When were you first diagnosed with heart disease?
Was it from childhood, during a regularly scheduled physical, or did you seek your doctor’s opinion after recognizing that something might be wrong? Approximately eight years ago. Doctors heard a whooshing sound in my heart indicative of a problem with the aorta valve. Something was wrong but not worth immediate concern. As years passed, it was closely watched.
What form of treatment did you follow and why (medication, surgery, etc.)?
Approximately five to six years ago, I met Dr. Howard Bush in the Department of Cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. (I had already maintained relationships with Dr. Mauro Braun in nephrology and Dr. Jose Cabral in endocrinology, as well as other doctors within Cleveland Clinic.) Another cardiologist outside the clinic had wanted to perform immediate surgery to fix the valve. Dr. Bush felt the latter was not necessary and monitored the situation with annual echocardiograms. It should be noted that through the years, Dr. Bush was hesitant to inject dye through my body into my heart due to restrictions set by my kidney transplant. MRIs could also not be done due to a pacemaker inserted in my chest in 2002 as a result of a bundle branch blockage. Neuropathy and diabetes also developed after the transplant, and they were of equal concern. Other symptoms gradually developed, but they were not indicative of heart failure (pressure to the neck, numbness to the cheeks, pressure of the side of the face and neck and to the sides and top of my head and numbness down my left arm). These, it seemed, were mostly caused by physical exertion/workout routines, etc., and would cease after lying down or resting. My family and friends knew of my situation, but no one, including myself, was anticipating the urgency of surgery once the final two tests were conducted. A mirage of pills was being taken daily for the kidney transplant, high blood pressure and diabetes.
How did your support network of family and friends help you as you underwent surgery (rehab, etc.)?
My wife, as always, was a tower of strength through the surgery and in my hospital recovery and during my at-home care. Additionally, a large group of temple members, friends and family members were also very supportive. Cards and calls were numerous, which was especially rewarding.
How did you keep your spirits up as you underwent surgery; what sources/tools did you turn to stay positive?
I have undergone many previous surgeries, and I knew if I did not have the operation, I would be dead within a few days. The decision was a no-brainer. The in-hospital recovery period was very difficult, but with endless help from my wife and the good nurses and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, it was bearable. (Lydia Lasky deserves a gold star.) When released from the Cleveland Clinic hospital, it was like a whole new life experience had begun. Things just seemed different. For weeks, everything seemed new. I also possess a strong mental and physical will. To survive and get stronger, you need the latter. Negativity is not an option –ever!
How has your experience with heart disease changed your perspective on life?
First, I am more cautious and deliberate. As my strength rebuilds, though, I am sure I will regain more confidence. Over the last 10 years with a pacemaker, kidney transplant and open heart surgeries, along with carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar nerve decompression surgeries and then the advent of diabetes and neuropathy and the inability to play sports or scuba dive as a dive master, life has become a toning down of alternatives. I always used to sun and swim, but the operations and doctors’ instructions have caused a cessation of those. In conclusion, what you have to do is make adjustments in life. You do what you have to do.
How long have you been a survivor?
Always! Especially over the past 11 years. (In the past, I have been involved in a serious motorcycle accident and an electric vehicle accident at Disney that left me badly bruised and scared.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from surviving heart disease?
1) Sometimes you just get lucky! 2) Always be your own health advocate. For me, now, as in the past, things have occurred that could easily have resulted in my life’s termination. The Bible says: “Who will live and who will die.” The latter, more likely than not, remains in the hands of a higher source. It’s almost like the roll of the dice. Doing all the right things health-wise doesn’t necessarily result in longevity. Just give it your best shot and as with living itself, never give up.
What advice would you give to anyone just diagnosed?
Do your homework, be your own advocate, stay totally positive and do what you have to. Finally, hope for the best.
What is the most personal experience you can share about going through heart disease?
Sometimes, for whatever the reason, you really don’t know what the symptoms mean. You really can’t get a medical answer that you have something in the way of advanced heart disease. Yours truly consulted with five to six different medical specialists and never really got an answer as to what was wrong or what my symptoms meant. It was not discovered that I had five totally blocked arteries, in addition to the aorta valve problem, until I requested and was given an echo stress test, followed shortly thereafter by a cardiac cauterization. The latter was the final straw in the discovery haystack that the disease in my heart was in its ugly final stages.
How did your family react?
I had lived with the symptoms for years, and when the final images were seen and the surgery followed almost immediately, there was little time for anyone to react. In addition, my family is rather desensitized to my health problems, and the severity of this one didn’t give anyone much time for thought.
Now that you are a heart disease survivor, do you have any new goals?
Get as strong as humanly possible and go on living my life to the best of my new capabilities.
Did your illness lead you to become involved in any charity work?
No – not yet. As a kidney transplant patient, considering all the immune suppressant pills I take each day and my low white blood count (very susceptible to infection), I am cautious [regarding] close contact with people.
Louis R. Lasky, Boca Raton
When were you first diagnosed with heart disease?