“You look fabulous, what are you doing here!” the cardiologist said as she came into the exam room. I sat in my chair, feeling like a specimen but intrigued that the cardiologist would make a statement about my outward appearance when my valve was what was worthy of medical attention. “My heart is having palpitations, and I wake up feeling like I am having a heart attack,” I answered.
Now, I had her attention and she got down to diagnosing the symptoms of my health problem. Listening to my chest, the doctor identified a leaky heart mitral valve as the likely culprit and explained, “You might have had undiagnosed rheumatic fever as a child, or could have been born with the problem which hasn’t shown itself until now.”
She scheduled an echocardiogram, a diagnostic test that confirmed the valve was leaking. Having a heart condition explained my symptoms, but it was the last thing I had anticipated, even though I felt like I was having a heart attack at age 42. The echocardiogram diagnosis was that the valve was not leaking badly enough to require surgery, so for the next 14 years I went for regular follow-ups with my cardiologists. I had yearly echocardiograms to watch the progression of my mitral valve deterioration and treated my heart arrhythmias with beta blockers.
In June of 2014, I began to experience more intense arrhythmia symptoms and went to a cardiologist in Boulder who did a variety of tests: echocardiogram, stress echocardiogram, and a Holter monitor. After collecting the data from these tests, I underwent a more comprehensive test called a transesophageal echocardiogram, which involved swallowing a device that scans the heart to evaluate how much blood is leaking from the valve. My doctor rated my valve a 3.5 out of 5 and said I should consult with a heart surgeon in Denver, CO.
The surgeon said that surgery to repair the mitral valve has a high percentage of success, adding that he would not replace the valve unless he encountered complications during the repair.
From the start, I was impressed by the high level of healthcare, the spotless facility, and up-to-date medical equipment. After being given medication to relax, I was wheeled into the operating room. Knowing the possibility of complications, my husband Phil was relieved to hear by late afternoon that I was sleeping peacefully in the intensive care unit (ICU). I was tethered to wires, drainage tubes, and protruding bags that were uncomfortable and a nuisance to carry around. Initially, I was hooked up to a terminal on the wall that monitored heart rate and blood pressure. Later, I was given a portable telemetry box that could be tucked handily inside a bathrobe pocket while I walked around the ICU. The medical technology was impressive and instrumental in my recovery.
I am still in recovery and finding it challenging, but am getting better through my cardio rehab. I am thankful for the excellent care from cardiologists and heart surgeons in Massachusetts and Colorado. I am also thankful for the arrhythmias that started this journey for me because they allowed the doctors to find out about my mitral valve prolapse early before it caused my heart to go into congestive heart failure
I am immensely grateful for being given a new lease on life, and I feel a bond with all who supported me through this process.
Debra Cogdill is a quilter and mother of three from Boulder, CO. She is married to AAMI Chair-elect C. Philip Cogdill.