January 27 , 2023 /


My Dad died from a sudden cardiac arrest in 1979 at the age of 67. That was 44 years ago. I was 42. I knew then I was in the gene pool for heart issues.  My paternal grandmother also had heart problems and died at age 64, in 1952.   My younger brother by 4 years, who is now 81, has had his share and both of us are the beneficiaries of advanced medical care that has extended our lives beyond what we might have expected otherwise.  A cardiac arrest is worse than a heart attack because, without treatment, it can be fatal within minutes. Between 70% and 90% of people who have a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die before reaching a hospital. That was my Dad’s case in a nutshell.


My mother said Dad had been outside mowing the yard on his riding mower, had come into the house to change clothes because he had to go downtown to cut the ribbon at the opening of a new hardware store.  He was a city official and often stood in for the mayor when he wasn’t available.  She heard him groan, and walking into their bedroom, she found him on the floor and called 911 immediately.  By the time the first responders arrived, he had no pulse and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.  We were shocked and surprised because we had not seen nor been aware of any previous signs of cardiac issues.


Fast forward to 2018 when I began experiencing a shortness of breath while walking or at an altitude of 7000’. Fortunately, for me, our son-in-law, an eminent cardiologist at Integris Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City, heard about my issues and one Saturday in October, when we were visiting there from California, where we lived at the time, he suggested we go to his office so he could give me a couple of tests including an EKG.  He looked them over and told me that he wanted me to stay longer and that he was scheduling me in on Monday morning with one of his colleagues for some more extensive tests.


The results showed that I was suffering from mitral valve regurgitation, a condition in which the heart’s mitral valve doesn’t close tightly, which allows blood to flow backward in the heart.  Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness, and a rapid, fluttering heartbeat. Some people may not need treatment. More severe cases require medications, such as diuretics and blood thinners, or surgery.


A month later I was back in OKC and in the hospital for a TMVR (transcatheter mitral valve repair), a minimally invasive option for treating the most common form of mitral valve leakage.  I was not a suitable candidate for open heart surgery.  Two cardiac specialists inserted two clips about the size of a large staple. They are attached to my mitral valve and stay there permanently and help my valve to function properly again.  In my case, those clips stopped a big percentage of the leak but the leakage continued and over the past four years, increased a bit more.


The good news is that I have been able to continue most activities including working part time, travel, walking and hiking, and now live at 3,000 ft instead of 7,000. A minor inconvenience.  I have also had the expert care of skilled cardiologists who recently inserted a Watchman. That got me off the Eliquis blood thinner medication. If you want details on a Watchman, watch this: https://www.watchman.com/en-us/how-watchman-device-works.html

Now I am moving forward to exploring the next possible steps in heart maintenance and repair, a work in progress!  A recent TEE (trans esophageal echocardiogram) showed the two clips in place with the continuing leakage and a possibility of inserting a third clip which could not be done 4 years ago.  In preparation for that I had another specialist do a right/left diagnostic heart catheterization to check for any arterial blockage or weakness so that we can continue down this path for the next procedure for the third clip.  We won’t know for sure if there’s room for that third clip until the doc gets in there although it appears there is a good possibility.


You might wonder if all of this is stressful or causes any anxiety.  What I can tell you is that I find it fascinating in terms of the medical diagnoses and treatments, that I am impressed with the medical technology and the skilled practitioners, and that I actually look forward to continuing toward further improvements.  I also found a certain kind of peace in surrendering control and having confidence in my docs and nurses.  I am blessed with the care of seven different cardio specialists. All of that and no fear make a great combination for A GRATEFUL HEART.


There are many problems with our healthcare and insurance systems, some of which I detailed in a previous post, garygruber.com/broken.  Once you learn more about managing and navigating the systems as an actively participating patient, you can cut through some of the built in bureaucracies and get better results.


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