Tom Costakis Tom Costakis' Journey

First post: Apr 14, 2020 Latest post: May 29, 2020
NOTE: TOM'S OPEN HEART SURGERY IS SET FOR APRIL 15 AT ST. VINCENT HEART HOSPITAL in Indianapolis.  Julie will post updates on this site.


When I was a 19-year-old sophomore at Purdue University, I headed down to the Levee with my fraternity brothers to donate blood as part of the Purdue/IU blood drive contest. An elderly, retired doctor listened to my heart as part of the pre-check and inquired how long I had lived with such an  unusual sounding heart murmur.

What heart murmur?

I called my parents to joke with them about what I thought was a mistake. No prior family physician had ever mentioned hearing it.

Soon I was off to the Mayo Clinic where I was diagnosed with a leaking, congenital defective bicuspid aortic valve (normal is tricuspid), along with stenosis, or a narrowing of the aorta. I was told at that time that I may need to have the valve replaced “some time” during my life. While I did not have any physical limitations imposed, I would need regular check-ups with a cardiologist.

Over the years, I’ve had more stress tests, echocardiograms, stress echocardiograms, and heart catheterizations than I can count. My commitment to healthy living, particularly over the last 10 - 15 years, led my cardiologist to report I was in great shape, doing all the right things and unlike typical cardiology patients. He joked that if all his patients were like me, he would be out of business – to the point that in recent years I started to wonder if I would ever need the surgery.

That all changed at my routine cardiology appointment in January.

I was told, “it is time.”

Postponing even six months would expose me to the risk of permanent damage or even complete heart failure. While I have known since I was a teenager this surgery might be necessary “some time” – it came as a complete shock when I learned it was imperative to have the surgery as soon as possible.

I met with a cardiothoracic  surgeon in early March, was scheduled for open-heart surgery on March 26, 2020, and began making plans for all that the surgery and recovery would entail.  

And then — the world changed.

The COVID 19 pandemic has obviously affected all of us. As the spread of the virus increased and public health officials were trying to get a handle on the situation across the nation, all but emergency surgeries were put “on hold.” My surgery was postponed.

I am presently re-scheduled for April 15, 2020 (despite some effort by the administrators/schedulers to move the procedure to May). However, given the severity of my symptoms and the urgency of my case, my surgeon would not allow it to be pushed out any further. The surgery will take place at the St. Vincent Heart Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.


On April 14, I will have a full day of pre-op activities, including a heart catheterization. The open-heart surgery is the next day, April 15. If the surgery is only for replacement of the aortic valve, it should last 3 to 4 hours. If coronary by-pass is also indicated, the surgery is expected to last 5 or 6 hours. I am expected to be in the hospital for 4 – 7 days. A few days in the ICU, followed by a few days in a regular hospital room.  At this point, we do not know if Julie will be allowed in the hospital due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

While I should be on my feet very quickly following the surgery, I will be unable to drive and not permitted to go into the office for 3 to 4 weeks (which seemed like a big deal before the “stay at home” orders, and now is obviously no big deal).


I’ve been working out daily for years. But last fall, I began feeling worse afterward, rather than better - to the point that I stopped working out altogether. My echocardiogram in January of 2020 cleared up why I was experiencing strange symptoms. My cardiologist explained that because I have been living with this condition my entire life, and it has progressed gradually, I don’t even realize how far from “normal” I am. Most importantly, he assured me that within a couple of months (once the valve is replaced, the narrowing is addressed and my heart is able to relax and not work as hard) I will feel much better. Neither my life expectancy nor my quality of life will be affected. Literally, following the surgery, I will be better than new!



Already, we have much to be thankful for: I was timely diagnosed. Julie was able to return from Florida before travel became too difficult during this pandemic. I have remained well leading up to the surgery. I am in the hands of an incredibly gifted surgeon, Dr. David Heimansohn. I have Julie, who has been so comforting and supportive; and many loving family members: John (his wife Nikita and her parents), Matt, Grant, my mother Matena, mother-in-law Carolyn, my sister, and her family, my brothers-in-law and their families. All are fervent prayer warriors and ready to help. I am blessed with incredibly supportive colleagues at Krieg DeVault, and clients who are also supportive and understanding.

On the day I learned surgery was definitively needed, the verse in my daily devotional was profoundly comforting:

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

As part of my daily scripture reading, I have key verses I cling to and have read each morning for the last several years. 

Two of them are:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6

I am at peace. God is in control. The Lord created every one of us perfectly, in His image.  Before I was born, God knew that I would have this surgery – and when, where and by whom it would be done. He arranged for me to head down to the Purdue Levee that long-ago day in 1979 for the blood drive so that the elderly doctor would alert me to the murmur. This is part of God's plan for my life, and I fully trust Him.

That said, our Lord wants to hear from us in big things and small; and knowing that I am covered in prayer heading into surgery will provide even more comfort. Please pray for me, Dr. Heimansohn, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, technicians – everyone that will be involved in my care. Please pray for Julie and the rest of my family. Being a caregiver is hard, as I well know.

Julie or I will post each day’s progress here on CaringBridge. Thanks again for your friendship!