"The Poor Little Sick Kid"

The recent check-up with my cardiologist was upsetting: the mitral valve he’s been watching for years is now “severe mitral regurgitation” and will need attention.
“What kind of attention?” I asked him.
“Surgery. Open heart surgery.”
I was stunned. “You’re kidding. A third open-heart surgery? I’m 73. I’m not the Six Million Dollar Man.”

Stable

My heart has been stable for over a decade if compromised with coronary artery disease and AFib. Two open-heart surgeries to correct a congenital ASD—the first, age 12, in 1959, one of the earliest in the country, the second forty-two years later—were successful. I’m asymptomatic and, as of this year, I go to the gym twice a week, and see a personal trainer once.

When it all started

I knew I was sick from the time I was five. It wasn’t so much because I bordered on being a blue baby, or that I was frail and at times out of breath, though that was why the kids up the street wouldn’t include me in their baseball games. It wasn’t because of my parents’ caution to “Take it easy!” No, it was all those visits to the heart doctor beginning in 1952 before Babies Hospital at Columbia-Presbyterian was equipped to perform groundbreaking open heart surgery —crack open my chest, pull apart my ribcage, yank out my heart, attach it to the experimental heart-lung machine—to close a hole the size of a dime.

"Poor little sick kid"

In June 1959, I entered Babies Hospital and, over a long summer, uncertainty, fear and loneliness took hold as I wrapped myself in the image of “the poor little sick kid” that would shape my life for decades.

As I write this, the senior cardiac surgical teams at the academic medical centers of Yale and Columbia Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center are evaluating my prospects for surgery.

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