I arrived at UW Hospital on January 29th, 1996 and I was amazed that my cardiologist, Dr Catherine Otto, was already there as they wheeled me in to ICU. I didn't realize that the ambulance ride had taken us so long that it was now early morning. They transferred me to a bed and were just starting an echo as Dr. Otto talked to me. She told me I would be having surgery but that they would wait until Rick and the kids arrived to see me before they had to take me in.
Just then the echo tech touched her on the back and she turned and looked at the screen, then she turned back to me very calmly and said "scratch that, you've dissected, we're going to surgery now." (A few years later that same echo tech did my echo again and she described the horrible moment of putting that transducer to my chest and seeing the dissection and really grieving because I was so young and she thought I wouldn't survive...all while trying to maintain a professional and calm exterior) Everything kind of exploded into action then and I remember telling them that if I didn't get to talk to my husband and kids I needed paper so I could write them each a letter. So they brought me blank progress notes from the chart and I wrote to all 3 of them, telling them that I believed God was going to save me but that I wanted them each to know how special they were and how much I loved them. So they're busily prepping me for surgery and I'm writing letters. (I always feel like I need to apologize to Rick at this point because those were just a little hard to read) And that lack of fear, that peace that I described yesterday, remained.
As we got to the OR I asked if the whole crew was there who would be in my surgery because I wanted to talk to all of them before they put me under. So they all gathered around and I told them that I wanted them to act like I was awake as they did the surgery. I didn't want jokes made about my body, I didn't want any negative talk, I didn't want them speculating on how bad things looked. They all agreed and so I said we could go ahead. My mom joked that the surgeon had to leave the room to say "oh shi*" when he saw how bad my aorta was so that he wouldn't break my rules. But this is when the story really got easy for me. I was asleep as Dr. Salim Aziz placed a St. Jude mechanical aortic valve and an aortic graft made of dacron. I missed the drama that my family and friends lived through as they spent 16 hours saving my life. I missed when they thought they had completed the repair and did a transesophogeal echo and found that the dissection was actually longer and the graft needed to be longer as well. I missed when they brought me back to ICU and let Rick see me (he said I looked dead, I was super pale and on a ventilator with tubes and wires everywhere) and then found that I was bleeding and had to go back to surgery for the 3rd time. My Mom said that as time passed she went from praying to begging God to save my life. My friend Kristin said Dr. Aziz told her he had never seen someone whose aorta looked like mine actually make it off the table alive. He said it looked like a grenade had exploded inside my aorta; it was shredded. My family and friends remember the fear and the waiting and the warnings that being on cardiac bypass for 16 hours can cause some major brain damage. They remember me waking up, they remember wondering if I would know them, they remember me begging to have the ventilator removed and me crying for my Mom when they wouldn't do it. I don't remember any of that.
And I guess this is where the story could end. I could say that a team of very qualified and skilled medical professionals saved my life and I could be forever grateful to them. And I am, UW Hospital gave amazing care. But that's not where my story ends. What I do remember is just being wrapped in God's love. I remember feeling closer to him than ever before or since. I remember feeling his actual presence. And on the first day that I was really awake or actually lucid Dr. Aziz poked his head in my door and said, "you know you have a friend upstairs, right? You know I can't take credit for this." And I remember being so thankful and feeling like God had left me here for a reason. That I needed to make sure that the people God placed in my life knew how much I loved them and how much he loves them.
It's easy to let time swallow up the miracle. It's easy to get caught up in the cares and details of daily life and forget that each day is a gift. So that's why I tell my story, that's why I celebrate this anniversary. Every time I tell it I'm re-experiencing the amazing work that God did, and continues to do, in my life. I think that's worth remembering.