Diagnosed at 23
10/1/2013 10:37 AM
By Nick Goucher
Unlike a lot of CHD patients, I was not diagnosed until adulthood. Actually, my diagnosis was accidental.
During the summer of 2011, I had Epstein-Barr virus and was urged by doctors to get a CT scan. After my scan was over, I left the radiology office and received a phone call while on the drive home. They asked me if I could come back to the office right away, which scared the hell out of me.
The physicians informed me of something that would change my life in every way—that I was born with a vascular ring. A few minutes later I was given a referral to make an appointment with Dr. B, the director of congenital and pediatric cardiac surgery at a New York hospital.
My appointment to finally see Dr. B in Manhattan was scheduled for December, about two weeks before Christmas. At 23, I was in the best shape of my life physically and was hoping and wishing that surgery would not be required. Honestly, that’s not the kind of thing you want hanging over your head around Christmas—an impending heart surgery.
To my dismay, Dr. B informed me that surgery was the necessary course of action during my consultation. Surgery was quickly scheduled for January 24, about five weeks from that day.
Major operations are nothing new to me as I had numerous surgeries as an infant due to esophageal atresia, none of which I remember. This upcoming heart surgery was going to be different; I was going to remember everything, which was frightening. I was mostly fearful of the pain I would be in after the surgery. While heart surgery has come a long way, there are still potentially enormous risks. Dr. B’s reputation and self-confidence were really the only things that kept me from imploding.
I’ll tell you something—time really flies when something you dread is approaching, such as surgery or a 20-page term paper. I remember the day of surgery so vividly as I walked into the heart center full of doubt and almost with a sense of hopelessness. I wasn’t sure if my stay was going to be for three days or three weeks.
Walking into the freezing operating room was where I lost it and just began crying hysterically until the doctors thankfully knocked me out with the anesthesia. The last thing I remember—with the tears rushing down—was counting back from 100.
About four hours or so after, I woke up with different tubes coming in and out of my body giving a thumbs up to my dad who was in the distance as I was being wheeled into the cardiothoracic ICU. I remember how different my first breath felt after the surgery and how much farther I could breathe in due. Despite that my thoracotomy incision was just over 10 inches and the pain was excruciating, I have never been so happy to be awake and alive.
I think about this day and my experience every hour of every day. I wake up every morning knowing how lucky I am and how unfortunate others are. I am so proud to be part of this community and this experience has introduced me to so many great people who you can really relate with and open up to. I am especially grateful to Dr. B who performed my surgery, my cardiologist Dr. S, and all the nurses and staff who were part of my recovery.
I frequently ask myself—if I had power to go back and be born without any medical issues, would I? My answer never falters, even on the days when the post-thoracotomy pain pops up more than normal: Never. This experience has given me immeasurable strength and I would never want to change anything except for one thing—to get those who are currently fighting all the help and best care needed.
Nick Goucher was born with a double aortic arch, a type of vascular ring anomaly, in Queens, New York. He was raised and still resides in Hampton Bays on Long Island. Nick graduated from Dowling College with a degree in sport management and coaches high school baseball. He enjoys going to the gym, the beach, and listening to music, most notably any by Tom DeLonge, especially Blink-182 and Angels & Airwaves.
2 comment(s) so far...
By Petya DeVallance on
10/1/2013 12:13 PM
Re: Diagnosed at 23
Just wanted to say thank you for writing this (now I feel less alone, lol) :). Almost the exact same thing happened to me, except I was 25:)(my surgery was at NYP). I have been wondering how many people go through this the way we did.. Glad you are doing well now!
By Beth on
10/1/2013 2:39 PM
Re: Diagnosed at 23
I love this post, Nick! I was diagnosed at 20. Was monitored for 10 years and now my 5-week countdown is on. I can relate to every last word here. Can't wait to be on the other side of this surgery. I'm so happy to see that you're doing well! Thanks for writing!