When I was 22 - I was so young, so vibrant and healthy. I was a college graduate and had my whole life ahead of me. For you know, two more months.
I went for a check up at the doctor's office. It was mandated by a single college course my boss asked me to take. They made me get a PPD in my arm to check for Tuberculosis. I had a reaction to it. It may have been an allergy. It may have been TB. Only one way to find out. I had a chest xray.
It wasn't TB. It was a widened mediastinum.
I had a CAT scan next. Oh by the way, I'm allergic to Iodine contrast too. Allergies aside, they learned I had an aortic arch aneurysm. And it was massive. It was 6.4cm. 5 times too large. A month later, it was starting to tear. I was about to hemorrhage to death.
Instead, I went to the cardiac catheterization laboratory so they could probe inside my heart. That was a no go. But hey, no coronary artery disease. That has to be a plus. Then they cut me down my back and side like a Christmas Ham, stopped my heart, stopped my lungs, chilled my body to 55 degrees, and sliced open my aorta and put it back together again.
Ie, I had a lateral thoracotmy, heart-lung bypass, induced hypothermia, and open vascular repair. The graft that keeps me alive today is the same material that your camping tent and windbreaker are made out of.
In a pain medication induced state, I pointed at the nearest white coat and announced I could do his job. He was a physician assistant. A woman of my word, I went and got my master's of medical science. This is a feat in and of itself. The program is not for sissies. But I was coming out of a procedure that usually renders survivors with mild to moderate brain damage, limb paralysis, irregular heart rhythms, loss of voice, and several other problems. I made out like a bandit - physically, neurologically, and mentally intact. I get occasional palpitations and an arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation, but nothing I can't live with.
I've been a volunteer with the NJ Go Red for Women movement as a survivor ambassador since 2006. I love every minute of it. As a practitioner, I know that most people with the same aortic aneurysm type that I had are diagnosed during autopsy. As a grateful survivor - I try and spread awareness, education, support and some good matured self deprecation.
I was given a chance at survival for a reason. It would be plain disrespectful for me to not squeeze every second out of this lifetime that I can. And it would be plain rude for me to not try and help at least one other person each and every possible second that I can.
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Katerina is interested in giving support to other women with heart disease. Contact her if you'd like to receive support.