Never take life for granted.
I have been a fitness enthusiast my entire life. I actually started teaching fitness out of high school and eventually got certified as an aerobics instructor and spinning instructor, teaching a variety of fitness classes over the next twenty years. Fitness is very much a part of who I am!
A year ago was a particularly stressful time in my career as CIO for the United States Marshals Service. I remember like it was yesterday coming into the office one morning and not feeling well. My heart was racing. Having used a heart rate monitor in my fitness training, I was very in tune with my heart. I knew something was not right. I immediately scheduled an appointment with my doctor. The internist validated that in fact my blood pressure was elevated and my heart was racing as well as skipping beats. I was referred to a cardiologist.
The cardiologist ran a variety of tests. On a Friday night at about 7:30 pm, I received a phone call from the cardiologist. I knew this was probably not a good sign. He said I got good news and bad news. The bad news is you are stressed and you must make some lifestyle changes. The good news is to do you you have a coronary heart defect. I was flabbergasted and said “no!” I was a runner, a cyclist and fitness nut and had never experienced any heart issues. He then stated that because I was born with a bicuspid value, my aorta had to work much harder and was enlarged. He said we were very luckily to have found it because I could of been one of those folks out for a run one day who dropped dead from an aortic aneurysm. I then asked if the symptoms I was currently experiencing were because of this condition. He said no and stated those were from stress which was just exasperating my condition. This was a pivotal moment in my life!
I then began seeing the cardiologist every six months to monitor the size of my aorta. I was told that by the time I was in my late sixties or seventies, this issue would require surgery. I was determined to be a good patient and figured I would deal with the issue when the time came.
Fast forward a year in my new position at Georgetown University. I had many lifestyle changes and was actually feeling pretty terrific. I was no longer experiencing any symptoms and went into see my cardiologist the beginning of September after having a fantastic summer. I felt great! After running through routine tests, my cardiologist came into the office and stated it was time for my to see a cardio thoracic surgeon. I asked why. He said I needed surgery. My aorta had grown to a size that required surgery to avoid rupture. I was shocked and devastated.
I was referred to Johns Hopkins within the next few weeks. My husband accompanied me and the the first thing the surgeon said to me was what is a healthy young person like you doing in my office. I replied, ” I’ve been asking myself that question for weeks now. He replied, ” you just picked the wrong parents.” At that point he explained my condition and explained that I needed to take care of this when it was convenient but it needed to get done in the next 2 months! I was like, “get what done.” He stated have open heart surgery to repair the aorta and fix my valve and make a decision as to what kind of valve I wanted. I was speechless and could not wrap my mind around two months. My surgery was then planned for Nov 27th.
The next few months was obviously extremely stressful. I have three children, Katie, 24, Christopher, 11 and Alexandra, age 10. All I could think of was them. What if I didn’t make it? Being faced with your own mortality is quite an eye opener. All the small issues become irrelevant because you pray every night to just survive and continue being a mom and a wife. I knew I wasn’t ready to leave this world and I was going to fight to the end. It certainly puts things back in perspective! I also had to stop exercising during this period. I was currently doing cross fit.
My surgery wound up getting postponed to Jan 7, 2013. I am sure you can imagine how stressful my holidays were last year. I was out of the hospital in 5 days and by week 2 I was walking 3 miles a day. By week 3, I was up to 5 miles a day. As a heart patient, they want you to walk so you do not get pneumonia or an infection in your lungs. So I walked and walked, at times I felt like Forrest Gump! But it kept me sane as I recovered. My friends and doctors were constantly saying that I was walking more than healthy people do. I was able to recover quickly because I was in good health, other than my heart. I was actually back in the office within 4 weeks. It took about 6 months before I really felt like my old self!
Today I am back to my regular exercise regime, except cross fit! I feel terrific and I have learned many valuable life lessons. I am so grateful and blessed for my health and my family and the support network at Georgetown. This is why I am honored to be a co sponsor of the American Heart Walk and I hope you can join Charles and I next week on the National Mall!
Register here for the 2013 Greater Washington Heart Walk this Saturday, November 9 at 10 AM
This guest post was written by Lisa Davis, Chief Information Officer at Georgetown University and the Georgetown Heart Walk Team Co-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @LisaDavisCIO.