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The Diagnosis

March 8, 2015

Before flying to Toronto last month, we went to see local GP’s here in Austin to have annual physicals done (it had been two years since our last ones due to all the travelling we did last year); turned out to be a good thing.

As both of us suffer from elevated cholesterol levels, but are not on statins, Doug’s doctor brought up the idea of going on them again. We have avoided this to date as the ratio of good to bad has always been in the acceptable range. Before going this route however, he suggested that Doug get a Heart Healthy CT scan done. These are not covered by insurance but are $100 well spent. So Fran decided to get one done as well.

Here’s the scoop.  On February 21st, Doug had his test done first and then Fran went in.  Doug went back to the rig to wait and make breakfast and before we left the parking lot, he got a call to report to the ER ASAP as they saw something on the edge of the scan they wanted to get a better look at.   So back in we went and they did lots of blood tests, an EKG and finally a more in-depth CT scan of his chest and abdomen.  They found an ascending aortic aneurysm that originally they thought was 5.8 cm in diameter but after the final scan, they said it was 5.2 cm; 5 is the “consider surgery as soon as possible” size.  They discharged us and gave us a referral to a cardiac surgeon to see as soon as possible.

Monday, March 2nd we met with a cardiac surgeon and he said having surgery or taking a “wait and see” course of action was going to be Doug’s decision at this point.  He has no other risk factors (smoking, overweight, sibling/father who died young from a similar incident).  He went through all the scenarios with us, told us to go home, weigh the pros and cons, write down about a dozen questions and call back in a few days with our decision.

We have decided to go for the surgery and be proactive.  If he doesn’t have the surgery, he needs to be monitored about every 9 months to watch the growth and apparently the chance of it rupturing or tearing before Doug turns 65 are about 80%.

So we saw a cardiologist yesterday (yes, Saturday!) for a “review appointment” and have tentative appointments for the pre op tests, a catheter test of the heart and an echo cardiogram (sonar) for this week.  After those tests the surgery will be booked – within two weeks we hope.  This type of aneurysm with no symptom can by caused by a weak spot on the wall of the artery that he may have been born with.

We are at peace with our decision although naturally apprehensive.  It will be open heart surgery.  The mortality risk of this surgery is 1.5% during, 1.5% post but the alternative is an increased risk of 5% per year because more often than not a rupture is fatal.  Since our plan so far is still to head south of the border eventually, we felt surgery and recovery are the way to go before proceeding.  Recovery time can be reduced the younger you are and of course, the healthier you are.   Doug’s GP recommended this surgeon and we liked him and his demeanor right away and after having seen the cardiologist, feel even better about him; highly recommended him as the “best”.

Thank goodness we still have health insurance since Doug works part time.  That ER visit (less than five hours) was billed at almost $13K!  I have spoken to the ins company and we are covered for everything (some things only 90% but once we reach an out of pocket of $6550, everything will be covered).  Luckily our surgeon and his hospital are in network too.    So it looks like we’ll be in Austin for at least a couple more months.  Surgeon said barring anything unforeseen we could probably be on our way about 3-4 weeks after surgery as long as Doug takes it easy.  The first 2-3 weeks are supposed to be the roughest.

Doug reached out to his former boss who originally wanted him to work here (but we ended up turning that down) and he has offered Doug some part time work to keep him busy while we’re here waiting  (assuming he’s up to it) and it will help pay for those out of pocket expenses.   I will keep this website updated in regard to this so please check back to follow along.  The Home Page will have the surgery date on it as soon as we have it.

This is one of those curve balls life throws at you and it will temporarily change our travel plans but not cancel them.