Thursday, November 13, 2014

From Death to Life in Five Days

Tuesday, November 4, 2014, my husband, Bob, entered the hospital for surgery to replace the mitral valve in his heart. We knew it would not be a routine valve replacement because this would be the second time surgeons would cut through his sternum (breastbone). Fourteen years ago he had had a triple coronary artery bypass (which I wrote about in my two previous posts).

Going in for his biannual check up with his cardiologist early this summer, Bob was so proud of his excellent lab reports. They'd never been better since his triple-bypass surgery in 2000. He'd walked an hour every day, had learned to enjoy his mostly salt-free, sugar-free, and low fat diet, and had lost over 100 pounds. His Type-2 diabetes and chronic congestive heart failure were under control, although he did experience periods of breathlessness. But the left side of his heart had been severely damaged by insufficient oxygen prior to his bypass surgery.

"We need to consider a mitral valve replacement. I want you to see Dr. Sarabu." With those words, his cardiologist popped Bob's bubble.

We had met Dr. Mohan Sarabu, when a parishioner had had bypass surgery a few years earlier. Not only does he have a wonderful bedside manner, but all the nurses say he is just as good to them too. He is New York State's leading cardiothoracic surgeon, rated "Top Doctor" in the NY Metro Area every year since 2000, and practices at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, in the Hudson Valley just north of where we live. The hospital has been rated in the top five percent in the nation for cardiac surgery since 2009. Bob had been one of the first bypass surgeries done there.

"The pericardium, the sac around the heart, was not closed after the first surgery," Dr. Sarabu told us as we discussed the procedure. "For that reason, there will be scar tissue, and the heart is mostly likely adhered to the chest wall and will have to be peeled away before I can access the heart itself. That can cause excessive bleeding."

We gulped. "What if I don't have the surgery?" Bob asked.

"Your condition will continue to deteriorate. Your heart will continue to enlarge. We can't predict how much time you will have, but it is better to have the surgery now before your condition becomes critical."

We took our time coming to a decision. We had confidence in Bob's cardiologist, Dr. Louis Kantaros, and Dr. Sarabu. But most importantly, we knew God was in control.

Once the date was set, I began to rehearse in my mind all the possible outcomes and fear besieged me--until I remembered the lesson God had taught me during Bob's previous surgery: rebuke your fear in the name of Jesus. When I am fearful, I will trust in God. Better yet, if I trust in God, I will not be afraid. Just blogging about that experience reinforced that message. Even throughout the seven-hour procedure, I felt the peace of God.

Bob came through the surgery well. During recovery, we asked questions about the procedure.

"The heart is normally just slightly to the left of center," Dr. Sarabu explained, "but there was so much scar tissue we couldn't find the heart at first. It was way to the left. The heart was so adhered to the chest wall that we only separated what was necessary to access the mitral valve. With the new valve the heart has a good chance of shrinking back to a more normal size."

In open heart surgery, they not only put you on the heart-lung bypass machine and shut off your heart, in the words of one nurse, "they shut down your body." Tubes and wires are inserted everywhere. Every bodily function is monitored and controlled from the outside. I don't think you can be closer to death. They spend the next five days gradually weaning you off all of those wires, drainage tubes, IVs, etc., until your body is functioning on its own and you can sit, stand, and walk without assistance.

By Saturday, Bob was set free from the last "attachments." On Monday, just six days after surgery, he came home to complete his recovery.

From death to life in five days!


  1. Wow. "Rebuke your fear in the name of Jesus." What a life lesson from such a near-death moment. Praise God for Bob's return to health.

    And I thank God for our friendship.

  2. Rebuke is a word Jesus used in the King James version of the Bible, used frequently in prayer by early Pentecostals such as my Personeus grandparents, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, 1917-1982. It carries so much authority! I enjoy being friends with you too.