Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

June 16, 2013

Kenneth Hart: Glad to be around for Father's Day: 6/16/13

ASHLAND — This is a pretty special Father’s Day for me. I have a lot to be grateful for — mainly the fact I’m still around to be be a father to my children.

That could’ve easily not been the case had I not finally decided to heed my body's warning signals.

You may have noticed my byline hasn’t appeared in the pages of The Independent much the past few weeks. Those of you whom I’m friends with on Facebook may already know why. But, for those don’t, it’s because I’ve been off on medical leave after receiving a CABG.

That's a coronary artery bypass graft, in case you hadn’t guessed.

Make mine a quadruple, please.

What led doctors to discover I needed the procedure was me finally deciding I could no longer ignore symptoms I’d been experiencing for some time, namely chest pain and tightness and shortness of breath when I exerted myself. It was taking progressively less exertion to trigger the symptoms, and I went to see my doctor about them.

The doctor scheduled a stress test, which I failed. Miserably. I was sucking wind and clutching my chest after only a brief time on the treadmill. That led to me being admitted to the hospital and a heart catheterization being performed.

The procedure revealed the cause of my symptoms — major blockage in my coronary arteries, including two that were 100 percent impeded, my cardiologist informed me. He told me I’d need bypass surgery because the less-invasive fix — stents — wouldn’t work on blockages as severe as mine.

While the diagnosis left me scared and nervous about what lay ahead, I can't say it surprised me. To put it bluntly, my family history where heart disease is concerned sucks. My mother has had two CABGs, the first of which was done when she was approximately my age. My uncle — her brother — had to have the procedure as well, and my grandfather had chronic heart problems.

My heart cath was performed on a Friday, and I was on the operating table the following Monday. Prior to my going under the knife, my surgeon did his best to reassure me, telling me the risk of complications from the surgery was low and I should pull through it with few lasting effects because of my relatively young age.

He also told me he’d done the procedure hundreds of times and it was considered routine in this day and age. I wanted to believe him, but for some reason, the notion of having my sternum sawed in half and my chest pried open like a pair of rusty cemetery gates being considered “routine” didn’t really register in my brain.

My surgeon also informed me that based on what he’d seen from the heart cath, he expected to perform a triple bypass, although he wouldn't know for sure until he got in there.

The first thing I remember seeing upon waking up in the cardiac ICU was my surgeon standing at the foot of my bed. He was holding up four fingers, indicating I’d had a quadruple bypass. I also remember looking down and seeing the huge incision on my right inner arm where he’d harvested the veins to transplant into my heart and thinking I looked liked I’d come straight off the set of “The Walking Dead.”

As I type this, I’m three weeks and two days out of surgery. I still have some pain and my energy levels haven’t returned to normal, but I’m getting stronger every day. My incisions are healing nicely, although the doc tells me I have to wait several more months before I can get them decorated with ink. (More on that when the time comes.)

I also have to wait another month before I can ride my motorcycle, which is obviously a bummer. But, thinking about how fortunate I am my problem was discovered before I had a major heart attack — perhaps while on my bike — helps temper my frustration about losing a big chunk of the riding season.

I have an appointment this week with my cardiologist and I hope and expect he will clear me to return to work. I’ve certainly missed my co-workers and I hope they’ve missed me as well.

I know I have some fairly major lifestyle changes ahead of me, but I believe I’m up to that challenge.

This isn’t the end of my journey, but merely the beginning.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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