Saturday, June 9, 2018

Still True: Dawgwalkers Gotta Have Heart

On January 5, 2013, I inaugurated this blog, "Walking Stick, Don't Fail Me Now!," with this simple post:

When visiting bookstores, I invariably go to the fitness/exercise/health/diet sections. Rarely do I find works devoted to the interests and needs of people in their 60s, 70s, or beyond. If we are not a large enough demographic group, that is surely changing. But beyond numbers is the reality that as we age, it becomes all the more critical for physical and mental fitness for us to continue to be active and to move. "Use it or lose it" may be an overused expression, but it is 100 percent true.

Although I have worked in one of the most sedentary of occupations (writing and editing), I have always been a fitness nut. I served on the Governors Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in Virginia, and ran many 10Ks, 10-milers, half-marathons, and even a few full (26.2-mile) marathons. As I have come to confront assorted health challenges in my senior years, I have become an even more dedicated walker, with the invaluable assistance of a companionable dog.

This is my first post in what I plan to be a daily chronicle of the joys of maintaining an active life with the help of loyal dogs, playful grandkids, stalwart family members, and friends. I hope others will join me on this journey.

GenHolland: Two Bobs & a Brooks
Sixty-six months later, I am thrilled and blessed to still be on the dawgwalking trails, while keeping this blog active. Along the way, I have written, and continue to write, about many of my own largely age-related health challenges (though my leaky heart valve, now replaced, was a congenital condition). Candidly, I have blogged partly to keep my own spirits high, with a thought to perhaps eventually turning my posts into a book on senior resolve. But I also have hoped that my own experiences will help others who face similar challenges. I was pleased to learn that a number of readers facing total knee replacements found my accounts of my own experience with that, especially the rehab, to be helpful.

Two Ancient Scribes
Keeping spinal stenosis at bay to preserve mobility is another part of my continuing saga. But at the heart of everything, of course, is the heart. I consider February 16, 2005 my re-birthday because on that day I underwent open-heart surgery at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia to replace my badly leaking aortic value and my greatly enlarged aortic root. I am grateful to God for putting me in the hands of a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Alan Speir, to save my life and give me (so far) more than 13 "overtime" years filled with great blessings. I have blogged on occasion about the details of that surgery, so all that is in the archives if anyone is interested.

These days I find myself reflecting on the type of replacement device I chose -- a Medtronic Freestyle Aortic Root Heart Valve. This is a combined root/valve that is stentless, with the valve being porcine tissue (yep, thank you Mr. or Ms. Piggie!). And yes, Dr. Speir let me choose the type of replacement I wanted -- mechanical or tissue, with dozens of varieties within those two main categories. There are pros and cons for each version. After much research, I chose the Freestyle even though it had not had a long track record at the time. The seamless nature of it just seemed to make sense for me. I'm sure Dr. Speir would have vetoed it if he had concerns, but he and his staff both thought I made an excellent choice. And so far so good.

Nothing lasts forever, though, certainly not patched-up hearts. Approaching 14 years with my Freestyle (already a good long run compared to some others'), I find myself wondering -- though not obsessing over -- what might lie down the road for my heart health. I am reading more and more about exciting developments with the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR). This is a technique by which a new heart valve can be inserted into a catheter, threaded through a blood vessel, and placed in the correct position in your heart. So you don't have to have your chest split open like a hot baked potato, and you may even be out of the hospital in a day or two! And often you don't even have to have a breathing tube, something I greatly dreaded. Wow, big Wow!

Following news of all this, I have just assumed that my replacement device is too big, too complicated to ever be replaced via a TAVR. However, at a dinner the other night with heart doctors and surgeons from my new local group, the McLeod Heart & Vascular Institute, I asked a question about this, and received a most pleasing answer. Because of the position of the valve in the Freestyle, a surgeon told me, I could well be an ideal candidate for a TAVR! Obviously, a reply at a dinner is no guarantee. Lots of tests and information would be necessary to determine if this would be the best option for me, or not. But my spirits certainly soared from knowing I might be on the cutting edge (to use a bad pun) of advancements in minimally invasive surgery.

Meanwhile, I just praise the Lord for my blessings and continue to enjoy life. Ellie the Junkyard Dawg and I walk every day. I eat more salads and less red meat than I once did. And regular core fitness instruction from a nationally certified and top-rate trainer, Sarah Parker, is helping me immensely. Who knows? Maybe my Freestyle will keep on stylin' for the duration, but it is good to know that I might have the TAVR option some day.

Happy trails!

                                             © Robert Gray Holland  (2018)

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