A boy born to unknown futures
I was so tiny, my first bed was a dresser drawer; my size though was a red flag to bigger concerns.
At 6:55 a.m. on August 25th, 1961 in Albany, OR. my parents heard me for the first time. The joy filled smiles that greet every parent, were present on their faces as well. For them, I was round two, my big brother arrived 2 years earlier. My Apgar score was alright but not high enough to get me into anything ivy league; then mom and dad found out why.
A few weeks later during examination, our local pediatrician heard some cardiac irregularities and referred me to OHSU, Doernbecher for further observation. That is where I first met Dr. Victor Menashe, pediatric cardiologist, who would later become a lifelong friend, my physician emeritus and savior; though he is much too humble to accept the later. (center image black/white)
The pediatric cardiology team tested, talked and tested more, then delivered the unsettling news to mom and dad about my condition. This wasn’t a complete surprise to mom and dad since they had a hard time keeping me awake since my birth. My pediatrician at the time advised them to lightly slap the bottom of my feet to keep me awake long enough to eat a little something; it worked, kind of. With that in mind, they knew something was amiss.
I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, with an enlarged heart and tachycardia, a pan-systolic murmur and a palpable liver. After yet further examination and testing it was determined that I was suffering from coarctation of the aorta, right ventricular hypertrophy and aortic stenosis. In layman’s terms this meant that I had an enlarged heart, a defective aortic valve and a narrowing in my aorta the shape of an hourglass; conditions that also put a strain on my liver. I was then referred to OHSU’s Crippled Children’s Division Congenital Heart Clinic for follow up and treatment. These teams of physicians made an unseemly treacherous journey for mom and dad much more palatable; not to mention their extreme skills at helping mainstream this young boy with unsure futures.
Corrective surgery lay ahead for me, however, leaps in newborn cardiac surgery in 1961 were not as advanced as they are today; time would be needed to allow for some growth in order to have, what would later turn out to be, 4 open-heart surgeries. Cardiologist sent me home with a prescription for digoxin to slow my heart, and patience for mom and dad. The advice given them for the first year of my life; check his bed each morning and see if he is still alive. Further, they suggested if anything were to happen in the night, mom and dad would never get me to the hospital fast enough. The courage of a parent is undeniable.
On my third birthday entered OHSU’s Dr. Albert Starr, (top row) world renowned cardiac surgeon and co-inventor with Lowell Edwards (not pictured), of the artificial heart valve. Over time he would perform all 4 of my open-heart surgeries; the first at age 3, second at age 5, third at age 13 and the final at age 24 when he implanted his invention, the Starr-Edwards Silastic Aortic Ball Valve pictured; that was 35 years ago.
I remember that presurgical meeting with Dr. Starr, my wife and parents, regarding my 4th surgery. Up until this surgery, I always sat behind mom and dad while they took up seats across the desk from Dr. Starr, where they would make decisions and selections from the surgical options Dr. Starr presented. This time was different. He told Mary Ellen (my wife) and I to sit up front and for mom and dad to take up seats behind. As an adult, the decisions moving forward, would rest squarely on our two shoulders. I always wanted to call the shots in my own mortal destiny; that goal was now abruptly upon me.
Advance 25 years. Before I retired from my medical architecture career, I had the privilege of working on several buildings at OHSU. I am blessed with the unique vision of seeing the OHSU campus from two perspectives; one from extending professional services, and the other receiving care as a patient; (even to receiving care in the ER I helped redesign) it has definitely made me a better person and given me a unique pair of glasses to witness life through.
The care I have received at OHSU has been exemplary, from office visits through surgery and recovery, have all been nothing short of outstanding; 58 consecutive years and counting. This holds true even for the 13 individual times I have been electro-cardioverted at OHSU over a 12-year period due to arrythmias; often prevalent in patients with congenital heart disease and patients who have had numerous open-heart surgeries. Even after I suffered a cardiac arrest and was gone for 26 minutes, the collaborative efforts between Legacy Good Sam and OHSU, on my behalf, were stellar.
A constant through my life from adolescence into adult hood, has been the care and professionalism I have received from Dr. Victor Menashe at OHSU, a real patient advocate. I don’t know what I would have done had this confidant not been part of my life. I still see him from time to time on my annual visits, as I am followed there through the adult cardiac life study program.
Dr. Craig Broberg, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at OHSU (pictured lower right), has taken the reigns and has quickly become a friend and a revered cardiologist to many, including me and my family.
It’s said that there is often a strong affinity between physician and patient, I agree for I am still experiencing it. Little did I know that 55 years after my diagnosis I would be writing in the first of my 3 books, and speaking from stage, about the journey the young Albert Starr would embark upon and how he would profoundly influence the life of this patient.
Upper right is a picture of both of us, one a youth and one a toddler, though generations apart. The young man on the left, grew up and became a world-renowned cardiac surgeon and inventor, and the boy on the right grew up and is writing this story. The other picture (upper left) was taken of us together at Dr. Starr’s ‘50 Years of Saving Lives’ celebration, where we were interviewed together; surgeon and patient and the future of both.
The care I have received throughout my life at OHSU, someone with numerous congenital cardiac conditions, I believe has not only saved my life but has allowed me to thrive as a son, in a career, as a husband and father. I am blessed to even be here. I owe much to ‘the hill’, those who inhabit it, extend their commitments, sweat, sacrifice and talents…all for the sake of those they serve.
I am indeed humbled and grateful.