My name is Andrew Lange and I joined the "zipper club" on October 1, 1994. I write this hoping to help any recent inductees into this exclusive club of ours.
On the early afternoon of September 30, 1994 I was working as usual at my desk when I experienced a very intense pain in my head. I thought I was merely having a stressful day and waited for the pain to cease. This did not happen; actually it felt like the vise was being squeezed tighter around my skull. Not only that but I felt a tightening in my chest which started out as a pain and eventually felt like a gorilla had taken up residence on top of my ribs.
Even at this point I down-played the whole event, because as a healthy, athletic 28 year old, there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with me. I decided I should take a walk to the first aid station in the building in which I work and lie down until this passes. As I walked to the aid station the pain got considerably worse and I just wanted to sit down in the hall and rest. Luckily a colleague came along and asked how I was doing; I told him I thought I was having a heart attack. He began to laugh until he saw the panic in my eyes. . .
The paramedics arrived and gave me an inhalant of nitroglycerin, which they said is a standard practice for suspected heart attack victims. Since they could not find anything wrong with me and since I was relatively young with no family history of heart trouble they were not overly concerned. I was taken to the nearby hospital, however, due to work regulations. As it turns out the bureaucratic rules of a large corporation might very well have saved my life.
At Hospital Number One my physician was contacted. Since he is also my father-in-law he raced to the scene. At this point the pain both in my head and in my chest had disappeared, and I was feeling pretty embarrassed about the whole affair (particularly since they wheeled me out of work on a stretcher). It was only a nurse took my blood pressure from my left arm that it was found that my readings were different from the other arm.
My father in law arrived and had me transferred to a different hospital where he is on staff. My wife was called to meet us there. Luckily at Hospital Number Two the entire staff was having a meeting so I had my pick of medical team. Still, at this point, we were all pretty much "up-beat" about what was going on, as I felt fine, and I was young and invincible.
I was thinking about where we would eat dinner that night and how I would put a positive spin on this event at work when our world came crashing down when my newly introduced cardiologist, Dr. Patel, asked one the worst question ever asked of me: "Has anyone ever told you that you have a heart murmur." You must be kidding! I had served for seven years in the Army, some of which as a paratrooper, and as such had regular physical exams. I was active in sports (soccer, running) and generally felt fine.
I was transferred to Hospital Number Three where they wanted to conduct further tests including an ultrasound. Well, you would not be reading this if they had not found a problem with my heart. Indeed, they found that I was having an aneurysm in my aortic artery. During the brilliant surgery performed by Dr. Fanning, it was determined that the damage sustained to my aortic valve was such to warrant replacement with a prosthetic valve.
I had some sort of an infection after surgery which the specialists could not put their finger on. Consequently, my stay in the hospital was extended by one week, I had the oddest color stool, and the poor nurses had to change my wet sheets every two hours due to continual sweating. The infection left my body (although I still have night sweats from time to time) and I rehabilitated at home for about one month.
It's been more than three and one half years since that night. I now take Coumadin every night, get my blood checked every so often, and do not eat food with vitamin K, and I found out the hard way that contact sports were no longer an option. Other than that our lives are normal; "normal" in my family's case includes thanking God every day for one more day. Every one thinks I had a tough time of it. I reply that I had the easy job of merely lying there; it was my wife and family who had the difficult time of waiting and praying that I would survive.
Most of the other messages on this excellent web site focus on the patient as I have above. By writing this we hope that loved ones of the "club members" can articulate their fears and questions to one another, thereby gaining the therapy of sharing their thoughts. Our family has been blessed with strangers spending their time helping us understand what we went through and what we might expect in the future. We would be willing to dialog with anyone out there with questions.