By Robert Grabel
7 Apr

Now What?

Thursday, April 07, 2016

With my turn at the blog coming up, I realized I was tapped for ideas. That’s an interesting point in and of itself. As my fellow blogging colleagues might attest to, that first ACHA post can be pretty easy: You share your story (I did). The next one can be easy, too: Talk about a post-surgery experience or realization (check).

But here I was three months post-surgery and I’m feeling like life is the way it was pre-surgery—but better! I’m so grateful that my valve replacement surgery seems to have done all the things it’s supposed to—and more. In fact, I’ve recently been thinking of that Doctor/Patient joke:

Patient: Will I be able to play the violin after the surgery?
Doctor: Yes. Absolutely.
Patient: That’s great because I couldn’t play before!

Exchange the violin part for running faster, feeling better and the hills in Central Park seeming flatter and that’s my story. My doctor told me I might see differences. I am seeing them and it’s amazing!

Those of us fortunate to have positive stories like mine can get comfortable—perhaps too comfortable—very quickly. Though my mom always tells me I’m special, I’m convinced I’m similar to others who go through the CHD Re-Awakening. It goes something like this:

  • Event: Something happens. It may be a symptom that all your gears aren’t working right. I was fortunate that I didn’t have any symptoms. An extremely thorough exam with cardiologists in Canada alerted me to the potential need for another surgery.
  • Epiphany: We have the realization that we’re back in CHD land: What?... You mean I’m a heart patient again?... Who do I talk to? (Hint: ACHA)
  • Absorption: We dive into what’s going on. We read, research, talk and do our best to get our arms around the CHD world again after stepping away years ago. By the way, a lot has changed!
  • Surgery: We decide to move forward and have surgery.
  • Recovery: Hopefully, surgery is successful and we do the right things to ensure proper recovery.

But now what?

It’s easy to forget what we’ve gone through and where we’ve been. Interestingly, I recently had a Re-Re-Awakening around the simplest thing. I was about to go for a routine teeth cleaning and my wife reminded me I should ask my doctor if I’m supposed to take antibiotics prior to dental work. While the guidelines have evolved and changed, it still makes sense to ask our cardiologists, particularly after recent surgery. Sure enough, my cardiologist said I needed to take amoxicillin one hour prior to the appointment. Not at all a big deal but it was a helpful reminder that no matter how good we may feel, we need to remember that we are different. And that’s a good thing…

A few tips I live by:

Be smart: Once you get the green light from your cardiologist, it’s tempting to go heavy on some of those foods or activities you may have had to stay away from post-surgery. For me, the biggest struggle is not over-exercising. I was a weekend warrior endurance sport junkie before surgery and now that I feel so good, it’s tempting to ramp up my distances and speeds quickly. Big mistake. I keep reminding myself that my heart is still healing and I need to build up slowly and steadily.

Be careful: Use caution in taking on new activities or getting back to those you were doing pre-surgery. One of the best ways to do this is to create and stick with SMART goals. Make your goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (or Realistic – take your pick) and Time specific. Doing this is a great way to move forward while creating celebratory markers along the way.

Be vigilant: Like it or not, once a heart patient, always a heart patient. We’re NOT just like other people and that’s OK. We have to remember to take amoxicillin when we’re going to the dentist*. We have to think twice before adding a little more salt. We need to stop running—yes, really stop running—when our body tells us to.

Your mom is right! You are special. So be sure to take the special care having a CHD requires.

*may not be applicable: check with your cardiologist

Robert Grabel was born with tetralogy of Fallot, had open heart surgery when he was 10 and recently had valve replacement surgery. He is married with one daughter and one dog. Robert works in the nonprofit field where he helps organizations create endurance event fundraisers. He considers himself lucky to blend his passion for work in the charitable sector with his love of biking and long distance running—to date he has run 14 marathons and more than 20 half-marathons, as well as long distance cycling events. He was introduced to ACHA by his cardiologist and is eager to help and encourage other CHD patients to embrace life to the fullest.

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