I learned of the existence of this site this morning (February 14, 2002) through a column published in our local newspaper. I wanted to write this short story as a story of hope for parents who have children afflicted with a congenital heart defect, and, of course, to that child as well. I must say, however, that my condition seems less severe than most of the biographies I have read posted on the site. Nevertheless, perhaps it may yet be helpful to someone.
I was born in 1950 with congenital aortic valve stenosis. In 1960, I underwent open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA, under the capable hands of Dr. Kirkland. As I understand the surgical procedure that was employed in those days (rather primitive, perhaps, compared to modern times), Dr. Kirkland chose not to perform either a valve transplant or to insert a mechanical valve, but rather "resected" my aortic valve essentially making it a two flap valve like the pulmonary valve. My hospital stay was two weeks, and then I returned to Dallas, Texas, USA.
My adolescent years were quite normal, particularly when contrasted with my childhood years during which time I would frequently pass out during physical over-exertion as a result of the inadequate blood supply passing through my aortic valve. My parents restricted me from regular participation in competitive athletics during those childhood, as well as adolescent years, but otherwise, I was unrestricted in my activities following surgery.
A cardiac catheterization (angiogram) was performed in 1970, and all things checked out perfectly. I routinely visited my cardiologist annually until about 16 years old, and then dropped back to every other year. After the successful angiogram report, my checkups dropped off to about every five years.
I graduated high school in 1968, and went on from there to attend and graduate from Baylor University in Waco, TX, USA, with undergraduate and law degrees, and have been engaged in a successful private law practice now for 26 years. In 1972, I married a wonderful woman, my high school sweetheart, and have been blessed with two children, both of whom were born with no apparent health challenges. My son Chris, now 23, is working while still finishing his education. My daughter Juli started as a freshman student at Baylor University in the Fall, 2001.
In January, 1995, at the age of 44 years, I decided it was time to really take care of my body and became a runner. Since 1995, I have continued to run regularly, usually between 15 and 20 miles or more per week. My daughter and I are committed to running our first marathon race together in the Fall of 2002.
I now have regular annual check-ups. Recently, following a stress echogram, my cardiologist noticed some changes occurring in my aortic valve that indicates additional calcification is now in process. I am being monitored now on an annual basis, which will be increased to a semi-annual basis depending on the degree of increasing calcification. I continue to be completely asymptomatic of any heart stress or negative conditions, and maintain a very active lifestyle.
My cardiologist tells me that I am by far the only patient he has treated that has gone as many years as I have from the initial "valve job" back in 1960, without having to undergo other valve surgeries or a valve replacement. It has now been over 40 years since that surgery! It appears, however, that I am now moving, albeit ever so slowly so far, to a point in time where that record will become established. But who knows whether it will be one more year, or ten, that a second surgery will become necessary. Who knows.
I know now how my parents felt during my childhood years and in 1960 as there baby boy, a twin whose brother thankfully did not have a CHD, underwent what was then very experimental surgery. I thought it might be helpful to parents who are now undergoing a similar situation to know that there IS a future for your son or daughter, and that there is no reason not to believe and to think positively that this WILL be the case with your son or daughter, a normal life building relationships and achieving accomplishments.
I owe all these years of physical normality to the insightful decisions of my parents, and to my personal faith in a loving God whom I best understand through my relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I believe, and you must believe, that God, as you know and understand him to be, has a plan for you and your son or daughter who has been born with a CHD, and that His plan will unfold as he or she stands up physically and mentally to the health challenge of a CHD, and chooses to be its master, and not its victim.
How? The strength comes from within, your attitude and your "heart". I found my strength in faith, as well as in strong positive family relationships from parents, wife, children, and many others that have meant so much to me over the years. I confess to all of you that I have been blessed more than I could ever have imagined!
My prayer is that each of you who read this article may be able to share a similar experience, and be a support with your attitude and "heart", for others who are looking for hope and a future of promise. May it be so for you and yours!
October 2006 Update
Now four years later, all has continued very well since 2002, when this portrait was first published. I continue to be monitored annually to determine the progress of additional calcification of the aortic valve, but happily, now at the age of 56 years, no measurable progress of the disease appears to have occurred (as the cardiologist expected). I continue to run regularly, 10 to 15 miles a week, and to also engage in a regular strength training program. However, following my second marathon which I ran in December, 2004, my cardiologist did advise that it should be my last (I told him I would think about it!).
In addition to my still-active law practice, I have recently chosen to work with a start-up electricity company in Texas, known as Stream Energy, through its marketing arm, Ignite. This company has proven to be phenomenally successful, and is poised to move into other states after January 1, 2007. I mention this simply to say that I am continuing to pursue new and fresh challenges particularly by seeking additional ways that I may be able to impact the lives of people in positive and meaningful ways. The involvement with Ignite happens to be focused primarily on impacting people's lives in the financial arena of life, but just the wealth of new relationships, soon to expand all of this great country, is equally as rewarding.
God continues to bless me and my family in so many ways and I simply wanted to share these positive words with all of you who have chosen to read this bio and update.