Sunday, September 23, 2012

Victory Over Aortic Aneurysm - the OTHER KILLER in the Chest

Something Is Terribly Wrong!
Sandra on Barker Mountain, 2012
Sandra Croff knew something was wrong, but no one had been able to find it. She had tremendous fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and at times felt her heart doing flip flops. 

After seemingly endless doctor visits and tests, she was told that her heart was fine. She was just suffering from post menopausal symptoms and anxiety.

Among those many tests, Sandra had a simple chest x-ray. She remembers looking at it with the doctor, and asking him "What is that?" When told it was her aorta, she asked the doctor if it should be so large. The doctor dismissed it, saying her aorta was fine, and proceeded to tell her she must have fibromyalgia. Sandra firmly told the doctor, "I do not." She turned and left that office, disappointed again. 

Sandra remembers one particular day very well. She had horrible pain on the left side of her chest, going through to her back, and into her arm. It lasted for about three hours. Sandra did not go to the ER that day, because based on past experience she felt no one there would believe or help her. But she knew she had to keep looking for answers, because others in her family had died suddenly, supposedly of massive heart attacks.  She wondered if her own life would be cut short before she found anyone to help her. And she also wondered, even if she lived, if she would ever feel well enough to do even simple things she loved again without labored breathing and a stabbing, burning feeling in her chest. 

Sandra, 7 days after aortic surgery
In 2010, Sandra made a call to a long-time family friend. She had heard that he had some kind of heart surgery, and she wanted to know the details. That family friend was Bob Gies, and before long Sandra traveled to the same aortic treatment program. There she had the testing she needed. It showed that Sandra had an aortic aneurysm in her chest. She began to make plans for surgery.

Something is Now Very Right!
Sandra now has her life back! Always active, Sandra proved that her problems were not related to declining hormones, anxiety, or fibromyalgia, but due to faulty "plumbing" in her chest. Below, in her own words, Sandra describes hiking Barker Mountain recently.

Hiking Barker Mountain, 2011
Hiking Barker Mountain, September 2012, in Sandra's Own Words
I was in Montana this week and hiked to the top of Barker Mountain again. The day started out at a cool 42 degrees, and some of the rooftops had frost on them.  My hike began at the bottom of the mountain, just where the road splits and Green Creek crosses.  Arriving at the starting point, I had to get my boots on, so that I could embark on this steep outing. It was about 11:30 am as I started to walk and also take pictures of the new survey, being done by the Forest Service. 

As I crossed Galena Creek a couple of times, I could feel the steep grade tasking my body, not only my lungs but my legs.  I felt my heart beating faster and louder.  I am from a part of the country that is only about 150' above sea level.  These people in Montana are like mountain goats, as far as their lungs and their capability to walk this steep terrain!  I guess I am a flat lander? When I reached one stretch that is much steeper than the rest, I would stop briefly and have a drink of water.  

Much further up the mountain, there is a long stretch where the cool breeze comes down the narrow roadway.  It refreshed my mind, and also rejuvenated my body.  The breeze along with the sweet smell of the pines is just beyond description.  It is the type of breeze that makes you smile with pleasure.  Oh, how I love the breeze!  As a child I lived in Southern California, and in the morning it would be cool to chilly, and the breeze would come from the Pacific Ocean to energize you. The last point where you feel this breeze on the mountain is situated just below where the sun hits the side hill.  From that point on you are in the sun completely.  Knowing this is the last pull to get to the top, I am telling myself, "You are almost there!" and "Get moving!". 

After getting to the top, a large rock was the perfect place for lunch.  I was out of steam at that point! After eating and drinking water, it was time to start the descent. Of course this is the easiest part of the hike, however the ground has unstable rock on it and care is needed to avoid sliding.

It was indeed a body and mind builder.  On the way down, a drink of fresh, cool water from Daisy Creek was indescribable.  This small creek comes from higher up the mountain and is the best water around.  It is very cold, and thirst-quenching. 

This was the second time I have hiked this mountain since I had my aortic surgery. 
Of course, being 64 years does not say you will be able to do everything you desire but your mind allows you to achieve what you want, especially if your heart is fit. It did my heart good to make this hike again this year. As I was driving down the road, I was able to see the mountain in my rear view mirror, and all I could think of was next year's hike!

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