On January 13, 1965 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Minneapolis Minnesota, I was a participant in an experiment. I was seven years old and did not have the first idea about what was really taking place.
I was born with a hole in my heart. A congenital defect of the lower left ventricle of my heart. I didn’t know any different. I didn’t realize that I was sick or affected in any way by the heart I’d been born with. I knew I went to the doctor sometimes. But so did my little sister and brother.
It wasn’t until one cold, dark, early January morning that my parents loaded me up in the car. No school for me today. We drove and drove for a long time. Then we walked into a big hospital. My grandma and grandpa were there, and my grandmother and Auntie Nancy. That’s when I knew something big was about to happen. My grandfather was a doctor, grandmother a nurse, my mom a nurse and Auntie Nancy too.
A nurse came in and then three doctors. Dr. Lund, Dr Grismer and Dr Raab. They each listened to my heart. They wanted me to listen through the stethoscope too. But all of a sudden I was afraid. Even at seven years old, if you have three doctors listening to your heart in the wee hours of the morning……. something is not right. Dr Raab said my heart sounded like a flat tire. But they were going to fix it.
My mom and the doctors left the room. My grandmother came and sat by me. She told me that I needed to have an operation. That the doctor would give me some medicine and I would fall asleep. And when I woke up my heart would be all better and I would have a ‘zipper’ on my chest. That’s all I knew at the time. I suppose that’s all I needed to know.
If I had known the rest of the story… I would have been afraid.
The facts: I would be the second child to undergo an experimental heart surgery. I was given a 30% survival rate. Without the surgery, it would have been just a matter of time before my heart became unable to continue. The odds clearly were not in my favor.
The bank my dad worked at had to fight the insurance company for approval of the surgery. The bank president went so far as to threaten to end their business with the insurance company if they declined it. My neighbor Marv Hamrick donated blood through the Red Cross to be used during the surgery. There were people I didn’t even know helping and fighting for me.
The surgery went off with flying colors. The cardiac surgeon stayed overnight in the next room just in case something went wrong. It didn’t. He slept all night.
I’ve been grateful for the courage that the doctors, family, friends and neighbors all held onto in order for the surgery to take place. Even though the odds weren’t in my favor from the start… apparently 30% was all that was needed.
I’ve been physically healthy ever since that surgery. Something to be very grateful for. I’ve been able to live my life fully without restriction. Celebrating 30%!