Grateful – TAVR, Health Issues, and Reflecting on the Past Ten Years

Assuming everything goes smoothly, this scheduled post should be going out around the time I’m getting out of an operating room. 2022 has been a year of ups, downs, and severe aortic stenosis, and I’m excited to get a TAVR procedure done. A TAVR is a minimally invasive way to replace my failing aortic valve, which should restore my normal heart function and let me get back to having an unrestricted day-to-day life for the next few years.

Stressful situations have always brought me clarity. As I sit here, on a quiet Sunday in an empty office, I want to use that clarity to take stock of the impact these ten years of heart issues have had on me.

I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in 2012. Since then, I’ve had two open-heart surgeries, a heart attack, and innumerable doctor’s appointments. Frankly, I’ve had a worse-than-expected outcome at basically every step. The congenital defect is extremely rare, the first surgery was supposed to be the only one, that heart attack never really got explained, and the valve I get replaced tomorrow normally lasts much longer. I’m going to be dealing with heart issues for the rest of my life.

That’s all happened in the past ten years, and none of it is good. Yet, the past ten years have also been my best ones. I’ve been surrounded by incredible friends and loved ones. I’ve gotten to build a great company doing work that matters. I’ve had full athletic opportunities, becoming a league-champion wrestler, a (very bad) varsity college athlete, and a gym regular. I truly think those great things have happened because of, and not in spite of, my heart issues. My heart issues have given me drive, focus, and an invaluable sense of perspective. The contradiction I live with every day is that the worst moments of my life, and the outcomes I fear most, are why so many of these amazing things have happened.

Thinking on that contradiction today, my main takeaway is I’m grateful. Not grateful for being in this position, but grateful for the people around me, and the time I live in. The line between benefitting from adversity versus being dragged down by it is razor thin, and I’m grateful I’m on the right side of it.

I’m grateful that my mom thought to ask our family pediatrician about one episode of me feeling dizzy on a treadmill, and that she got the right answer. I’m grateful that medical imaging technology existed to diagnose my defect, and that there was a proven surgical option to address it.

I’m grateful that we have medical providers that listen to patient’s wishes. More specifically, to the surgeon who spent hours trying to repair my aortic valve during my second surgery before ultimately falling back to having to replace it. The repair didn’t work, and extended the surgery, but I had told the surgeon I wanted him to try it, and greatly value the closure from him having done so.

I’m grateful to the unknown horseback tour guide in Costa Rica this January. He saw me stumbling and dizzy on a hike, put me on his horse, and got me up to the top. I had just started to be symptomatic, thought it was just dehydration, and stubbornly assumed I could just keep on going. I’m grateful I didn’t find out how stubborn I could be.

I’m grateful that the TAVR procedure is an option. Twenty years ago it didn’t exist. Five years ago, when I had my last surgery, it never would have been considered an option for patients in my position. Now, they can go and replace my heart valve through a small incision. It feels like sci-fi to me, and I’m grateful that I get some more time before getting my ribs cracked open again. I’m amazed everyday by innovation in healthcare technology. I’m optimistic that by the time of my next valve replacement, there will be even more options than we have today.

I think of my life in eras defined by my surgery dates. Since my first surgery, those eras have been in roughly five year increments, and I think each one has corresponded to a new phase of life events, achievements, and personal growth. With the TAVR, I enter a new one. The things that we can’t help but care about make us who we are. Reflecting on the past five years, I feel good about what I’ve cared about, and where I’ve spent my time. I’m excited to build on those in this next phase, and to have more things to be grateful for.


Update – 9/27/2022: The TAVR went smoothly and I am already out of the hospital. Modern medicine can feel like a miracle sometimes!