Getting the news that there was a problem

I guess some background about my husband is needed before I go into the day that changed everything. Although he had regular check-ups and good medical care his whole life all the doctors ever told him was that his heart made a faint clicking noise, but if he felt ok not to worry about it. It bears mentioning that most of the men in his family died suddenly in their late 40s or early 50s. We had talked about this at times and he had pretty much accepted that it was likely due to their un-healthly lifestyles and lack of good medical care. At some level however, I always suspected that he harbored some fear about it happening to him.

I will never forget the morning of the call from the hospital. My husband had been out of town on business for several days and was due home that night. At around 5:00am I got a call from him that he had driven himself to a local medical center because he had awakened with severe chest pressure that would not go away. He assured me that all the preliminary tests were coming back clear but he expected to stay in the hospital and wanted me to go ahead and come out Wichita.

Being a nurse myself, I ran through the possible causes, most were not so bad, but then again he had just turned 44 years old, was his family history coming back again? I got everything taken care of at home and was on the road within the hour for the three hour trip. At that time cell service was spotty at best so I drove the whole time not getting any updates.

I arrived at the hospital and they had moved him to Coronary ICU because they could not get control of the severe chest pressure even with high doses of nitro and morphine. The attending cardiologist came in and after looking the records over told us that he was definitely not having a heart attack and most likely was just having a gastrointestinal problem. A long-time suffer of gastroenteritis my husband argued that this was certainly not GI related. He also pressed the doctor about his family history with sudden death in his age range and demanded more testing be done. The doctor relented and said that a heart cath would rule out anything cardiac related and in so doing put my husband's mind at ease that he was not in any danger of sudden death.

A few hours later they came to take him for the test. I need to point out that one of my husband's careers had been in x-ray so he knew a great deal about the test he was going to have. The techs said he would be gone for about an hour and they left. By then his brothers and our two teenaged children had arrived as well. We were all in the room when the wheeled him back in. That was the moment I knew something terrible was wrong. Mark was ashen colored and tears were rolling from his eyes. After he composed himself a bit he said, that it was much worse than he or anyone could have imagined, the main vessel that carried fresh blood away from the heart (the aorta) had a huge aneurysm that was close to rupturing. Mark said he knew he was a dead man when the doctor could not get the catheter to go into the heart and had called for the injection of dye to find the entrance. Mark said the whole screen turned white as the dye filled the aneurysm that was bigger than a softball. He really believed he was just hours away from death. Everyone in the room cried and consoled each other as best we could.

About 30 minutes later a new doctor came into the room and confirmed that things were indeed bad. In addition to the aneurysm, the doctor said that the cause of it was a malformed heart valve that had slowly been failing for years and now was now functioning at less than 40% of normal. They also found other malformed vessels on the surface of his heart. Mark told him he knew what he had and that it was a death sentence. The doctor calmed him and said not to give up just yet, there was a new prosthetic valve and vessel replacement that one of the surgeons there was doing clinical trials on. He left saying that they would see if he was a candidate for the surgery.