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Politics // Coffee Break
Jerry Coffee

Having A Little Heart-To-Heart

Over the past 20-plus years I have had several heart attacks, the first being literally induced by an overly determined cardiologist during a simple angioplasty to remove an 80 percent and a 50 percent blockage of my heart arteries. He left the balloon, which compresses the arterial plaque, inflated too long, resulting in the rapid fibrillation of my heart until electrically shocked back into a normal rhythm by the paddles – “CLEAR!”… WHUMP. That was followed by, according to the protocol of the hospital, double bypass surgery.

Since then, there have been three more heart attacks, two more angioplasties, four stents and a triple bypass surgery. All of this with none of the usual antecedents of heart disease – family history, overweight, smoker, high blood pressure, etc.

However, heart disease (among other health issues) more recently has been attributed presumptively to the effect and circumstances of the Vietnam POW experience. And considering stress and heart disease are related, it makes sense to me.

In any case, multiple heart attacks, of course, take a toll on the heart muscle itself. Heart attacks characteristically cut off blood flow through the heart’s arteries, depriving much of the heart muscle of the blood it requires to stay healthy and viable. In my case, it has been determined, mostly by an echocardio-gram, that my “Ejection Fraction,” the measure of my heart’s efficiency in pumping blood, is only about 36 percent. Because I am below the normal of 65 percent to 75 percent, my cardiologist recommended an ICD (implanted cardio device), a heart defibrillator (as opposed to a “pacemaker,” which regulates the heart’s rhythm).

The heart defibrillator is a programmable, surgically implanted (in the chest to rest just below the clavicle) device about the size of a gentleman’s pocket watch, with wire leads that connect through veins to both sides of the heart. If the heart’s rhythm drops below or rises above a certain level (fibrillation), the device delivers a strong shock to the heart, returning it to it’s normal rhythm. This device is the result of years of trials and research and development, and considering the first heart defibrillator was the size of a washing machine, it is truly remarkable how far we have come.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney could be considered the poster boy for the advances in cardiac technology. As a high-profile/VIP heart patient, he always has had access to the “cutting edge” of life-extending innovation. It seems that over the years the technology that has kept him alive – including several years using a defibrillator – has been developed just ahead of his advancing need. His treatment has given reality to the axiom “necessity is the mother of invention.”

For me, the use of a life-saving device such as the defibrillator will be the source of much peace of mind, for which I am ever so grateful, even though there is a little trepidation about the unknown. It is said that when the device kicks into action, the electrical shock can feel like a kick in the chest from a mule. Talk about mixed emotions!

I can hardly wait. coffee1776@gmail.com

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