Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Heart Testimony on my One Year Heartiversary

Day of surgery, July 19, 2016
The News

In April of 2016, just shy of turning the big 3-0, my world turned upside down. While in Florida for a work conference, I experienced some physical symptoms that I'd never had before. My heart was racing as if I'd just sprinted 100 yards, I felt flush and hot. At first, I assumed it had to do with my asthma, but I quickly realized it was something more.

Luckily, I had some "angels" among me. A co-worker's mom happened to be at dinner with us - she jumped in to mom-mode and wouldn't leave my side as I desperately tried to make my heart stop racing. She held my hand as she coached me through breathing exercises. After about 45 minutes and no relief, we had the front desk call the paramedics. In true "me" fashion, I didn't want to make a scene so I had them meet me outside! They ran my vitals which all showed normal. By that time, the rest of my colleagues had joined us outside including my boss and a VP of the company. The question was asked if I should go to the ER anyway. One paramedic said, "if it were my daughter, I'd say yes just to be sure even it's nothing."

Upon arrival at the ER, they hooked me up to an EKG machine. Unbeknownst to me, the EKG showed abnormal activity. Not too long and I was lying in a hospital bed (and gown with my boss right next to me!) awaiting several scans to be run. A brain scan, x-rays and blood work were all normal. The last tests were an Echo-cardiogram (sonogram of the heart) and CT scan.

Nearly 24 hours after arriving, a doctor finally came in to discuss the results. I was certain he would tell me I was merely dehydrated and needed to get some rest. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. A not-so-consoling doctor delivered the news that I actually had a congenital (born with) heart condition called an anomalous origin of the right coronary artery (RCA) off the left sinus (Anatomy lesson: this means my RCA was formed in the wrong place and constricted proper blood flow to my heart). I was S-T-U-N-N-E-D and honestly thought he was joking for a solid minute. Fortunately, Reece had driven through the night, arriving at 4am. I should also mention that my boss had stayed with me through the night until about 2am. He made sure I was settled in to an observation room and knew Reece wasn't too far away. Before he left, he prayed over me - I will never forget it.

Back to that moment. Of course I went completely numb as the doctor continued speaking by saying, "this condition could cause cardiac arrest, also known as sudden death." I could feel my insides begin to weep while my face remained frozen in fear as I glanced to Reece who had the same expression for a split second. Unlike me, he quickly regained composure and began asking for details. The doctor had such a cold, matter-of-fact demeanor that I'll never be able to shake from memory. He did agree to discharge me with orders to see a cardiologist in the next week or two.
The words to describe that moment: shocked, stunned, numb, fearful, dark.

Upon release, we spent the night in Orlando before driving the 8 hours back to Atlanta. That was the longest 8 hours for both of us. However, being that it was our 4-year anniversary, we stopped in Cordele (Reece's stomping grounds when we met) and had a Chick-Fil-a dinner date :0).

Pre-Surgery Darkness

The next 3 months were a complete mental and living nightmare. I had appointments with Piedmont Heart (Dr. Blanco, Cardiologist and Dr. Brown, Surgeon) and Emory Adult Congenital Heart Center (ACHC) (Dr. Anurag Sahu, Cardiologist and Dr. Brian Kogon, Cardio-thoracic Surgeon). While my secret hope was that the doctor in Orlando would have mixed up my chart with another patient, all doctors verified my condition. Dr. Kogon indicated that the risk of not doing surgery outweighed the risk of doing it and therefore his recommendation was to perform a coronary un-roofing procedure. I ultimately selected Emory and scheduled surgery for July 19, 2016. In the meantime, I wore a heart monitor for 30 days and had a nuclear stress test performed. Both were normal. Yet, my RCA still wasn't in the right place.

After my one meeting with Dr. Kogon, I encountered the grueling waiting game for the next few months. I went into complete mental darkness aka depression. Those two words - sudden death - spoken so matter-of-factly held me captive 24 hours a day. I felt like a ticking time bomb. I began having trouble sleeping which affected going to work. I eventually took an early leave of absence just a day after turning 30. I experienced all of the typical symptoms of depression: lack of appetite (I lost about 20 lbs), trouble sleeping, literally worried myself sick, crying, severe anxiety, etc....I was in a complete fog. During my time off prior to surgery, I chose to focus on my mental health. It was quite a desolate time for me even though I had tremendous support from family and friends. Thoughts of death haunted me even when I'd pray.

I received so much

Mom gave me a bracelet. It says
God up high is amazing.
Throughout the months, I tried everything to break out of the depression. I met regularly with a psychologist and two counselors from Grace Ministries. And while I am not an advocate of taking drugs to cope, I did rely on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications to get me through and help me sleep. I connected with several people who'd had open heart surgery. They helped me so much because they could relate directly to what I was going through and prepared me for what was to come. I kept a solid journal, recording everything from conversations with God to scripture notes and a list of my prayer warriors (that I knew about). My faith grew stronger too. In the deepest pit, my relationship with Christ grew. I felt God's presence so often through Reece. He is my rock. He was my sound mind at doctor's appointments. He tried desperately to calm my nerves. Never once did he crack or show me his fear. His faith in God is admirable.

Ironically, as I looked back through pictures on my phone during that dark 3 months, I realize there was beauty all around me. The sweet time I spent with my parents and Reece, the cuddles I got from youngins, and the majestic beauty of God's Creation. 

Reece & I were able to hit
 Lake Eufala before
my surgery
During my time off, Mom and I spent so much
time together. Here, we are at the
Chattahoochee Coffee Co.

Snuggles with lil Ru since we
were just across the street

Mom & I went over to Bham
so I got many snuggles with
baby girl Harper
Rainbow for good luck right before
And then I saw this :-) 

We managed to get through pre-surgery - all of us. It just so happened that at the same time, Reece and I were trying to sell one home and buy another. We had moved out of our house to do some major renovations. We were living with my parents during this time. God has perfect timing and for me, this included the fact that my parents are retired and were with me daily providing comfort and love while Reece was working.


Garrett trying to keep Reece
up-beat while I was in surgery
The day of surgery came, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. I had to be at the hospital at 5:30 am. I remember a surreal feeling - "wow this is really happening." I was briefed the day before of the risks of having open heart surgery which included death, so I certainly had butterflies in my stomach. Reece, Mom, Dad, my mother-in-law Debbie and brother-in-law Garrett were all with me. I was the 1st to be called back. The anesthesiology team began prepping me for IVs and sedation. I recall how friendly they were. Before getting wheeled back to the OR, we had the pleasure of the hospital Chaplain praying over me with my family present.
Thumbs up! I made it through!
I think this was about 12 hours

While the sedation crept in pretty quickly, I do remember wheeling in to the OR and acknowledging the heart/lung Tech to my left and then scooting over to the OR table. The heart/lung machine takes over pumping those organs while surgery is being performed. Pretty crazy to think about. The machines were keeping my body alive! Next thing I remember, I was waking up in ICU to Reece, Debbie and Garrett. I remember giving Garrett a knuckle punch and taking this pic. Mom and Dad arrived shortly after.
Thumbs up became a theme. Not only did I make
it to the chair (with assistance), but I was moving
along with my breathing exercises. During open
heart surgery, they collapse your lungs so I was
working on getting them back in shape and making
sure no fluid collected. 

I made it out of ICU!! Neck IVs out and no oxygen!
Proof that you can make it 
through surgery and keep smiling!  

The Light

I vividly remember waking up in ICU with a smile on my face and experiencing the weight of fear and anxiety having been lifted off of me. Did you hear me?? No more fear. After all that anxiety. Gone, just like that. If you question God's existence, hear my clearly. He answered my prayer. I prayed diligently for that peace. And he gave it to me. When I quit trying to find it myself, he gave it to me.

I did well in ICU and was moved to B499 (4B Unit - Cardiovascular Surgery Floor) just 24 hours after having open heart surgery. I only spent about 5 days in the hospital which is less than expected for someone who just had open heart surgery. My experience in the hospital was actually less frightening than I'd imagined. It was mostly in part to some awesome nurses. Anna was an angel - she seemed more like a friend than "the nurse on shift."

My people! Bless his heart - Reece slept in that
chair every night. And got woken up as often as
I did when the nurses would come in to check
everything and poke me.
Running outta there! Just kidding - I wouldn't
have made it far with a broken sternum and 3 layers
of stitches (holding together a 6" long incision),
but I was certainly excited to be going home!
I kept up the positive attitude my entire stay at the hospital, reflecting often on what others had advised, "recovery depends heavily on outlook" and "you'll have wires attached to you from every angle, but remember they're there to help you. They'll be removed slowly but surely." Every time one IV came out, I'd give Reece or the nurse a high five. My thought specifically in ICU was, "God performed a miracle. I have no reason to complain." My recovery was speedy. The body is really amazing at healing. but ultimately God is the Master Physician.

Below, I was greeted with sweet welcome home notes and kisses from the best dog in the world, Belle.

Inspiration and Tips

Journal Entry - I learned this technique from
Grace Ministries: write your thoughts in black
and then meditate on what God is saying
in response. Write that in red.
Worship music really speaks truth. I would
often write down lyrics and reflect on them.
This one stuck with me so much that I repeated
it as I went under anesthesia. 
Prayer is so powerful. Sometimes, I'd write
my prayers down on paper.
Scripture was shared with me throughout my

I loved coming across simple verses
like Isaiah 41:10.

My scar is more than a scar. It tells a story. I know
I am here for a reason and my hope is that my
experience with make an impact on someone else. 
Tips for others facing surgery.


  1. Replies
    1. Love you too BFF! Thanks for all you do :-)

  2. That is a wonderful and inspiring story, well done and God bless your recovery.

  3. Katie,

    Such an amazing testimony...thanks for sharing your story girl!