In 2007, my cell phone rings as I’m running & coaching my client and good friend Dan Dague 9x up a hill. It rings 2 more times and I answer it seeing it’s from my husband Scott calling multiply times. He’s crying on the other end of the line and said, “I need open heart surgery. The radiologist just called with results to my MRI and I have an 8cm Aneurysm the size of a Naval Orange next to my heart!” My stomach drops and I said, “I’ll be right home.”
I’ve never been sick the only doctor I had seen in California was my OBGYN to deliver our son Matthew who was 3 years old at the time. Scott had just raced in a triathlon 2 weeks prior and was going to climb Palomar an 8000 foot Mountain tomorrow on his bike! He was only 43 years old and a fit triathlete. He had back pain for the last 6 months, but chiropractors said it was from carrying a heavy suitcase and the travel of driving and flying so much. Another Doctor was giving him injections in a 25 year old scar that he thought was the cause of Scott’s pain from nerve damage. They were both wrong and not helping with any of Scott’s pain or discomfort. So Scott demanded an MRI thinking he had cancer. He didn’t have cancer but he had a broken rib from the 8mm Aneurysm pressing on his chest cavity and dangerously big that if it “popped” Scott would instantly die.
In High School Scott discovered that his feet were going numb. It was due to a narrow heart valve that wasn’t getting blood to the lower half of his body properly. So at the age of 17 Scott had his first open heart surgery to repair a valve that never grew properly from birth (coarctation of the aorta). He was told to stop running and never play football again. Years later, Scott got back to running and did the California Ironman in 2000 defying what the doctors said he could never do. 25 years later his original heart surgery leaked causing this huge aneurysm. No doctor had ever seen such a case or had any experience.
A new client of mine, Cathy Zoc happened to call while driving to meet with one of three Doctors who wanted to help Scott and do the surgery. I knew Cathy was a nurse and asked if she had a Cardiologist she could recommend. Faith was on our side, she said, “My husband Chris Elia was a top Cardiac Surgeon for 25 years and went to school at Stanford.” Still connected with the world of doctors Chris called the hospital and had them send the MRI tests and results to his house. He advised us to get the surgery in Stanford. The hospital didn’t have any surgical rooms available, but we said we’ll stay until one becomes available. We drove up the coast to Pacific Grove for one night because it was our 6 year wedding anniversary. Very weird timing and eerie because this is where Scott had proposed. I couldn’t sleep because my motherly instincts like having a new born baby was to constantly check and make sure my husband was still breathing and his chest rising in his sleep. Only God could comfort me in this darkness and insecure unknown space and time.
The next morning the sky was grey with clouds. We were heading to a restaurant to eat. My cell phone rang. The hospital found a surgical room for tomorrow morning at 6am! I hung up and the sky was vibrant blue and the sun shining down upon us. It was a sign of hope, relief and love from above. The surgery took 8 hours. I thought an Ironman was grueling to endure for 10 hours, but not even close. Waiting all day for the one you love and can’t see on a surgical table with their chest cracked open from back to sternum was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. Taking one deep breathe in a breathing machine was so difficult and painful after the surgery for Scott. I had to make sure he did 12 deep strong breathes/5x a day to make sure his lungs would regain strength and eliminate the chance of getting infected. The recovery was 3 long years with a few complications.
Tomorrow, Scott will compete in the Soma Half Ironman. He and my client Dan signed up for this race in 2007, but Scott never got to the starting line. Tomorrow I will make sure Scott get’s the Finish Line! There will be a lot of crying from both of us, but this time they will be tears of joy, success, perseverance and gratitude. Once you have your health taken away from you there is no greater joy then having it back! Racing and pushing oneself to be your best is the ultimate medal. I am so proud of my husband.