There are eight words I will never forget: Are you under the care of a cardiologist?
In July 2017 I had been prescribed antibiotics for regular seasonal sinusitis and my GP requested I return for a follow up appointment when I had finished the course. I wasn’t too eager to return as I felt well again and had returned to work but Garth (my husband) was insistent and stated that the doctor should check me over and make the decision if I needed a repeat course. My regular doctor was away and I saw another GP, who performed the regular ears, nose, throat and chest checks. After she checked my chest she said those eight dreaded words. I owe my life to this GP for her good pick up of a heart murmur.
By the end of the week I had been referred to Cardiologist, Dr Young Yu, and had an Echocardiogram. The results detected a problem with my Aortic Valve and he thought maybe I had been born with a Bicuspid Aortic Valve but wanted to test further. I was booked in the next week to have a Transesophageal Echocardiogram and a CT Aortogram.
At this point it became all too overwhelming, I was in disbelief. I felt as if I had lost control of my life. I thought, up until this point, that I was a relatively fit and healthy 57 year old. I had played sport for most of my life; I had raised three beautiful children as a single mother and worked full time. In the lead up to my diagnoses Garth and I had participated in the Sydney Spring Cycle riding 75 kms in October 2016, Lake Macquarie Loop the Lake, riding 100 kms and the Newcrest Orange to Canowindra Challenge, riding 75klms, both two weeks apart in March 2017.
I arrived at the hospital for the Transesophageal Echocardiogram. The anaesthetist asked me if I could walk 200 metres without feeling short of breath. I told him about the two bicycle rides in March and he was in disbelief. I am also a serving NSW Police Officer which requires a certain level of fitness and I have always strived to maintain the level required.
After the two procedures I asked Dr Young YU what they had discovered. He said, ‘Do you want it straight?’ I replied, ‘I sure do’. He informed me that I had been born with a tricuspid aortic valve but the tests had revealed I had a 5.1cm dilation on the ascending aorta just near the valve which had put pressure on the valve and as a results was not functioning the way it should. I would need an aortic valve and aortic root replacement and aortic hemi-arch repair. Dr Yu was amazed that I had no symptoms of this and he stated that the pickup of the heart murmur, from the GP, had probably saved my life. I was referred immediately to Prof Paul Bannon for surgery.
I arrived at Strathfield Private Hospital on the 27th of September 2017 for open heart surgery the next day. Since my diagnosis in July to this date I can’t explain the rollercoaster ride of emotions and thoughts. Prof Bannon’s open approach and expertise put me at ease. I knew whatever the outcome; I was in the best possible hands. A day or so after the operation Prof Bannon visited and informed me that my aneurysm was more than likely hereditary. My paternal grandfather died from ‘bleeding behind the heart’ at 72 in the 1970s. My father had an aneurysm in his descending aorta and a stent inserted in November 2016. He also reinforced that I am very lucky to be here as without the operation he would have given me one year maybe two if I was very lucky. Prof Bannon referred me on to Prof Richmond Jeremy for genetic testing.
Marfans has been ruled out. 30 percent of people who have an aneurysm on their thoracic aorta will have a family history. I have three adult children Matthew, Jordan and Ellen who will need to be monitored.
On the anniversary of my operation Garth and I completed the 30km Gears and Beers Ride at Wagga Wagga. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate. Working up a sweat and relaxing afterward with a cleansing ale. The blues and anxiety are beginning to subside a little now. I have more good days than bad.
I am forever grateful to Prof Paul Bannon and Prof Richmond Jeremy and their team. I believe their dedication and ongoing research has allowed me a second chance at a full and healthy life.