I guess in order to tell Tracy’s story, we have to go back in time a ways. Tracy was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the summer of 1985.
The great thing about modern medicine, is that they are able to rid bodies and cells of cancer. The bad thing is, they don’t always know about the long term effects.
Tracy received radiation treatments on her upper torso and the care teams were able to rid her body of the cancer. She has been in remission for more than 35 years (yay!!).
What they didn’t know at that time, is you can, and should, be very specific on the areas that are treated with direct radiation. Because of these radiation treatments, Tracy’s lungs and her heart have been severely damaged. She has had an irregular heart rate, I believe they referred to it as a heart murmur, for some time. She was also known to become short of breath during exercise and, if she wasn’t careful, would over exert herself. Minimal amounts of exercise and Tracy would be out of breath and experiencing heart rates of 130-140 bpm. Unaware of the damage done to the lung nodules and her heart tissues, Tracy still enjoys long walks with her grand-puppies, bike rides with her husband, and swimming laps in the pool.
Almost three years ago we noticed that there were beginning to be a significant decline in Tracy’s respiratory. They found she was retaining large quantities of fluid on the pleura sacs around her lungs. They tried many thoracentesis procedures, but the sacs kept retaining fluid. She had surgery to try and scrape the sacs, as the doctors hoped they would seal while healing on their own. Unfortunately, this did not help. After numerous trips to the ER for a lung drain, she ended up having a drain line put in so she could remove the fluid from her left lung multiple times a week when she felt it get full and was having troubles taking deep breaths. While the tube was painful, it was nice to be able to drain from home and not rely on constant ER visits.
Without having an answer as to why the lungs kept filling with fluid, Tracy was seeing respiratory and cardiovascular doctors to try and determine what was going on. She was eventually referred to the Mayo Hospital and they began to run down the root problems. They determined the left side of the heart was damaged from over radiation and the lungs were also impaired. The final determination was that they are damaged beyond repair and she needed a transplant. They stated they wouldn’t do a heart transplant with also harvesting a set of lungs, and vice versa, no lung transplant with a new heart. We were told the closest hospital that performs the lung and heart transplant was Stanford and they referred her there for a week of testing.
They were in Stanford the week before Christmas and Tracy finally felt like they had a good team. The team met after the tests were completed and thought that the damage on the heart was repairable and that the lung problems would be resolved with heart repair. So they talked through a couple of options. They suggested with her age and the though life of tissue valves, they were going to replace her mitral and aortic valve with artificial valves. They also determined that her artery was 66% blocked and they were going to perform a bypass while she was open.
Tracy was not happy with her quality of life and after some careful thought and discussion, she decided to schedule the open heart surgery. On January 25th, we made our way to Stanford to prepare her for surgery.
She underwent open heart surgery on January 28th. They put in two artificial valves, replacing the aortic and mitral valve, and did a by-pass. The surgeon and nurses reported that everything went well that evening, she was in recovery and Dave could visit her the next day. The first couple days in recovery were rough. She wasn’t feeling well, her throat hurt from being intubated but we were all hopeful for a good recovery.
The next four weeks we’re kind of a rollercoaster. They kept stating that they wanted her up and walking multiple times a day after surgery. On day two Mom was moving from her reclining chair into the bed and she collapsed. Her rate plummeted and they had to give her a quick dose of epi to get her awake. After a couple of days and another close call of almost losing her, they determined something was wrong with the aortic valve and they scheduled a second open heart surgery to determine the issue. They found that the graft adhesion has seeped through the aortic wall somehow and had plugged one of the flutters on the aortic valve so it wasn’t opening and closing properly. They cleaned it out, tested it and got her closed up, for a second time. Things seemed like they were starting to turn around. Her rate was pretty low, but on the epi drip, her body was handling that and seemed to be in recovery mode again. We eventually made the decision to have a pacemaker implanted so that the heart rate would stay up and allow her heart to get stronger. After a couple of days they had her off all of her IV’s and drips, she was on all oral pills and we were given the green light to check her out of Stanford and she moved into the hotel with Dave and Alissa. We tried the hotel life for a couple days but all of us were ready to be home. After one last appointment, we got the okay to fly Tracy home, so we booked her and Dave a flight, first class seats and they took off for him on March 1st.
B and Robin were able to pick Tracy and Dave up from the airport and get them home. Tracy was greeted with a clean house, balloons, cards, fresh flowers, new outdoor plants and a couple of welcome home signs! It was an excellent surprise! But the battle wasn’t done yet.
Shirley and Dave were able to help take care of Tracy, get her fed and made sure she had her medications. Dave spruced up there bathrooms and the house to make it more friendly with Tracy’s walker. She enjoyed long laps around the house tot stretch her legs and enjoy the new flowers that had been planted. Alissa was able to come stay on the weekends, help Tracy shower, wash her hair and lighten the load for the rest of the household. Tracy was still continuing to get light headed when standing or walking for long periods, but hoped would get easier in time.
She had a lot of Drs appointments and blood draws that kept her busy. She was still retaining a lot of fluid from the first and then second heart surgery. She had out on a variety of diuretics to help get the fluid off of her legs and abdomen, in hopes that would help her to breathe. The week of March 7th, the doctors decided the diuretics were slowing so they switched her to a more aggressive one. This ended up dehydrating Tracy severely and her bloodwork the next week was not ideal. Her lactic acid levels were high and she needed to rehydrate. These new meds seemed to do the opposite of helping.
The morning of March 15th, Tracy wasn’t feeling well. Her blood pressure was low and it kept getting worse. Dave packed her up in the car and the drive the Mayo Hospital ER. She was admitted later that day. At Mayo they’ve continued to try and get water off. One day she had relieved her self of more than 2 liters of fluid. The next day, that all seemed to stop. Rather than having to pee every hour, she peed maybe once or twice all day. They determined that they over did it on the diuretics and her kidneys were starting to shut down.