This summer, after the wonderful hike in the woods with Ryan, my family and I ventured across the ocean and headed to Greece and Italy for six weeks of exploration, discovery and fun! As part of a my father's sabbatical, we toured the two beautiful countries, absorbing food, culture, food,wine, hiking, wine, food, monuments, art, food, wine, religion, food, wine...and did I mention the food and wine? It was an absolutely amazing time! With my newly repaired heart I was able to do so much more than I could ever have imagined! To quantify the progress I was making, each day I recorded the number of miles and steps I walked via a handy iPhone app. Each day we walked at least 10,000 steps (5 miles), though often more. It was mind blowing to imagine how difficult that would have been just months before. Still, throughout the trip sometimes I would have more trouble than my family members and it left me worried. Especially after our arrival and on days following nights with little sleep, exercise and stamina would be lower than I anticipated. Compared to before surgery, I was doing excellent, but exercise was still challenging when those days were combined with long, hilly hikes in the countryside.
After returning from the amazing trip with a very happy belly and a newly acquired palette for red wine, I prepared for my follow up cardiologist appointment. I was slightly worried that maybe my artificial Mitral Vale was no longer effective or had decreased in function and I wanted to verify all was still working properly. So, in mid July I headed to Atlanta to meet with my doctors for another Post-Op follow up and to make sure my Mitral Valve was still doing its job! Following an Echo with a very kind Echo Technician, my doctor arrived and calmed my fears. The results of the Echo showed my Mitral Valve was still in great condition and pumping blood as effectively and efficiently as it had when it was first installed. However, My cardiologist informed me that my Tricuspid valve now had a moderate leak. This was an absolute surprise for both myself and my mother, both of us having thought I only had two problems, an ASD and a cleft in my mitral valve. The appointment ran a little longer as my doctor explained this, new to me, situation and calmed my fears.
So, finally, a full discription of my defect! I was born with an ASD (a hole between the Mitral Valve and Tricuspid Valve.) To repair this defect my original surgeon installed a patch to cover the hole and then repaired a small cleft that was left, due to the defect, in my Mitral Valve. While there was more an effect on my Mitral Valve, the ASD also negatively impacted my Tricuspid Valve. While it has been in wonderful condition for may years, only having a minor leak, it has deteriorated slightly, but not dangerously or significantly. It will continue to function for a long time more before I need surgery to repair it as well. We anticipate that when it comes time to replace my Mitral Valve again it will also be an appropriate time to repair the Tricuspid Valve as well. In the meantime, I will probably not show symptoms for a while. When I do, they will be different from the symptoms I experienced from my Mitral Valve. In addition to fatigue and/or possible weakness, I could potentially experience a swelling in my legs, feet and abdomen. Blood does not leak back into the lungs by this valve and so it will have little effect on my breathing ability. Still, for now this is not causing significant problems and I severely hope it continues with that trend!
However, after all of our discussion, my doctor reassured me that I should not be feeling much, if any, additional fatigue from this leak. The higher levels of fatigue I experienced throughout our exploration of southern Europe in comparison to my siblings and parents was primarily due to the fact that Dr. Kogan hit the reset button on my heart only a few months ago. My heart hasn't had time to completely rebuild its endurance in just a few short months and I'm still recovering the strength I lost during the surgery and those six weeks following. With time and continued exercise I will continue to build my endurance up, but in the meantime I must be patient with myself and realize that I am not Olympian and I have not been training for a marathon, I had Open Heart Surgery instead.
SO! Going forward, how does my experience this summer and the new-found news of my heart health impact my daily life and how will I continue to improve my stamina each day? Simple. Try exploring Europe some more! This semester I am studying in the south of France, where delicious food and wine is all around and opportunities for not only 10,000 steps a day, but extra time for numbers closer to 20,000 are ample! In these next four months I will continue on the road to recovery and each day work to increase my endurance and ability by walking, exploring and enjoying the new lease on life my most recent heart surgery has provided. No, my abilities are not yet like Michael Phelps and extremely active high school-ers like my younger sisters, but they are superior to those I have had in a very long time. With each new day, and my continued daily hikes around different locations in France, my abilities will continue to evolve and open doors to physical possibilities I never could have imagined.
A few photos from my European adventures past and present: