I’m thrilled to be back to work at the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. My first day back was April 23 – just in time to work on the May 14 edition of the Bulletin – after being away on a medical leave since February 5.
My medical adventure began last September when my family doctor sent me for an echocardiogram after she heard a heart murmur that had never been detected before during a routine exam. The echocardiogram – ultrasound imaging of the heart – showed severe stenosis (narrowing) of my aortic valve. When she phoned to tell me the results of the test, the doctor told me she was referring me to a cardiologist but that surgery to correct the problem appeared likely.
The cardiologist confirmed that I would need surgery.
“Are we talking about sooner or later; months or years from now?” I asked him. The last time I’d had surgery was to have my tonsils out in 1961.
“Probably months,” he said. He strongly suggested cancelling the Florida vacation that Sylvie and I had scheduled for December.
He said he wanted to watch me for a while and scheduled another echocardiogram for March – but said to call him right away if I started noticing such symptoms as fatigue, shortness of breath or angina. A few weeks later, I realized I was having symptoms and called him.
My cardiologist immediately repeated the echocardiogram and then referred me to a surgeon at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. In December I had an angiogram at the Heart Institute which showed I had no blockages in any of my arteries – so replacing my aortic valve would be the only focus of the surgery.
I also had a consultation with my surgeon. He explained the surgery and discussed the option of whether to replace my aortic valve with a mechanical valve or one made from animal tissue – each has advantages and disadvantages and it was up to me to choose. I opted for the tissue valve but I wouldn’t know until after the surgery if my new valve would be from porcine or bovine tissue.
More than one person asked me asked me if it’s “kosher” to use porcine tissue. I knew the answer to that question was yes even before Rabbi Reuven Bulka assured me of that during a conversation in January at the SJCC. Ultimately, my surgeon used a valve made from bovine tissue.
My surgery was originally scheduled for February 6. That day I got a call from the Heart Institute postponing the procedure until February 21.
I did have the surgery on the 21st and everything went well. I spent two nights in the ICU and four more nights in a regular room before going home.
I can’t say enough good things about the Ottawa Heart Institute. It’s an amazing place and everyone I encountered there – doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, orderlies, technicians, clerks, cleaners, volunteers, you name it – is highly skilled, kind and compassionate. We are incredibly lucky to have this world-class facility in our city. I’m currently back at the Heart Institute on Tuesday and Thursday mornings doing the eight-week cardiac rehab program.
Most of my recovery time was spent at home and I also can’t say enough about the loving care I received from Sylvie. Recovery was hard work and I couldn’t have done it without her. I think I made measurable progress every day and I felt my strength and stamina increase with my prescribed daily walks which started at six minutes twice per day and increased by one minute each day until I reached 30 minutes twice per day.
Although complete recovery from the surgery takes up to six months, I was able to resume most of my regular activities – including work – after two months. And although both my cardiologist and surgeon explained that the stenosis in my aortic valve had nothing to do with lifestyle choices over the years, I have committed myself to maintaining the heart-healthy lifestyle I’ve followed over the past several months.
I feel very grateful that I live near the Ottawa Heart Institute. The care I received there – and the continuing follow-up – has been outstanding. And I’m very grateful to be living under the Canadian healthcare system where I received this world-class care simply because I needed it.
I’m also grateful for all the support I’ve received from family, friends and colleagues from near and far. And special thanks to interim editor Laura Robin and Jewish Federation of Ottawa colleagues Pauline Colwin and Andrea Freedman for taking care of my Bulletin duties while I was away. As I said, I’m thrilled to be back at work.