There’s a Hole in my Heart

Tomorrow I have an interesting and significant anniversary, so today, I also want to share my story and some important information to pass along.

Rewind about 52 weeks ago, April 2021. My wife and I were in Chicago for a long-weekend with my daughter and son-in-law, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood…just northwest of downtown Chicago. It was a pretty typical, great time in the city with family…lots of catching up, walking, eating, drinking, shopping, and exploring throughout the “windy city”. The weekend was also just a few days ahead of our wedding anniversary, so there were plenty of good vibes!

Outdoor dining in the windy city

All great vibes until Sunday morning, April 11th. I woke at a pretty typical hour for me, about 6:00…but with an extremely sleepy left arm. I mean, so much so that I had no sensation in the arm or ability to move it. I managed to get out of bed, head to the bathroom just fine. When I walked to the family room to check-in with my wife, also realized I couldn’t speak. The thoughts and words were in my head, I just couldn’t speak them…and it was now obvious that something more was going on. Bonnie quickly woke Allison and Matt, and then a 911 call for medical assistance.

First responders came within minutes and quickly completed their assessment. In these 15-30 minutes that passed since I woke up, my arm function eventually returned and was able to speak again. Before a full battery of tests at the hospital, the EMT’s determined I suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or possibly a mild stroke.

In the United States, nearly 800,000 people will experience their first stroke. And while the first stroke is bad enough…there is the added risk of another stroke for about 180,000 of stroke patients!

A stroke event isn’t a death sentence, but stroke is a leading cause of death…5th in the United States

What is a STROKE? The details of this won’t be covered here…talk with your physician or do some on-line research. The following highlights from A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die. Stroke can be caused either by a clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain (called an ischemic stroke) or by a blood vessel rupturing and preventing blood flow to the brain (called a hemorrhagic stroke). A TIA, or “mini stroke”, is caused by a temporary clot.

What are the SIGNS OF STROKE? The acronyms F.A.S.T. or B.E.F.A.S.T. are helpful to identify if someone is suffering a stroke: B – Balance, is the person unsteady, having difficulty maintaining balance or coordination? E – Eyes, is there an issue with blurred or double vision in one or both eyes? F – Face, is one side of their face drooping or numb? A – Arms, is their numbness or weakness in one arm? S – Speech, is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they difficult to understand? T – Time, if any of these symptoms are noted…it’s time to seek urgent medical attention, call 911!

80 percent of strokes are preventable

What are the UNCONTROLLABLE RISK FACTORS FOR STROKE? Age – the likelihood of stroke increases with age. Genetic – family history of stroke indicates an increased risk. Race – black people have an increased risk compared with non-black people. Gender – women have a higher risk of stroke and higher risk of fatal stroke. Prior stroke (including TIA or heart attack) event – once you’ve suffered a prior event, your risk for stroke increases by 10 times!

What are the CONTROLLABLE RISK FACTORS? Cigarette smoking / tobacco use, poor diet, little or no regular exercise, uncontrolled obesity or diabetes, untreated atrial fibrillation (a fib), and more. If you want to lower your chances for death or life-long disability due to stroke, you’ll need to make some important lifestyle changes NOW!

What can be done to REDUCE THE RISK OF SUFFERING A STROKE? Maintain healthy weight and blood pressure, low cholesterol, regular well-checks with your primary care physician, annual blood work to monitor risk factors, consider a plant-based diet or a Mediterranean diet that favors fruit, vegetables, grains, polyunsaturated fats, and lean sources of protein.

How transcatheter PFO closure can help prevent another stroke

What about a PFO or a “hole in the heart”? A Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) is another risk factor that I’ve learned about since last year. What’s so interesting about a PFO is that we were all born with this hole, and for all but about 30% of us. For unknown reasons, the hole never completely closed in the first few days since birth and most will have no clue that it’s there. As part of my post-stroke medical treatment, doctors found this small hole between the two upper chambers of my heart. This condition, under most circumstances, isn’t a substantial risk factor for millions of people…unless there is a history of stroke. When no other risk factors are present (such as cardiovascular disease, a fib, high cholesterol, etc.) surgically closing a PFO is a best practice that can substantially reduce the risk of a future stroke (given other risk factors are well-controlled).

There are alternatives to this PFO closure procedure, that involve daily, life-long medications…effectively taking a blood thinner to reduce blood clots (while also increasing the risk of uncontrolled bleeding and other medication side-effects).

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

The PFO closure procedure, like so many procedures performed in modern medical care, is remarkable! Here’s a great video clip that illustrates the procedure: PFO and closure procedure.

So, now that a year has passed and I’ve completed a dozen appointments, exams, and tests…I’m all set for my PFO closure later this month! I’m anxious, excited, and looking forward to moving on with this procedure thanks to an amazing healthcare team of clinicians, suppliers, facilities…and the support of my family, friends, and others.

BE WELL and Enjoy the RIDE!

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