Monthly Archives: July 2013

Surgery Day Scheduled

thump thump

my heart

Whelp. It’s official. My Open Heart Surgery has been scheduled for MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH 2013. I chose the week of Thanksgiving break so that I can take off from work during the time in between Thanksgiving and winter break, then come back to work, ready to go after the New Year. This would minimize the number of days that I will be out.

When I was on the phone with my coordinator from the surgeon’s office, I asked about available days on the week of Thanksgiving. She replied with, “Yes, Monday the 25th, would you like me to schedule?….       sir?       hello?…” I couldn’t answer. I was thinking, is there maybe a better day? Would I rather it be after winter break? Is it better on a tuesday? My fear had my tongue. I realized that this surgery was going to happen and it didn’t matter when. Just get it over with.

“Yes, November 25th is fine, thanks.” I replied.

There. Done. Open heart surgery scheduled. Another stepping stone. Next step: My coordinator will ask my surgeon & cardiologist if they think I need an Angiogram. What’s that you say? An Angiogram is when they stick a tube into your heart from your groin to determine the size of bulges and blockages in arteries. So in case you were wondering the way to a man’s heart, in this case, it’s the groin. Cheers.


My Diagnosis & Workout Pages

I just wanted to let you all know that I added two new pages (clickable at the top bar on this page, below my picture).

1. DIAGNOSIS. This page explains my heart condition in a nutshell, and the surgery techniques that will be used to fix it.

2. WORKOUTS. This page is to document my workouts in chronological order using the Digifit app.

Monitoring BPM with Digifit


Yesterday I rode my bike to the climbing gym (Threshhold Climbing & Fitness) and then climbed at the gym, all the while monitoring my heart’s beats per minute (BPM). My goal is to keep my BPM under 150, even under 140 if possible. As you can tell, my heart rate spiked pretty high, but I was able to bring it down immediately. I think that soon I will have greater control over my heart rate.


I tried several apps with my bluetooth heart monitor, and ended up using Digifit on my IPhone. I like Digifit because it is highly customizable and has crisp graphs and graphics. Most importantly to me, I am able to create my own heart rate zones and enable the voice feedback feature to notify me when I enter these zones. For cycling, zone 1=130-140, zone 2=140-150, and so forth. For climbing, zone 1=140-150, zone 2=150-160, etc. I set my zones up in this way so that the voice feedback doesn’t bother me at lower heart rates, only when I am approaching or within my prescribed max zones.


Cycling Test: It was pretty hot for my bike ride, which made controlling my heart rate difficult. I also had a full stomach. If you look at the line graph, the biggest spike in BPM correlates with a big increase in elevation, thus a decrease in speed. As i kicked the bike into an easier gear and slowed down, my BPM quickly dropped to an acceptable level.  CLICK HERE FOR BIKE RIDE RESULTS

Climbing Test 1 (Lead Climbing): Lead sport climbing is climbing up a rock face and clipping your protection into pre drilled bolts as you climb up. This is typically more difficult and straining than top roping, which I am yet to test with my heart rate monitor. Lead climbing proved to really jack up my heart rate. This particular climb was only rated 5.9, yet it still sent my heart rate above 180 BPM. I may have to steer clear from this form of climbing for the next few months.                                                                    CLICK HERE FOR LEAD CLIMB RESULTS

Climbing Test 2 (Bouldering): I like Bouldering better anyway. Bouldering is climbing literally boulders without rope protection. Typically a boulderer will carry a ‘crash pad’ out and a friend to spot their landing to avoid injury. I had a much easier time controlling my heart rate during this short bouldering session. Boulder problems are rated and I usually max out at V6. I’ve only sent V7 a handful of times in the climbing gym. During this workout, you can clearly tell by my heart rate that I climbed 4 boulder problems. They were V1, V2, V3, V4 in that order. One important indicator that I’m doing an okay job here is to view the pie chart that presents the percentage of time spent in each zone. I only spend 3% of my time in the 150-160BPM zone. I believe that just like with cycling, soon I will have better control over my heart rate as I practice my breathing methods and body control.              CLICK HERE FOR BOULDERING RESULTS

Why is this important? Do I really need to obsess over this? This is empowering me to stay at my current fitness level without putting myself at risk for aortic dissection or rupture. I want to go into this surgery as fit and strong as possible, so that my recovery can be swift.

In other news, I went to the dentist yesterday to get my mouth ‘cleared’ of infection, cavities etc. Mouth infections can easily infect a defective heart valve, which would be a big risk before, during, and after a surgery. The surgeon requires a dentist to take X-rays and inspect the mouth. Luckily, despite my 3 year dentist visit abstinence (yikes) my dentist did not see any cavities/ infection and cleared me for surgery. This means that soon I will have a surgery date.

Also, a HUGE shout out to all of my friends, especially in this case my climbing friends who poured over their support for me! I would especially like to thank young Kristen and her dad Jess. Kristen has a similar heart issue as me and said she was climbing in yesterday’s climbing competition for me! Cheers!


Fear or: The Waiting Room

Wherever I read about receiving heart surgery, the people who have gone through it always say the same thing; the hardest part is waiting, and life is better on the other side. Trusting these individuals can make things easier, however this is a hard thing to do. I’ve never met anyone in my situation outside of the Internet. They are correct though. The time leading up to surgery, nicknamed ‘The Waiting Room’, is a scary place. But what am I afraid of? The data is on my side. Science, technology, and the experience of my doctors and surgeons are behind me. So what is the fear? The fear is of the unknown. I am nervous about the pain of course, about being weak, and all that. But I am afraid most of what I don’t know. It is hard to feel out of control. I must place my life and my trust into the hands (LITERALLY) of another human being. He will be a pilot, and I will be a sleeping passenger…
HOOOKAY, that was dramatic. Glad I got that out of my system!
Good news to report: I’ve been cycling with my heart rate monitor on, and it is quite easy for me to ride as much as I want while keeping my BPM well under 140. I rode 25 miles the other day while averaging 122 BPM. I peaked at 140 exactly and was able to slow down and bring it immediately down while going up a big hill. When I get the hang of my workout app Digifit, I will post results.

P.S. since I created this blog, I have received many messages of support and love from my family, friends, and strangers. Thank you all so much. People like this matter:



Let’s start of with a little background on how this all began. When I was a child, my pediatrician heard a heart murmur in my chest. He referred me to a specialist, and after some imaging, I was diagnosed with Bicuspid Aortic Valve (BAV). I went back every 4 years for checkups and until recently I was always told that I would be over 50 years old when I would need surgery, if I needed it at all. I’ve been secretly hoping for advances in human organ teleportation technologies, but alas we are many years off on that one. I lived my life with little anxiety about it. I went to college and got a job. I moved to California from New Jersey and got different jobs. I became a teacher and finally got health insurance. I went back to the cardiologist, who told me that my heart condition got worse and that I would need surgery in 2-5 years.

That was 2011. I kept doing my thing. I continued to rock climb as hard as I could. I love bouldering and sport climbing. More to come on that soon. I bought a new road bike (Cannondale Supersix) and rode hard. I tend to push myself. I went back to my Doctor every 6 months and my stomach would be in a twist until I heard from her after each echocardiogram. Each time, everything remained stable. Until last month. I received a CT scan for the first time. CT scans are better at revealing Aortic Aneurysms than echocardiograms. The scan revealed that I have a 4.6 cm Ascending Aortic Aneurysm. This is commonly associated with BAV, or can exist by itself. When a person with BAV also has a Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm, it is usually time to operate. Too many risks at once. I met with a surgeon to see what he thought. He told me that it was up to me, but if it were him, he would get it ASAP.   This is a video of me when I found out that I needed Heart Surgery:                                                                 

So here I am. The wheels are in motion. Things are happening. This is actually going to happen. It is no longer a dark thundercloud in the distance. The surgery will happen soon. The thing that I have been wishing away will be coming, soon. SOON.


My surgeon told me to keep my heart rate down in the meantime. I bought a heart rate monitor and intend to continue exercise to my heart’s content. It will be a challenge to rock climb and attack big hills on my bike while keeping my BPM under 150. I’ve been using a cool app called Digifit, which is highly customizable. I can do this. After the surgery, I will climb hard again.  I will not allow this to change my lifestyle. Soon I will post my goals and intentions.

What’s on the horizon? I have to get to the dentist to clear my mouth of any possible cavities (mouth bacteria can infect the heart valves under stress before & after surgery). I am continuing my exercise routine with some caution. A new school year is coming soon. I gotta start planning!

I hope you join me for this ride.