Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Dad's Heart: An Update for Friends and Family

As many of you may or may not be aware, my Dad has been in the hospital for the last couple days, due to a very recent diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure.  We're aware that many of our friends and family are very concerned for him and are eager to know how he's doing.  So this will be an update from the very beginning to now - and I'll continue to update my blog if/when there's any more information.  If you don't have time to read the entire post, you can find his current condition at the very end in bold.

Last Friday my Dad woke up and noticed he was having a much harder time breathing than he normally does.  With a family history of Asthma, we figured that was probably the problem.  He tried an Albuterol inhaler, and it seemed to make his symptoms a lot better. The next day, my family was scheduled to clean the church, and even with the inhaler, he was still having a really hard time breathing.  Even though he was having a really hard time, he continued cleaning, because he knew he could use the extra blessings.

By Tuesday, it was evident that he needed to be seen by a doctor.  His own doctor couldn't see him until later that afternoon, so he got an appointment with a different doctor that would be available within 45 minutes.  They did a chest X-ray to check for fluid in his lungs and an EKG to check on his heart function.  They returned, and reported that my Dad had a small amount of fluid in his lungs, and his oxygen saturation was at 96% - at which point they were able to rule out Asthma.  The doctor went on to say that there were also abnormalities on his EKG and that he needed to see a cardiologist.  They didn't say much beyond that, which left my parents a little confused at what the problem actually was.

They were able to get an appointment with the cardiologist for a stress test and an Echo for a few days later, on Thursday.  They performed the Echo first, and confirmed a left bundle branch blockage (LBBB) in his heart.  Because he had the blockage, they were unable to perform the stress test due to safety and health concerns.  So instead of doing the stress test on the treadmill, they gave him what was virtually "liquid exercise" via  IV. (How do I get my hands on that?!)  and performed a CT scan so they could see what was going on more clearly. 

Before the CT scan, the cardiologist made it a point to tell my parents to make sure that they came and talked to him after the scan was complete.  When they went in to talk to him, he informed them that my Dad had Congestive Heart Failure and there was extensive damage to his heart.  He reccommended that my dad get an Angiogram that same day and that they would probably place a stent in his heart.  At this point we were all getting understandably a little freaked out.  My mom asked the nurse if we should be worried, and she flippantly said, "No, don't worry.  But don't let him drive and don't let him walk across the parking lot." 

The first cardiologist they saw was more for diagnosis - he referred my Dad to a different cardiologist at a different hospital.  They performed the Angiogram there, and afterwards calmly let my parents know that they didn't end up placing a stent, and then proceeded to tell them that they would have to perform a triple bypass open heart surgery and transfer him into the Cardiac ICU.  Beyond that, they hadn't given my parents much more information, and told them that the surgeon woiuld be in to tell them about the triple bypass.

10 enormously long hours later, the surgeon (Dr. Bill Caine) finally came in to talk to my parents.  He let them know that Dad has had several "silent heart attacks" (which are basically symptomless heart attacks - who knew?  So now instead of worrying about normal heart attacks, we have to worry about the sneaky ones too.  Awesome, right?)  He also had an aneurism (blod clot) in his heart, which was headed straight to a major artery called "The Widow Maker" - which is just as morose as it sounds.  They continued to talk for another hour about the risks and benefits of the surgery he would have, and let them know we should plan on the surgery taking 5-6 hours.  Afterwards, my Dad had the pleasure of experiencing his first manscape - which is a whole other amusing story for another day.

The following morning we went to visit him before his surgery.  He was obviously scared, but putting on a brave face for his family.  Like all of us, his emotions were very close to the surface, but he felt like everything would be okay.  He continued to crack jokes all morning, because apparently that's the prominent coping mechanism we use in the Chamberlain family.  If you're not laughing, you're sobbing.  He told us that when the nurse let him know they'd be putting dressing on his wrists, he said, "Yes, I'll take Thousand Island, please."  And when I brought up his "silent heart attacks", he said, "Shhhhh.  They're silent."  He had great spirits considering how scary of a situation he was in.

They finally wheeled him off to surgery, and was fully sedated by 8:15am.  They let us know the surgery should be complete by 3ish that afternoon.  We, along with everyone else and their dog, waited patiently for more information on how the surgery was going.  Mom finally got a call from the surgeon himself a couple hours later saying that they hadn't actually started the surgery yet because they weren't able to find any usable veins in his legs like they normally would have.  My Mom immediately asked if she could donate her veins, and he said that that wasn't an option, because (apparently) it's always better to use your own veins - and they needed something that would last.  He let her know that they'd need  to get an artery from his right arm, and my Mom was concerned that it would affect his artwork, to which the doctor responded, "At this point, it's life or death.  We need to use something."  So then we had to wait for them to hopefully be able to get a useable artery from his arm.

The surgery was delayed 4 hours, due to the complications of finding a vein/artery that would support the bypass and be long-lasting.  They finally called and let us know that they were able to harvest enough veins to perform a double bypass - although he needed a triple.  They assured us that the collateral circulation would compensate for what they wouldn't be able to bypass.  They also let us know that he was intubated and on the heart-lung machine that would take the place of his heart during the surgery.  Nothing is more freaky and scary than knowing your Dad's heart has temporarily stopped beating.

Just when I thought a blood pregnancy test was the most suspensful thing in my entire life, that quickly changed as we all waited to hear how how my Dad was doing.  The mortality rate for these surgeries is normally about 2%, for my Dad it was 5%.  And although the chances of him surviving very much outweighed the chances of him not, we all couldn't get the ominous 5% out of our mind.  It was difficult not to go there.  Longest. Wait. Ever.

The next call we received was that his heart was beating on his own, without the use of the heart-lung machine - which was great news.  However his heart was only functioning at 10% (15% less than what it was before his surgery).  A normal person's heart functions at 60%, so he obviously needed a little help.  They inserted a balloon pump in his groin that threaded up to his heart, similar to the angiogram that they had done the day before.  The pump compensated for what his heart couldn't do on his own.  The day of his surgery, the pump helped with every beat of his heart.  Today it's helping with every other beat, and they will continue to wean him until his heart can function independently.  Along with the pump, he also has the aid of a temporary pace maker, and four different medications being administered via IV to help his heart function. 

They were able to reconnect his chest-bone via surgical wires, which was the last hurdle inside the surgery he had to get over.  The fact that his heart is so enlarged, made that a potential difficulty.  But we all know my Dad has a big heart, right?  The surgeon finally came and talked to my Mom about the surgery.  He told her that this bypass, of the thousands that he has performed, was in the top 5 most difficult he's ever done.  He continued to tell her the extent of his heart damage, which was, and still is, extremely extensive.  He had known it would be bad, but it was much worse than he had expected.  He also let her know that during the surgery, they discovered a hole in his heart that he had been born with which is a pathway to his brain.  In his younger 20s, my Dad had what we now know was a mini-stroke (TIA) due to that same hole in his heart, and that mini-stroke exacerbated the hole.  They were able to correct this hole during the surgery, to prevent any more complications in the future.

Which brings us to today.  All in all, Dad is thankfully doing well for the most part.  He's in stable, but critical condition in the Thoracic ICU.  He's still very heavily sedated.  They dialed the sedation down a bit earlier today, to see if he would respond to commands, which he did.  They dialed it back up for his own comfort and healing.  He's still using the balloon pump, the pace maker, and various IV medications.  He's also having to deal with pressure ulcers (bedsores), due to the length of the surgery.  Because of all the meds and sedation, he isn't responding well to external stimuli quite yet.  He's a fighter, and is taking baby steps towards recovery - and eventually will be moved to a regular care floor, which will be the best time to visit him.  He has a long road in front of him, and it's important for him to take this time to recover.  He's expected to be in the hospital for another 7-10 days from now. 

We were able to talk to Christian in the mission field today, and he's aware of what is going on.  Our family has literally felt and been sustained by the prayers of all those praying for my Dad, and we'd like to say thank you.  We sincerely appreciate every meal, every dish washed, every single person that has called to express concern and make sure our Dad and the rest of my family is okay.  Going from Asthma to open heart surgery in a matter of hours has been quite the adventure.  We have felt a very special Spirit as we've gone through this together.  We're very aware of the Lord's tender mercies, and are confident that the Lord has our best interest in mind, and that ultimately, everything will be okay. 

If you're wondering what you can do to help my family, prayers are the most helpful.  You can never have enough of those.  And you know, if you feel like going the extra mile, my parents have a few weeds that need pulling.  ;)

Thanks again for all your concern.  We hope we've answered any questions you may have, if not, leave a comment and let us know.  Keep in mind that at this point, no news is good news - but we'll keep you posted.


  1. bless your heart... and your dad's, and your entire family's hearts.

    we just went through something very similar with my father not too long ago and it is a very humbling and frightening experience!

    i will keep you all in my prayers

  2. Thanks for keeping us updated, Chelsea. I appreciate you letting us "gawk" into your blog for your Mom's sake. Tell her I love her very much. Norma Chaffin

  3. sweetest picture ever :) prayers are coming your way! Give your mom a big hug from me tomorrow what a horrible mothers day for her. Hopefully she will know how many of us moms are thinking of her.

  4. Thanks for your update. You are a great writer, I laughed and cried all at the same time. We are sending many prayers your way.

  5. Thanks for the update…I guess this makes us all more aware of the good yet mortal hearts passed on down from Dorothy & Ellsworth!
    Thanks for keeping us in the know. Clark will have our prayers!

  6. Thanks for the update, and Clark, my favorite cousin artist, will be in our prayers…I guess this makes us all more aware of the good yet mortal hearts passed on down from Dorothy & Ellsworth! Thanks for keeping us in the know. Clark: you're in our prayers!

  7. Thinking of your family. You are right---you dad does have a big, kind heart.

  8. Think of all of us praying and fasting for our cousin. We love you, Clark... hang in there and keep fighting!