I Have a Heart Murmur

And so, we begin our journey together, from slight murmur to severe; from internist to cardiologist; from medication to tests; and from surgery to rehabilitation and recuperation.
11/25/2013 05:27 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

As you can tell by the title, this post and this blog will be about my ongoing experiences with the diagnosis and treatment, and in the future, the surgery for my severe aortic valve regurgitation (heart murmur).

I am writing this for a very simple reason. There is too much "medical" information on the Internet, and thus, not enough. What I mean by that is that if you search "heart murmur" or "aortic valve regurgitation," you will find tons of great information, the best of which comes from medical groups or hospitals, like the Mayo Clinic or the the Cleveland Clinic or the place where I received my online "medical degree," WebMD.

So, you ask, "What's missing?" Glad you asked. While most of these web sites do a great job of translating medical jargon into understandable English (or Spanish or French or whatever suits you), they are still written from a doctor's perspective: what is going on clinically in your heart. It's great to know that you will be given an echocardiogram. But, how long does it take? Does it hurt? Do you have to undress? Sure, if you dig deep enough and click through enough links, you might find some of the answers. What I hope to do, by sharing my personal voyage down this road, is give to you, in one place, the information that I wanted to have.

Since this is the first installment, let me tell you a little about me and how I started this journey. Subsequent posts will discuss my doctor visits over the past seven years (when I was first diagnosed) -- first with my internist and the last three years with my cardiologist. I expect that within the next 12 to 24 months I will have the valve replaced, and that's when the real fun begins, with sharing my experiences through surgery, hospital stay and rehabilitation/recovery.

For those readers who are closer to surgery time, please don't wish me ill by hoping that my procedure gets moved up. Before we go on, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am not a doctor. I am not giving medical advice. I am a patient, writing as a patient, for other patients.

I am a 64-year-old white Jewish male. I was born into a middle-class family in Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago, and moved to Atlanta when I was 3. I was always "heavy," "zoftig," "fat," "chubby" or "big," depending on who was describing me. But, I was always a pretty good athlete Let's put it this way, when I went to summer camp my parents would pay my counselors a bonus for every pound that I lost while at camp. (I know that today this would be considered child abuse, but it wasn't.)

I played some football and was a "weight man" on the track team, meaning that I threw the shot, discus and javelin. I continued those track events in college, at Tulane, by which time I was up to about 240 pounds. I did normal college stuff. I drank too much, I smoked too much and I smoked too much. In 1969, I transferred from Tulane to Georgia State, and, in the process, the draft board mistakenly reclassified me from 2S (student deferment) to 1A (take me now). I was called for an Army physical, and hearing that you could flunk for overweight, I really ate for two weeks and weighed in at 249. Much to the chagrin of the Army doctor (he said he could get my fat a-- into shape), I flunked and was classified 1Y (take me in an emergency). The next year brought the first draft lottery, and I got a high number, so, that was that.

By 1980, when my son was born, we were living in Detroit. I weighted 279 pounds, my all-time high, and I smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day. But, I still though of myself as healthy, and played a pretty mean game of tennis. Then my wife started running, and then I started running, and to make a long story short(er), by the next year I was down to 225 and ran my first marathon. I was still smoking, and even lit one up right before the marathon. Then I quit smoking and became addicted to running, once going 3.5 years without missing a day. The streak ended when I stepped in a hole and sprained my ankle. So what if it was 4 a.m. and I was running before catching a flight? My weight dropped to 180 and I was in great health. When I took a stress test, I went through the entire 21-minute protocol on the treadmill without maxing out my heart rate.

Over the next several years I kept my weight relatively stable and ran as much as 75 miles a week, with several marathons. Then, 12 years ago I started to have hip pain, and 10 years ago I had my left hip replaced. I made a quick recovery and although I don't run much anymore, I still do about three hours of cardio every day (elliptical, biking and walking) and two weight workouts a week. Then, about seven years ago, during an annual physical, my internist said he heard a very slight heart murmur that he hadn't heard before. It was so slight that he was proud of himself for hearing it. I didn't give it a second thought. I mean, it was just a "murmur."

And so, we begin our journey together, from slight murmur to severe; from internist to cardiologist; from medication to tests; and from surgery to rehabilitation and recuperation. Today has been mostly about me. Future posts will be about sharing my experiences so that you will know what to expect. I can't cure your heart, but maybe I can lower your blood pressure.