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Diagnosed at 23

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

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.


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