to address that before talking to us. He explained (for those of us that aren't Mom) that he could put in a drug coated stent, but if he did that then Jeremy would have to be on Plavix (an anticoagulant) for the rest of his life. This means that bumping his head could mean bleeding out, or cutting his hand on an exhaust would be a big problem, etc. Or he could put in a bare metal stent. A bare metal stent has a 10-12% bigger risk of more scaring around the stent - which would mean another blockage. But it would mean he'd only have to be on Plavix for a few months. If it did create too much scarring, though, they'd have to go back in and put a drug coated stent in. So we opted for the bare metal stent.

The next surgery was really quick as well. Jay and Mom went out to the Cardiac Cath waiting room. They let me walk next to Jeremy as they wheeled him to surgery. When they stopped by the waiting room, I bent down and kissed him. Then stopped and told him to look at me and really kiss me. I was scared and I didn't want to tell him, but the were operating on his heart, there are risks and I was scared. And I needed us both to be present and looking one another in the eye for that last kiss. There was a lot of love in that kiss, but a certain amount of desperation for both of us. The surgery only took about 20 minutes - but it was about an hour before Dr. Hess came back out to talk to me. This time he was all smiles - and I felt a hundred pounds lighter immediately. Of course I cried, and so did Mom... and Jay. He said the surgery was a complete success and full blood flow had been restored. He walked us to the recovery room and said Jeremy would be in shortly.

I can't explain how wonderful it was to see Jeremy when he was wheeled into recovery. He was still loopy from the drugs, but he told us all about the surgery. He'd been awake for the whole thing, and he didn't even realize they'd started when they told him it was over! He said he was up for visitors - as a matter of fact, he really wanted visitors. So I told his brother, Jonas, to come up and bring his family. And I told our best friends, Mike and Mary Beth, to come up as well.

Soon Jonas got there with his wife, Shaina, and two and a half year old son, Hunter. Shaina was pregnant at the time (she had the baby three days later - I'm an aunt again!), and Hunter knew that she'd be going to the hospital to have the baby soon. So Hunter thought they were going to the hospital to see Jeremy's baby! He asked Uncle Jeremy about his booboo, and charmed the nurses out of some juice - he was a welcome amusement for all of us. Mike and Mary Beth arrived shortly after that and we had a full house. God bless her, Mary Beth went WAY out of her way to grab a few things from the house for us (phone charger and sweats - it's COLD in the hospital). Which was wonderful.
The top pic is before the stent - the arrow is pointing to the blockage. The bottom picture is after the stent, the arrow is pointing to the same spot and I've circled the stent. Like I said... 100% blockage.

A couple of hours later, they put us in his hospital room and told us the doctors would be in to see us the next morning. They gave Jeremy Vicodin and he finally felt a little sleepy. I felt like I should stay the night in the hospital with him, but he thought I should go home. Nothing else was going to happen, but sleeping and constantly annoying vitals, etc. So I headed home - thankfully, Mom offered to stay the night with me and go back to the hospital with me in the morning. I wanted her to be there when we spoke to the doctors. So the next morning, Dr. Stoffa, Dr. Lite (the cardiologist that did his stress test and found the blockage) and Dr. Hess came in to talk to us. We thanked them all profusely. Dr. Stoffa really saved Jeremy's life - she pushed until she got to the bottom of his chest pain - and that's what saved his life. If she hadn't done an EKG, if that wasn't part of her normal physical procedure, we wouldn't have known about the blockage.

Dr. Hess, Dr. Stoffa and Dr. Lite all told us that Jeremy was practically a miracle - it's so rarely caught this early... I can't tell you how many nurses came in to say the same thing. Yes, he's young - seriously, 36 is way to young to have to go through this, but it could have been SO much worse. It's just amazing that we caught it. Dr. Hess told us that he'd send a nutritionist in to talk to us if we'd like. He went over Jeremy's blood work with us - his HDL is too low, his LDL is too high and his cholesterol is too high. They're all just a little high or low, borderline, none of them are really, really bad. One thing we did like - Dr. Hess told us that one of teh best ways to raise his HDL is to have a glass or two of red wine every night!

The nutritionist came in and gave us a lot of great information. We need to keep his cholesterol intake under 200 every day; his sodium under 2,000; and his fat intake low - and avoid transfats and saturated fat. Nothing we didn't already know... but had always ignored as something we'd worry about when we got older. Between Jeremy running a business, my going to grad school full time and working full time... we just didn't eat as well as we should. He had fast food for lunch every day, and other than that it was all meat and dairy products - exactly the wrong diet for a healthy heart. But the time has come for all of that to change.

On the way home from the hospital we stopped at Borders and I bought The New American Heart Association Cookbook, as well as two other heart healthy cookbooks. We went home and threw away half of the food in the house. Then we hit the grocery store and bought all new stuff! When we went to bed that night, it was the first time we'd been alone and not moving, going, doing, talking on the phone, etc since it had all started. And we just held one another. We told one another how we'd felt through the last two days and how we feel now.

So we've started a whole new chapter in our lives. A healthier chapter. Jeremy is going to start exercising with me. We are eating right. And we appreciate one another now more than ever before. As people have asked us if we need anything, or what they can do for us - the answer is the same every time. Come visit, come see us, this was an incredibly scary experience (and it's not over yet) and it makes you want to reconnect with the people you care about.


The Neukomm Family said...

With all that has happened since Ryan was two days old I feel like I truly know how very precious life is. Nothing NOTHING is scarier than thinking for one second you could lose the one you love and need more than anything. Count your blessings every day, and mean every kiss and 'I love you'. You guys are family and I love you both so much!!

Jeannie Kushina said...

Jeremy & Heather, We Miss you, we don't see you much but we love you & think of you often, how could we not!!! I immediately called Mark at work & forwarded Heather's e-mail. we have been praying for you & for your continued healing, and that God would be with you through the beginning of your New Life!!!!! I have joined Mark in Bike riding the Katy trail, 2 weeks ago we were out by you guys, this weekend if we ride & you will be home, we'd love to come give a hug!!!!!!!
Mark, Jeannie Mary(she is especially happy your alive)& Abby XOXO

Geri said...

So happy your doc was so thorough, preventative care is so important. Good lesson about about being present in life as well. Best wishes in Jeremy's recovery.

Geri said...

Great lesson about living in the present. Best wishes on Jeremy's recovery.
Xo, Geri

Donna said...

You both are in my prayers.
Your story brought many tears.
It has made all of us who know you realize how precious life is and that we need to take care of each other and be there for one another.
Yours is truly a love story.
Love, Donna

Janie Busch said...

Intense is such a weak word for that whole experience last Wednesday. When Dr Hess told us he had found the LAD (left anterior descending) 100% blocked I froze. This is the artery they call the widowmaker, the occlusion that killed Tim Russert. I felt like I was holding my breath until he came in to tell us the stent was successful. That was not to be taken for granted. On my way down from Clarksville I called an uncle & aunt in Ky & asked for prayers. I know many were praying, sending love & positive thoughts. Last Wednesday the answer to these petitions was a resounding "YES".
I am so proud of you & love you both.

////////////////anita said...

As I told you before, God was watching over both of you every step of the way. Cherish every moment you have together and don't put off things you plan to do later. Prayers are still coming for you from Louisville. I love both of you.