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On Wednesday, February 29th, I made a trip to Ann Arbor to see my cardiologist. I was hoping to receive some more detailed information about some of the discouraging news that I received during my appointment on February 6th.

There were some readings from my echocardiogram that showed a concern with one of the chambers of my heart. I was anxious to hear some more detailed news about these findings as I knew that my surgeon and cardiologist would be speaking prior to my appointment on the 29th.

I was informed that scarring was found on one of the walls of my heart. This scarring is the result of one of three things. 1 – The aortic dissection itself and the trauma related to it could have caused this damage. 2 – The violence of the surgery itself could have been the cause, or 3 – I could have suffered a minor heart attack after the surgery due to the overall trauma inflicted upon me.

We know that it is one of these three things, but there is no way to tell specifically unless we put me through some battery of tests that we just do not feel is necessary at this point.

My premature ventricular contractions have been increasing drastically over the course of the last several weeks, and this scarring area of the heart is most likely the reason why the PVC’s have increased in intensity. When there is a damaged portion of the heart, such as this scarring, the PVC’s will focus on this area. The PVC’s have become so violent, that they hurt, cause a large amount of fatigue, and by the end of the day I can hardly crawl into bed from the mental and physical effect that they are causing me.

Tomorrow, March 8th, I have an appointment in Ann Arbor with my electrophysiologist.  I had hoped to avoid any sort of procedure to correct these PVC’s, as they had quieted down for a while, but now I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I may have to tackle the issue. The thought of going into surgery anywhere near all of the damaged area of my aorta and heart is not a comfortable feeling.

I am asking the Lord to give wisdom to all the doctors involved to make the best choices. I know many are continuing to pray for me as I continue this journey, and the prayers and words of encouragement over the course of the last several months have been greatly appreciated.

 

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Baby Steps….backward

On October 20th, I had an Echocardiogram and Cat Scan. I had been feeling pretty good leading up to these tests, and was in and out rather quickly. I have mentioned on more than one occasion that simply being in the University Of Michigan Hospitals brings back a load of memories. The next couple of days after each visit usually result in a nightmare or two as well, but I have become use to it. After the testing was completed, I decided not to call in for test results assuming that if there was anything critical, I would hear about it.

This past Monday, February 6th, I had what I expected to be a routine appointment with my surgeon’s office to go over my test results and ask any questions that I may have. Because of the assumption that it would be a quick in and out, I decided to go on my own.

The office was a couple of hours behind, but I enjoyed the time that I had to sit and relax. The visit turned out to be anything but routine.

It was explained to me that there are some concerns with one of the chambers of my heart. Even though the dissection that I suffered was not directly heart related, the trauma of all that happened has caused several issues which I will have to live with for the rest of my life. I was also informed that there are still issues with my aortic valve leaking. I have an appointment with my cardiologist at the end of this month. Between now and that time my surgeon and cardiologist will discuss what actions are appropriate.

The Cat Scan that was conducted enabled me to view a 3-D version of my aorta. I was amazed at the technology. We were able to see a clear picture of my graft and suture lines. Another picture that was all too clear due to this amazing image was the tear that still remains on my aorta. This is the tear that was too risky to repair at the time of my surgery and something that will have to be closely monitored. The 3-D image enhanced the reality of how out-of-place this tear really is.

Just when I thought that the discouraging news was over, I explained to the P.A. that I have been getting a couple of migraines a week which always includes a flashing prism in one eye, partial blindness in that eye and severe ringing in my ears. The length of time that this lasts does not usually exceed thirty or forty minutes per episode.

As I was sharing these symptoms, I could see the concern on the face of the P.A. These could be the same symptoms that would result in a possible irritation of my aorta graft and suture areas. I was scheduled for an appointment with a Neurologist at U of M, and will be seeing him in a month.

I left the appointment discouraged and with a feeling that I am a ticking time bomb. It was a long hour drive home alone. Reaching out to the guys in the Room of Grace for support and prayer is something that I did not hesitate to do, and they have been a huge encouragement to me.

Asking the Lord for healing is something that never felt right to me. My relationship with Christ has increased my knowledge that healing may not be in His plan. Instead, I do ask that He would reveal what that plan is if He so chooses. For now, the daily struggles with health and discouragement continue, and it has increased my reliance on Christ.

I read a statement from Oswald Chambers today that said “Worry is an indication that we think God cannot look after us.”

Do I still fall to the sin of worrying? You betcha, but I find myself going straight to the Lord more frequently as He is my comforter.

Psalm 4:8
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe.

 

 

Limping To Forty

It did not take long for Sarah to repay me for the surprise party that I threw for her. On December 3rd, 2011, which was the actual day of my birthday, I was expecting a dinner at home with my parents and grandpa. Soon after they arrived, several friends started to walk through the door, and before I knew it, the house was full of friends and family. What a fantastic and encouraging evening it turned out to be. I have such a loving and thoughtful wife.

The last several months have been physically and mentally rough. When asked if I felt any older, my response is that I have felt much older than forty for about fourteen months now. I am thankful for the friends and family that God has placed in my life that provide the encouragement that I so desperately need during these bumps in the road.

On Sunday, December 11th, while sitting in the morning worship service, I started to suddenly feel some pains develop in my chest along with shortness of breath and dizziness. Over the course of the last several months, I have had several mild aches and pains that I would consider normal for what I had been through, but this pain that had developed was different. There was a distinct pounding that felt uncomfortably similar to the pounding that accompanied the beginning of my dissection although not nearly as painful.

As the minutes passed, the pain continued. I wanted to get through the service, and as soon as we were dismissed, I sought out the advice of a doctor that attends our church. As I imagined, the wise thing to do was to head to the emergency room.

The horrifying thoughts and bad memories came crashing into my mind as Sarah drove me the short distance to the emergency room. Upon arrival and check in, I was quickly led to a room. It had been almost one year since my last trip to the emergency room which resulted in an ambulance escort to the University of Michigan Hospital. (My New Years Weekend)

The rest of the day on Sunday was spent ruling out any additional dissection that I am susceptible to by way of several blood tests and yet another Cat Scan. I was very thankful to learn that there was nothing obvious happening to my aorta. I was admitted however, and the long night began.

On Monday, the goal was to rule out any problems with my heart. I was given an Echocardiogram and stress test. By late in the day, I was given the news that I passed all my testing and there was nothing life threatening. I could not wait to get home, and was thankful for the results. I have not felt well since my trip to the hospital, and am looking forward to my next appointment at U of M in approximately seven weeks to verify that my body is indeed healing as it should be.

For the thirty hours or so that I was in the hospital, I was very encouraged by messages and visits from people letting me know that they were praying for me.

Although I am discouraged by the way I am feeling I know that I have a God that is not surprised or confused, and I continue to lean on Him for guidance.

Psalm 31:7:
I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul. (NLT)

 

Why I Love My Wife

Since I just crossed over my one year anniversary of my life changing event and with Sarah just turning forty, and myself just days behind that milestone as well, I have been overcome with thanksgiving at the spouse that God has blessed me with. We have been married for over seventeen years now, but the last year has been the most trial based thus far.

Along with these trials, the Lord has brought many blessings that may not have come otherwise. I have felt a closeness in the last several months to Sarah and my kids that makes me want to shout with joy. Special friendships have been gained through the storm. God has used the intense testing to draw me into a close relationship with Him that I would not trade for anything. I cannot wait to be in His presence someday just to wrap my arms around Him and thank Him for my suffering and what it has allowed me to learn about His greatness.

This past Saturday evening, I pulled off one of the more difficult stunts imaginable. I was able to, through the help of others; throw Sarah a surprise fortieth birthday party.

Sarah and I are so connected in our daily life that planning and executing something of this magnitude is next to impossible. We pulled it off, and it is something that I will never forget. To top it all off, we were able to share the evening with friends and family.

I wanted to list some reasons that are on my mind as to why I am thankful for the wife that God has given me.

 

1 – She is an amazing godly woman – Proverbs 31:10

2 – She thinks before she speaks. Let’s face it, we live in an age of social media, and I have seen this bring out the true characters of many. I have seen moms/wives say things publicly that amaze me. I have seen Christian ladies ridicule everything from the way people worship right on down to the music that others listen to. I am thankful for a wife that is slow to speak and quick to listen.

3 – She is a giver. She is always on the watch for the needs of others

4 – She is an amazing mother

5 – She is tender, gentle and kind-hearted

 

I am looking forward to continuing this journey together, and when the storms clouds gather, I know that I have a God-given wife and two wonderful children that will always have my back.

Sarah – I love you!

 

Matthew 11:28-30Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

 

Today is the one year anniversary of my aortic dissection. The weekend has been an emotional one for me, and I spent a lot of time reflecting on this past year. I have been through many rough waters. There have been plenty of tears shed and questions and bonds formed. I have gained new friends, some who have stuck closely by my side consistently throughout this past year. I thank the Lord daily for these friendships. I want to thank those who have prayed for me diligently and those who sent me words of encouragement over the weekend. It was humbling that you remembered and took the time to lift me up through this difficult time.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be alone with Sarah for a couple of days, and be able to thank the Lord together for what He has done in both of our lives through this ordeal. Sarah has been a rock for me, and I thank the Lord daily for such an incredible person that He has placed into my life.

I have asked God on more than one occasion why he allowed this to happen to me. As I look back at the year behind me, I see three accomplishments that were nothing short of answers to prayer.

Room of Grace – The Room of Grace started in February of 2011. That night in February was a special evening. Plenty of prayer went into this ministry by many people. I was just sixteen weeks removed from my dissection when we started, and I know that God waited for this ministry to begin because He knew that I would need these men more than ever during this storm in my life. We started off strong with ten guys. The Room of Grace has grown to over sixteen guys, and the Holy Spirit has been moving powerfully in our midst. One thing that I have told the guys is that there is no gift more meaningful that I could give my wife than to surround myself with Godly men that she knows are praying for me and holding me accountable. Thank you Lord for opening the doors to this ministry, and for the amazing things that You are doing. Thank you to the guys who are involved. You have been nothing short than a miraculous blessing and encouragement to me through these hard times.

 

Heart Refined – In July of 2011 Heart Refined was released. Soon after I was home and recovering from my surgery, I began to pray how my situation could be used. There was a point where God told me to share my story. I was not sure how I was going to get my story out to more than a handful of people. While praying for this, the Spirit brought to me the idea of writing a book. I wrestled with Him for a while because I had no idea how a lowly person like me with no writing experience could possibly pull this off. I was reminded that God does not always use well-trained professionals to spread His Word. Sometimes He uses shepherds and people who cannot speak too well, so He could certainly use someone like me to write a book about what God has done in my life, and it did not have to be perfect and eloquent. Heart Refined has been out for about eleven weeks and God has already blessed me beyond what I could have ever thought. My desire is that anyone that could be encouraged by Heart Refined will be able to read it. While the book is being read, I want Christ to be consistently leaping from the pages. I am open for wherever God will take me with this project. I cannot end this section without thanking those that have read the book and have thrown humbling and encouraging words my way.

The final and most important thing that has come out of my near death experience is my closer relationship with Christ. Not only did He answer the prayers of many, and spare my life, but He has used this trial in my life to draw me into a closer more intimate relationship with Him. I know that God is not done with me yet, and I am excited to see how He is going to use my circumstance to bring glory and honor to Him.

Romans 5:3
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance. (NIV)

 

Thinking of a Friend

My friend Jerry is heavy on my mind this evening. He is going in tomorrow morning for open-heart surgery. Jerry is having an aneurysm removed from his aorta and replaced with a Dacron graft. The area of the aorta that will be repaired is nearly the same area where my damage occurred. Thankfully his aneurysm was discovered before it could cause a dissection.

We did not know each other before his current condition, yet he did know who I was as we both attend the same church and he was one of the many people who prayed for me during my surgery and recovery.

During our first conversation a couple of weeks ago he informed me that he had read Heart Refined, and to both of our amazement, he will have the same surgeon that performed my surgery. I speak very highly of Dr. Patel in the book and Jerry said that this was an encouragement to him. I have said on several occasions that one of my desires for Heart Refined is that it could possibly provide comfort to anyone that may be going through similar circumstances as myself. It has been an incredible experience to not only know that this is currently the case, but I have the privilege of knowing and speaking to one of those people.

I am praying that the Lord will guide and direct Dr. Patel throughout the surgery tomorrow, and that Jerry’s valve can be spared.

Sarah and myself will be making a trip to U of M and I am sure the emotions will be running high as I re-visit the exact area of the hospital where my life changed courses.

Please keep Jerry and his wife Lisa in your prayers.

 

Cardiologist Appointment

Last Wednesday I had my checkup at the University of Michigan Hospital to see how my heart is functioning, how my aortic valve is doing and to ask my cardiologist some questions.

The first appointment of the afternoon was getting my blood drawn. It is amazing the technology that they have at U of M. Normally when getting my blood drawn, it will take several days to get the results, but at U of M, I had a piece of paper in my hands to give to my cardiologist within fifteen minutes.

Shortly after having my blood drawn, I received an echocardiogram. This procedure took a little over thirty minutes. I knew that this would be an important test for the day as it would be able to show how my aortic valve is functioning. At my last appointment, the results were not very good. I have been having some issues with shortness of breath and some ongoing mild chest pains, so I was a little nervous as to what the tests would reveal.

Within fifteen minutes of finishing the echocardiogram, I was called back to see my cardiologist. Both Sarah and Gabe were with me, so we all headed back together. Shortly after arriving into the room, doctor Booher arrived. From the first time that I met with Dr. Booher, I was extremely excited to have her as my cardiologist. I told Sarah on the way home that I feel as though you could invite Dr. Booher and her family over for supper as she is so personal and laid back. I enjoy my conversations with her, and am confident that she is the best person that I could have considering my condition.

The blood that I had drawn showed that my cholesterol was a bit high. I was told that this is not abnormal. I was not able to exercise the way that I would like to for several months after the surgery, so I am not in the shape that I was prior to the dissection. My cardiologist is going to give me six months to lower my cholesterol on my own through diet and exercise and if it does not improve I will have to go on additional medication. I do not want to take anymore pills, so I will be working very hard to get the levels down on my own.

The results of the echocardiogram showed that the leaking in my aortic valve was starting to improve. It was very encouraging to hear this good news. As my aorta and heart heals from the surgery, it is possible that my PVC’s and aortic valve leakage could continue to improve.

I asked some questions about exercising and where my heart rate should be while riding my bike, and we then scheduled a CAT scan in eight weeks to check on the additional tear that is still on my aorta.

Overall it was a positive appointment as I was concerned with my leaking valve. The next big step will be the CAT scan which will determine if the tear that still exists on my aorta is stable as well as seeing if the graft that was inserted is holding up the way that it is supposed to.

John 14:27I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (NLT)

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