A note about my health and what's ahead

I'm writing this post to update friends, family, and others who are interested about some recent issues with my health and what those issues mean for me in the coming months. I'll continue to use this website (https://listed.standardnotes.org/@rtalbert) to post updates in case you want to keep up.

Many of you know that I used to be a runner, doing 5K and 10K races pretty regularly. About a year and a half ago, I was doing a run indoors on our treadmill when I suddenly felt very short of breath, my vision started closing in on me, and I start to pass out. I stopped the treadmill and got off in time, and I thought: Whoa, that was weird. I must have been pushing too hard. A couple of months passed, and I was outside doing a run around the neighborhood when the same thing happened -- shortness of breath, vision getting blurry, and I started to pass out. Then it happened a couple more times on runs outside over the next couple of months. I also started having some episodes where I would get dizzy while driving, and over the summer I found myself getting fatigued and short of breath while doing fairy light exertion.

Whatever was going on was getting worse, so I mentioned it to my doctor when I had my annual physical in August. He checked me out and detected a heart murmur. Because of that, he ordered an echocardiogram and a cardio stress test, which I had three weeks ago. The techs did the echocardiogram and consulted with the doctors, and based on what they saw, they told me I shouldn't be on a treadmill, and sent me home. They couldn't say what the issue was. But when I got home, I got a call from my doctor with the results.

Based on the echocardiogram, I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the aortic valve. The aorta, of course, is the main pathway for blood to enter your circulatory system. The aortic valve has three little flaps that pop open when blood is coming out and close up to keep blood from coming back into the heart. In aortic stenosis, the flaps become inflamed and stick together, even starting to fuse together, causing the flow of blood to be obstructed. The heart then has to work overtime to get enough oxygenated blood out to the body and eventually the heart just fails because it's working too hard. Or, it could result in a stroke because there's not enough oxygen getting out.

After the first test, where I got the diagnosis, I wasn't sure how severe my case was. This morning I met with a cardiologist to go over all the details. The results basically confirm what I suspected: My case is severe, and although there is a small chance that I might be eligible for a less invasive treatment, it's pretty much certain that I will need to have open-heart surgery in January to replace the aortic valve.

So here's what's next.

  • I'll be going in on December 21 for two more tests to rule out some fringe conditions, things that would make me a high risk for open heart surgery. The doctor thinks being high-risk is very unlikely given that, other than this condition, I am in very good health and still relatively young.
  • Assuming that I am not high-risk, I will have the valve replacement surgery some time in January. That is the full deal: Cracking my chest open and the whole nine yards.
  • Then I will be in recovery for 4-8 weeks after that.

This means that most likely, I will be on medical leave from GVSU for the entire Winter 2019 semester. The first couple of weeks of recovery, the doctor said that basically I'll be so sore I won't feel like doing anything. But then I should be able to do the kinds of stuff I normally do other than teaching -- stuff that involves just reading and working on the computer. I have no end of that kind of work thanks to being Assistant Chair. But I will definitely not be in the classroom during Winter, which sucks because I was looking forward to teaching Linear Algebra again. At least that was the only class I had/have. I will also have to cancel on four speaking engagements that I was really looking forward to doing, because travel is not on the menu.

This is heavy news, but it's not bad news. I'm not afraid of what's down the road here because the surgery and the recovery are going to get me back to the place where I can once again enjoy some of the physical activities that I cannot do right now because of my condition. It also gives me an excellent starting point for doing a complete overhaul of my diet, exercise, and lifestyle which had become pretty unhealthy lately even without the heart condition. The thing that I'm not looking forward to is the hospitalization and the fact that I won't be able to be 100% present with Cathy and the kids.

I take a lot of comfort in my faith, family, and those of you out there who are reading this. We all appreciate your prayers as we get this thing done.

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