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Jim's Personal Blog: Recovering from Heart Failure

Background Story

On October 25, 2021, I woke up with a severe bloody nose, feeling extremely dizzy, not able to hear with my right ear and was out of breath and frightened. It felt like my body was shutting down and I needed to do something quick or else.

I immediately talked to my wife Connie to tell her what was happening and told her it would be best if we moved up north to get intensive medical attention and for us to be close to our son Steven’s home and place of his medical practice Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Turns out Steve and his wife Sara and their three kids had in June 2021 on our first post COVID visit asked us to move up to live close to them given a neighbor’s family’s senior member had just done this moving from Virginia to Rochester MN. At the time Connie and I said: “no way, way too cold for us.” Well in October the fear of freezing was no longer an issue. The major issue was to get the optimal medical care at Mayo and family close at hand incase I passed. We called Steve and Sara that day and told them what we’re thinking, and they agreed it would be best for us to do this.

So, I immediately resigned from my work as a psychologist in nursing homes which were long drives from my home and stressful at best. I hated to stop this work, but it was clear the stress of the work had impacted my health.

I then worked at finding a real estate agent to help us sell our condo in St Pete and began looking at Zillow for places in Rochester, MN. We agreed to a contract to sell our Condo on Friday Oct 29 and the next day our agent showed our condo to three prospects. That Saturday night Bill our agent called to say he had papers for us to sign. I was confused and he came over and he had a sales contract for our condo signed by the now new owners of that condo. Biggest surprise was that they wanted to close on the deal on November 23 giving us less than 30 days to get organized and moved out.

The rush was on, and we began packing immediately: 120 banker boxer boxes, etc. and we worked hard to find a condo near downtown Rochester MN at the same time.

Meanwhile I was seeing doctors in St Pete for my conditions and was given meds and support documents to bring up to Mayo once we moved. At no time was I ever given a hint that my medical problems were “heart related.”

On November 22 our St Pete Condo was packed on its way to Rochester MN and Connie and I flew out November 23 to Rochester MN. We were on our way. We had found a condo near Mayo headquarters downtown and would be able to close on it November 29 and move in on November 30. 2021.

We had sent out slews of emails to inform our family and friends of our sudden and pending move and then I was shut down by exhaustion and could no long handle phone calls nor emails from anyone from November 22 on until the creation of this blog on December 27, 2021.

Rationale for Blog

Given I had no idea that I was experiencing a potentially fatal heart failure during all of November and December up until my first visit at Mayo Clinic on December 21, 2021. I thought it would be good for me to keep a Blog of what steps are taken in treatment of heart failure similar to mine and to increase my accountability by keeping a chronological account of my progress and efforts in this process.

Also, I do not want to repeat over and over in conversations, phone calls, emails or letters what has and is happening to me as a result of this heart failure. If people ask in the future I will refer them to this blog, which will be a living document of my journey in cardiac rehab and recovery.

December 21, 2021 Signs of My Near Fatal Heart Failure

On my first visit to Mayo Clinic with Dr Diego Suarez he and his team identified that I had: fluid build-up around my heart and lungs and in my ankles and legs, that I was struggling for breath after walking less than 10 feet, that I would be dizzy after that walk and needed to rest. That in all likelihood my lower heart chamber was out of synch with my upper heart chamber, so he immediately scheduled clinical assessments to clarify what was going on with my heart. I first had a Chest X ray followed by a Electrocardiagram. The Xray showed I had fluid in my lungs and the Electrocardiogram led Dr Suarez to call me to change my other tests and to immediately get to the Emergency Room at Mayo Clinic’s St Mary’s Hospital where he said Dr Narayan Kowlgi and his cardiology team would determine if I would need to be immediately provided surgery to place a Pacemaker into my heart.

December 21, 2021 Pacemaker Surgery

I met Dr Narayan Kowlgi and his team in the ER at St Mary’s and after going over my tests and records they said it would be best for me to have a Pacemaker placed as soon as possible. The Mayo Heart Rhythm Services were contacted and I was immediately placed in their operating room that afternoon. The rest of the time I don’t remember but when I woke there was a huge pressure on my upper chest. Later that day Dr Kowlgi and his team met with me and explained the “Atypical Ballooning Syndrome” requiring a pacemaker. This means that there is atypical ballooning of the left ventricle of the heart also called “Tako-tsubo cardiomyopathy” named after a pot once used by Japanese fishermen to catch octopus. The pot’s shape is similar to the shape of the ballooned ventricle. (Come on! you needed this cultural perspective to keep your interest in all this! 😊)

December 21, 22, 23 & 24, 2021 Stay in the Hospital

During my days in the hospital, I received doses of Lasix and by Dec 24 had lost 14 pounds of fluid. On the Dec 22 I had a echocardiogram which led to on Dec 23 getting a coronary angiogram which thank goodness showed no obstructions needing stints or any open hear surgery. My presentation was consistent with stress-induced cardiomyopathy, potentially related to hospital admission and pacemaker implementation. I was kept in the hospital over night on the 23 and finally released on Christmas Eve December 24, 2021.

December 24 to 28, 2021 Home to recover

I got home on the 24th and  spent time with the grandchildren, am weak and still not with it. But I am grateful to God that this problem got addressed and that my recovery has begun from this potentially fatal heart failure of mine.

More to come…

December 28, 2021 Follow up with Dr Suarez my Internist

My status post discharge from hospital was reviewed. Dr Suarez was pleased with the progress made so far. He did however set up tests for other related physical issues to be done before we meet again. These tests are for issues of: pernicious anemia, pulmonary function to assess level of asthma and thyroid function. I will meet again with Dr Suarez on Monday February 7 2022. Next up is January 5, 2022 meeting with Dr Huntley of the Mayo Department of Cardiovascular Medicine after a series of tests that day.

January 1, 2022  Happy New Years and Happy New Life

Wow, 2022 has arrived and I am alive. Thank God, my wife, my son and his wife and most importantly the team at Mayo Clinic. I would not be experiencing this new year if it were not for their support and interventions. I will be forever grateful. Now I need to continue the road to recovery and do all that is being asked of me to strengthen my heart! My new year’s resolution is to do everything in my power to comply with the cardiac rehab program being given me at Mayo and to do all I can do to insure my long-term survival. So, my extended family members and friends, this is a new Jim who is not taking any minute in his life for granted. So, I hope you all will proactively take care of yourselves to benefit from such a livesaving change in your own lives - Don't take anything for granted and do all you can to make each minute count!

January 5, 2022  Series of Events

  1. Specimen Collection at Mayo building: they found that there is excessive fluid in my body
  2. Chest Imaging Exam at Mayo building: The Xray showed the excess fluid in my l
  3. Blood Test at the Hilton Building: This exam found I was low in iron so they ordered an infusion of iron to take place the next day
  4. Electrocadiogram Testing at the Gonda Building: Confirmation of the fluid still in my lungs
  5. CT Chest Imaging Exam in the Gonda Building: Continuation of confirmation of fluid still in my lungs which indicated that my heart is still not strong enough to get the fluid out of the lungs
  6. Consultation with Dr Huntley in the Gonda Building after all the testing was completed: Given the result Dr Huntley put me on a Lasix pill to reduce the fluid build up and he increased the dosage of heart related medications given to me. He told me something shocking in that when they in case conference presented my case the team of Cardiologist were surprised how stress of moving, packing, getting a condo, selling our condo in St Petersburg and getting a new one in Rochester, MN and unpacking and settling down in Rochester was so stressful that it exacerbated my existing heart failure dramatically resulting in the necessity of the emergency surgery for the Pace Maker and post-surgical stay in the hospital. In quotes he said: “Your stress related heart failure was the talk of the Cardiology Department.”

January 6, 2022 Two additional Interventions

  1. Infusion Treatment in the Methodist Hospital: A three-hour process of infusing me with Iron resulting in me being and feeling stronger in the hours after this infusion
  2. Pulmonary Function Test in the Gonda building 18th floor: I passed it but was exhausted once the testing was completed
  3. I added a third addition point of interest: It took one hour to get my car from Valet parking given the reality that Mayo is a busy place and the best way to park your car is to use Valet.

My next scheduled testing is on January 10, a Blood test to assess the impact of the new and increased meds I was given this January 5th.

January 10, 2022: Blood Test and Ultrasound and Thoracentesis Procedure

Today Mayo demonstrated its patient advocacy in scheduling today an Ultrasound and Thoracentesis which was ordered by Dr Suarez today. So, they switched my blood test and this Ultrasound process to St Mary’s Hospital. An Ultrasound is used to review the two lungs and how much water each is holding, then a radiologist comes in to drain water out of one lung, and my left lung was drained of about 1quart. After it was drained, I was released and was breathing even better than I was before the procedure. I am done with visits until January 21 when I will get another blood test and chest X-ray before my appointment with my Cardiologist Dr Huntley on that day. I am getting stronger, breathing much better, sleeping with only one pillow through the night and during the day feeling awake and with it and feeling much much stronger. This process is working for sure!!!!

January 11, 2022: Weight drop after Thoracentesis Yesterday

On January 1, I began weighing myself daily for cardiac rehab which begins in February. On January 1, I weighed 191 and from that day forward each day I was losing about a pound a day, Thanks to Lasix. On January 10, I weighed 186.3, then that day I had the ultrasound and Thoracentesis which took out about a quart of water from my left lung. On January 11, the day after that procedure I weighed 181.4 pounds a drop of 5 pounds. In total since December 21, 2021, when I was weighed on my initial visit to Mayo with Dr Suarez, I weighed 198 pounds. So, in total I have lost 17 pounds due to the water that was building up in my body due to my malfunctioning heart which hopefully will be doing a better of job of eliminating this fluid from my body thanks to the Pacemaker in my body. In late October and all of November, never did we imagine that fluid build up was occurring in my body due to heart failure. So you can guess we have been amazed at this incredible change in weight due to fluid on my lungs, legs, ankles, neck, and other internal organs. Thanks Mayo Team for waking us up to this reality and dealing with it so pro-actively.  

January 21, 2022 One month post Pacemaker placed

Today marked the one month anniversary of my Pacemaker being surgically put in my body and I had an appointment with my cardiologist Dr Huntley after getting a chest x-ray and blood tests. Turns out I am still showing fluid in my lungs so Dr Huntley is continuing me on lasix and increasing the Beta Blockers to help strengthen my heart. He was was very pleased however with my blood test and x-ray but he wanted to be cautious to insure I made steady progress in my recovery. I am sleeping normal now and don't need extra pillows and am no longer out of breath when I walk for any distance. He was happy to hear I am doing 45 minutes on my stationary cycle each day and not experiencing any negative reactions. I have a full schedule of events coming up the first week of February including the start of my cardiac Rehab on Feb 7 the same day I meet with Dr Suarez and a follow up visit with Dr Huntley on February 8 after more blood work and x-ray. I am pleased with my progress and am looking forward to working with the Cardiac Rehab folks. I cannot believe it has already been a month since the surgery and cannot believe how strong I am feeling even though I am still showing small amounts of fluid on my lungs. I am ready to report on Cardiac Rehab since I have been getting loads of reminders about it's starting date and the strenuous nature of the the rehab. BTW it is freezing up here in Rochester and I am ever so grateful that I passed my Minnesota Driver's License test this week and am now a legal driver in this frozen tundra! Laughing I hope you folks have looked at the expansion of my blog with the signature recipes and the review of our Carpe Diem trips we took in 2018 and in November this year. I am inviting you all to send us your signature recipes to add to our blog. We are having great fun doing this. After all you have to find some humor in life after all we have been through.