Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tiny Bubbles.....

Wednesday, 27 May was my one month follow-up appointment to see how the PFO closure was healing, to make sure the device is working as it should and to find out whats next. I was hoping for good news, what I got was so much more.

I showed up to the fifth floor of the south tower at Cedars Sinai about an hour and a half early. I guess that I was feeling excited and apprehensive at the same time. Before seeing the Doctor I was having an echocardiogram with bubble study. Basically, it is a normal echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) but at one point they inject a bunch of saline bubbles into a vein and watch them flood into the right atrium. If the surgery worked as it was supposed to, all of the bubbles would stay in the right atrium and not shoot across into the left thru the newly closed PFO.

I have become somewhat used to having echos done now. I know what images they are going to grab and typically in what order. I even know how to stay comfortable in the awkward positions. So I knew when it was over and time for the bubbles. A nurse had already come in before the test and installed an IV line in my arm but for the actual injection of the bubbles the technician called the Fellow who was on duty.

The tech had a pretty picture of my left and right atria on the screen (the right one appears on the left of the screen.....go figure). And in coordination with the fellow, the bubbles were injected rapidly. On the screen the right atrium started to show up bright white as the bubbles rushed in. The left atrium was remarkably empty. Neither myself, the tech nor the Fellow could see any bubbles pass thru the PFO. The surgery worked as it should have.

With a new sense of relief I left the echo lab and made my way to the Doctor's office. I felt like a kid running home to see a parent with a good report card (not that I have ever known THAT feeling). I couldn't wait to hear what Dr. Kar would say. Most of my apprehensiveness had now been replaced with pure excitement.

At Dr. Kar's office the wait felt intolerable. It wasn't very long but I was dying to get in to see him. Asma came and took me to the room and went over how I was doing. She asked if I had received her reply to my email that told me basically no increased physical activity until at least a month after surgery. I said I did receive it and we laughed that I knew the answer to the question before I had asked it....guilty.

Dr. Kar came in and was as excited as he is every time I have seen him. He asked how I was feeling and I told him that I was fantastic. He read the echo report and told me that the doctor who read the results had seen a couple of tiny bubbles make it into the left atrium. Dr. Kar told me not to worry about that because first off I had, in his words, "a Huge PFO"; and secondly at the end of six months enough scar tissue should grow over the device so that no bubbles would come thru. But for now, the size and relative amount that passed thru were nothing at all to be concerned about.

Then when the appointment was drawing to a close I asked about my activity level; about what I could or could not do. In one of those moments where one's words were not specifically chosen but they are exactly right he said "you can do anything". How inspiring is that? That's right, I have NO LIMITATIONS now. I committed that upon my return to the mats (probably Tuesday, 2 June) I would take it slowly and not roll for a month or so. The Doctor told me to come see him again at the six month mark and sent me on my way.

I cant begin to describe my appreciation for Dr. Kar, Asma, and the entire team who got me thru this. When one hears that they have a hole in their heart the level of fear is paralyzing. They made it so easy to deal with and as I saw with my own eyes, they fixed it.

When I return to the mats next week, it will have been after about five months off. I last trained on Saturday, 10, January. 2009 will go down as a year where I lost half of it to a couple of strokes, the discovery of a hole in my heart, surgery and finally a mid-year triumphant return.

Stay posted, the return of Jiu Jitsu content is imminent!!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dinner with the Mighty 6(00,000)

A big thanks to Caleb from The Fightworks Podcast for arranging the first "BJJ Dinner with the Family" on Tuesday 19 May down in Beautiful San Diego .

This was a great opportunity for me to take a short drive (three hours each way) and enjoy the company of and conversation with others who love my sport. We had some great discussions on current topics and everyone at the table helped me to gain some perspective on the situation at my own gym.

Now, there were only six of us there so the running joke was that each of us represented 100,000 listeners. I look forward to being able to do this on a more regular basis.

Thanks again Caleb, thanks to everyone who was there. Hopefully we can all share a roll one day!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Month

Healing Milestone:
Well here we are. It has been one month (30 days) since my PFO closure operation. In many ways it feels like just a few days have passed and in others it feels like it has been so long. This is the first significant milestone in my recovery. This coming Wednesday (27 May) I have my follow-up where the doctors will take a look with an echocardiogram to make sure things are healing as they should. I will make sure to post my results as soon as I hear them.

PFO Migraine Stroke Group:
While I am on the subject of my PFO. Someone who read my blog pointed me in the direction of a new PFO Migraine Stroke group on Facebook . The group is still small but hopefully it will grow to help people like me who are struggling with the same problem.

Random News:
I am hoping to start a separate blog for just my medical adventures so that when I return to the mats I can return this one back to its Jiu Jitsu focus while still continuing to write about PFO, Stroke and Migraine. I feel that these are issues that are just not discussed enough and It is my mission to help educate, inspire and guide people struggling with the problems that inhibited me for so long. Keep your eyes open for that new blog as my return to the mats draws near. Also, keep your fingers crossed for me as I go into my appointment on Wednesday, optimism is high.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Impatient Patient

Recovery Day: 19

As the title suggests, I can be a bit difficult at times. Most of the time, when it counts, I can be the picture of patience. I can outlast most people even in the most arduous of circumstances. I think that on the whole I have been pretty darn good in dealing with this impossible situation over the last three years; especially in the last six months when it became exponentially worse and kept me from doing many of the things I love.

So, now it has been about 6 months since I have hit the mats. Part of the reason I have been able to keep pressing forward without going completely mental is the fact that I had an enemy to fight. I had suffered a number of small strokes with at least two of them leaving their autographs visible only via MRI. I was suffering with numbness down my right arm and focusing on getting better and finding answers helped to keep me preoccupied and my mind off training.

On 9 March when I had two strokes within 24 hours and found myself in the hospital with a diagnosed problem, a PFO (hole in my heart) I suddenly had a new mission. Time to get it fixed. Once I get that bad boy all patched, all is good. Its back to action. I got my PFO fixed on 24 April 2009, just 43 short days after it was discovered.

Now I have no more battle. No more fight. I am feeling fantastic. There is however a long way between feeling and being. It has only been 19 days since my surgery. This foreign object that has been lodged into my heart has not had much time to settle in and begin get covered over by scar tissue. I am in that precarious spot between feeling awesome and being awesome.

I feel like I could jump right back into what I used to do, or at least back into SOMETHING, but as one of my doctors just confirmed for me....I can't. I am not supposed to do ANYTHING physically exhertive for at least one month following the surgery. Now that makes total sense in my head, but now that I am fighting no other battles and I don't have that to keep me preoccupied or worried, I am dying to get back in action.

I go back to see the Doctor for my one month follow-up on 27 May. At that appointment they will do an echocardiogram and inject some bubbles into my heart so they can see if the hole is sealed properly. Hopefully I will also get the green light to begin to gradually step-up my physical activity level. Cross your collective fingers for me!

Side note: Grappling with Life in Seattle
I am going to Seattle this weekend. My wife and I are taking a short vacation for no good reason other than we need one. We will be the stereotypical tourists doing all the tourist things but we will also be seeing my BELOVED BOSTON RED SOX trample the Mariners at Safeco Field on Friday night. If there are any must see BJJ tourist spots in Seattle, please send me a note!!!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!!!

Today is my Birthday. Well, not exactly. You won't find any note of it on my driver's license. Its not on my passport; nor is it on my birth certificate. So, as far as any "official" body is concerned technically today is just any other day, but I am one week old.

The card I carry in my pocket provided by NMT (the company that manufactured the device used to plug the hole in my heart) lists the model number, serial number, lot number and the date....April 24th 2009. One week ago today. So the way I see it today deserves a bit of celebration.

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while, especially those of you who have read this since before I KNEW I HAD A HOLE IN MY HEART (that still freaks me out sometimes) will know that nostalgia is not my strong suit. I wrote about how new years resolutions tend to go by the wayside ( and that I would rather make goals. So needless to say, I am finding myself struggling to find the proper perspective on this second chance at a normal life.

I don't want to be one of those whacked out people who suddenly sells off all their possessions, moves to a cave and contemplates their navel for the rest of eternity. On the other hand I don't want to be unappreciative either. This is a rather profound event in my life that very likely has saved my life. I feel a great responsibility to get things right, I feel like I need to be a voice for these issues. I feel like I need to be the best me I can be.

It fills my heart to know that this little blog has begun to help already. Some of you may have noticed the "For more information" contact bar that I added off to the right hand side. Shortly after my post about finding my PFO and adding that contact link, two people with conditions mirroring mine contacted me. Both of them had suffered strokes (one of them multiple times like myself), both of them had PFO's recently found and like me both of them were looking for answers. Because of this little blog, I was able to help. One of the two had their PFO closed TODAY by the very same doctor who did mine one week ago!!! I cannot express how good it makes me feel to know that I was able to help someone while on my own path to wellness.

This person never did BJJ, had never read my blog before. I was stumbled upon simply because they were googling the things I had written about. I know they will read this so when they do, I want them to know that I am so happy that they are also on the road to recovery and they better enjoy the journey....Happy Birthday!!!