Ken is a disabled American combat veteran of the Vietnam War. He was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with V device medal.
Nine Miraculous Stents in My Heart, No Stitches in My Chest!
This is a true story about my battle with heart disease. I was very heavily exposed to Agent Orange during 1967–68, my year in Vietnam. My heart troubles started as soon as I left the service. The VA Cardiologists I have seen (too many to count) always mention my heart problems could be related to my family’s medical history.
Regardless of how it occurred, I have dealt with this condition for over 50 years. I believe that’s a miracle, by itself.
When any cardiologist looks at my medical chart for the first time, they are amazed! That is when they will tell me I am a freak of nature, by a couple of non-conforming standards:
1. I do not have any stitches in my chest, which means I haven’t had open heart bypass surgery--at least not yet. No stitches = no zippers!
2. Out of five angioplasty operations in the last 22 years, thankfully, I have no scars on my chest.
I was first diagnosed with heart disease in 1977. I kept getting sudden pains in my heart for no reason. My primary care physician had a cardiac stress test conducted, which is where they found I was developing ischemic heart disease.
When I found out about this condition, I changed my PCP medical provider to the Veterans Administration. That enabled me to control the costs of all the drugs and testing, as I am a completely disabled veteran. That means Uncle Sam foots all my medical expenses.
I am very much a medical enigma, according to my specialists. Since I was first told I had heart disease, I have taken cholesterol medication, plus a baby aspirin, and a variety of blood pressure drugs to help control my constant angina attacks.
My primary care physicians at the VA over the years have always consulted with my cardiologists to coordinate my medicines. They have made sure I get the right dietary and exercise instructions. I have had checkups and blood tests run every six months ever since.
In October 1999, I had my first stent implanted in my right coronary artery. After that, I went through 12 weeks of cardio rehabilitation, to improve my stamina.
I stayed active, in shape, and had no further heart problems until October 2010. That’s when I learned my stent had closed and was again causing angina attacks.
Once again, I had to go back to surgery for a second procedure. They were able to re-open the first stent and insert a second stent, to open another part of the same artery that had also narrowed.
Diet, Exercise, Rehabilitation, repeat
After this second angioplasty, I had checkups every 6 months. The other stents were performed in February of 2013, May of 2018, July of 2019 when I had two stents implanted in my left coronary artery, also known as the widowmaker. In March of this year, 2021, I had to again undergo angioplasty surgery to re-open a 100% closed right posterior coronary artery that was in the back of my heart.
This was a more tedious, more delicate, and more painful operation. Very few attempts to perform angioplasty to a fully closed vein located in the back of the heart.
During the operation itself, the cardiologist kept asking the nurses to bring several different types and brands of stents. There are two types of stents: bare-metal stent and drug-eluting stent. All of my stents are drug-eluting.
The latter is used more frequently and is coated with medication that helps keep the blocked artery open longer. The stent eventually becomes a part of the artery in which it's placed.
WebMD.com has an excellent description of what stents are, what they are made of, and how they work, available here: Types of Stents and Their Uses (webmd.com).
It took three different stents to various parts of the right coronary artery, using 12 different shapes and sizes of stents until they found one that worked. That was the "tedious" part.
But the 3-hour operation was, according to my cardiologist, a complete success. New medical technology, equipment, and procedures have made it easier to repair 100% closed arteries.
My health has always been important to me. I exercise by hitting the “Y” at least 4 times a week in cold weather. During the other 3 seasons, I enjoy walking in a community park near me.
They have three well-established trails for walking, each about 1½ miles distance. I used to make it a point to walk all three trails each day, but I would lessen my walking on the weekends because we always seem to have some function to attend. Five grandkids playing soccer, football, and basketball will fill up your relaxation schedule.
Now in my 70s, what happens to my frequency, distance, and stamina is what seems to happen to everyone as we age. My body parts started surrendering to gravity.
I have developed nagging arthritis in my neck, both knees, and hips. I can’t walk as fast as I did or go as far as I want. I have trouble going up and down the stairs, as well.
Although I don’t go far, or very fast, walking still helps me stave off old age. I can still use hand weights to keep up my agility and strength. Sometimes, it is hard to put exercises together two days in a row, but I just modify my activity level. I do what I can when I can!
Now, my main goal is to stay healthy and active for as long as possible… with no more zippers! My unrealistic goal is to live until I'm 99, then get shot by a jealous husband! Hey, you always have to have goals! :-)
Thanks for reading!
Maryam Fatima from Pakistan on September 30, 2021:
Glad to hear you are healthy. You took good steps for your health.
Stay safe and healthy.