First, Denver Broncos' head coach John Fox felt light-headed during a golf outing in Charlotte during his team's bye week, and had the good sense to get medically checked out right away. It turns out that the time had come for the aortic valve replacement that he had known he would eventually have to have. Coach Fox had the open-heart surgery at Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute in Charlotte. Prayers go with him for a smooth recovery and good experience with cardiac rehabilitation. Chances are good that he will be back coaching by the time the Broncos are making their playoff run.
While all that cardiovascular-related news was popping, a new book with "Heart" emblazoned on its cover arrived at my door, hot off the presses. It was a copy of "Heart: An American Medical Odyssey," by former Vice President Dick Cheney and Jonathan Reiner, MD, his long-time cardiologist. In the book, Cheney's personal accounts of his 35-year battle with heart disease from his first heart attack in 1978 to his heart transplant in 2012 are balanced with Dr. Reiner's informative reporting on the advances in cardiac care during this time frame. I strive to keep this blog politics-free (saving my political comments for Facebook or other outlets), but I think even many of Cheney's foes would enjoy this book if they or loved ones have concerns about their heart health. They could find it in the library if it would pain them to buy a volume written by the Republican Veep.
I am finding all of this very personal.
Coach Fox's experience appears to be somewhat similar to my own. When I was in my 20s, an internist heard a murmur in my heart and told me I had a congenitally defective aortic valve that was leaky, and that eventually I would have to have it replaced. I went on to have an active career in newspapering, played industrial-league softball and even ran a few marathons, before finding out at age 63 after a routine visit to a Northern Virginia cardiologist that my valve was leaking very badly. In addition, I had a grossly enlarged aortic root that would also need replacing. Unlike Coach Fox, I had no symptoms that alerted me. I was just lucky that I went to the cardiologist for a check-up probably months before my ticker would have quit ticking.
Dick Cheney's book is personal to me because I find in it many references to Dr. Alan Speir, the cardiac surgeon at Inova Fairfax Hospital who performed Cheney's transplant. Dr. Speir was the surgeon to whom my cardiologist referred me for a combined aortic root/valve replacement. "Dr. Siri"(as this cardiologist of Cambodian descent was called for short) told me that if I arrived at the hospital the day of my surgery and Dr. Speir had been called away, I should just leave and come back a day when he could be there. Why? Because Alan Speir is the absolute best at performing this complex procedure. That was in 2005 and I am here as a grandfather who has enjoyed his grandkids and life in general to say that Dr. Siri was absolutely right.
As we learn daily, there are plenty of grounds for hope if you have a heart condition. Medicine has come a long way since those pioneering valve replacements a half-century ago. Let us hope and pray the advancements continue.
© Robert G. Holland 2013