If you follow my blog you have noticed that I have not posted many entries lately. It has been a pretty rough summer for me and I have been preoccupied with other matters.
For the last 10 years or so I have tried to climb at least one of Colorado’s 14ers each summer. This has motivated me to stay in pretty good shape all year, and to especially push my limits in the spring and early summer in preparation for my first climb of the year.
This year was no different. On the evening before my first planned 14er for the year I went about my making last-minute preparations. As I walked through a grocery store parking lot with the last items for the trip I suddenly got light-headed for a few seconds, then collapsed. Out of the blue I had a stroke. I lost control of my right arm and right leg.
I was lucky that there was a paramedic in the parking lot that night, so I had quick help. I ended up in the emergency room and ICU.
Fortunately, I quickly regained almost all control of my arm and leg. The event would have been classified as a transient ischemic attack, but an MRI showed infarction to the area on the left side of my brain that controls the right arm and leg.
During the next few weeks I had two more episodes leading to ambulance rides and hospital stays. It was a very frightening situation for me.
The stroke was classified a “cryptogenic,” meaning the cause was unknown. I am quite young to be a stroke victim. I was in good cardiovascular health, and did not have what are thought of as the usual risk factors for stroke. My blood pressure was fine. I do not have diabetes or high cholesterol. I am not overweight and do not smoke or drink.
The barrage of tests that followed revealed two things: a hole between the right and left sides of my heart, and a genetic mutation that can cause abnormal clotting in the veins. These two things can be bad enough alone, but could be extra deadly when combined.
The hole can divert de-oxygenated blood from the right side of the heart to the left side of the heart without becoming re-oxygenated by a trip through the lungs. It can also allow tiny clots in the veins to pass through and be sent to the brain or other organs. Even very small clots in the brain can have devastating effects.
Did this scenario lead to my stroke? Uncertain.
I have been treated by many doctors and have sought second opinions. Although hole in the heart and the genetic mutation are well established, there was not universal agreement that this combination led to my stroke. Some doctors recommended that the hole be surgically closed, others argued against it.
Another factor for me to consider was that some studies show that people with this type of hole in the heart have a much greater probability of being migraine sufferers, and that closing the hole can reduce (and sometimes eliminate) migraine frequency and/or intensity. I have suffered from migraines for decades.
At the advice of my cardiologist, I had surgery to repair the hole in the heart about three weeks ago. I am taking drugs to prevent further clotting. Recovery has come with some minor complications, but I am hoping to overcome them. I have suffered one migraine the first day after the operation – maybe due to the drugs that were administered during the surgery. But no migraines since then. I have high hopes but not necessarily high expectations.
I have received much support and good wishes from family and friends. My coworkers at NREL have been supportive and tolerant of my frequent absences and lapses over the last several months. Thank you to all of you.
I have been amazed by the quality of my medical care. Doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff have made every effort to diagnose my problems and help restore my health. They have listened, advised, always spent as much time as needed and often met with me on short notice. I feel fortunate to have had such good care.
But my greatest thanks goes to my wife, Ka-Yi, who has patiently shuttled me back and forth to a seemingly endless number of doctor visits, been by my side for a myriad of tests and endlessly supportive. I could not cope with this situation without her.