Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seven Stents for Seven Lights...

An Open Heart Journal
March 27, 2008
Seven Stents - Seven Lights

On January the 9th of this year I went to my 6th day of Cardiac Rehab at Baylor Hospital in Grapevine. I was really enjoying rehab and doing very well. At the time I was up to doing 12 minutes on three different exercise machines including the treadmill, bicycle and NuStepper.

After getting my monitor on, having my blood pressure checked (it was 110/60 standing), and checking in with my "coach" I sat down on the bicycle to go 13 minutes. At the three minute mark I started to feel a little queasy which was a first for me. By the fourth minute everything in me was aching and the pain in my chest rushed up into my jaw - a feeling I'd never had in all of the past four months. My head began to sink and I remember the lady watching my heart monitor turning around to ask "Are you okay?" to which I replied with a small shake of my head and began to fall off the bike. Instantly there were four ladies at my side holding me on the bike until they could get a chair. I heard someone say my blood pressure was in the 200s over 90 and my heart rate had gone from 50 up to 113.

Things grew fuzzy after that but I do remember the several EMTs who showed up and my name being said over and over trying to keep me talking. I mumbled off my history and where all my meds were listed and after they found the envelope with my history, med list and doctor list I decided it was safe to just "go to sleep." But they wouldn't let me. I just remember wanting to lay down and quietly sink into the cloud I thought was beneath me.

Eventually, with several tablets of Nitroglycerin, an IV, and several children's aspirin my blood pressure came down - to 180/80. They wheeled me to the ER on a stretcher which I don't remember getting on and I found myself in the very same room I've been in three times before.

The nurse came in and took my blood pressure and took it again because she couldn't believe it could be so high. I was feeling a little more conscious at that point so I assured her that yes that was a fairly "normal" high blood pressure for me and to not be alarmed. The next 30 minutes were filled with chest x-rays, EKGs, IV meds to lower my blood pressure and blood tests. Once that was over I laid back hoping to take a nap. Except for the machine that was taking my blood pressure every 15 minutes and sending an alarm because of the high numbers I slept for at least an hour.

Then the techs came in to do another test - a sonogram on my legs to look for possible blood clots. I'd never had even a suspicion of blood clots so this scared me. My left leg was significantly
swollen and the doctor was concerned about a new development to add to my already growing list of system breakdowns. It would have been okay but for one small thing. The lead tech was training a student going through school to read sonograms. So all the way through the exam she was talking about the dangers of blood clots are and why so many people die of them. Suddenly, my blood pressure machine was shrieking. My blood pressure was back to 210/124. The tech asked if the test was upsetting me and I tearfully told her that just a few weeks before my former husband (and close friend) had died of a blood clot that literally killed him before he hit the floor. She apologized and kept the rest of her training quietly to herself.

It wasn't until I was transferred to the ICU that I was told that I had actually had a real Heart Attack. They were beginning to suspect that the open heart surgery I had in October had failed.

Note: The procedure I had in October was not the tradition bypass surgery. Because the problem with the left side of my heart is that it is over 90% defused and calcified, there are literally no vessels to which a bypass could be attached. Instead, Dr. Michael Savcenko performed what is called TMR - TransMyocardial Revascularization. The premise is that if they laser holes into the mostly diseases heart the heart will create it's own bypasses by growing more blood vessels. This is supposed to improve the oxygen and blood flow to the heart and decreasing or stopping the unbearable angina pain caused by lack of oxygen and blood through the heart. Even though the surgery is risky and rarely successful I agreed to the procedure hoping that in this case I would be one of the minority for whom it actually worked. The Dr. lasered 25 holes into my heart hoping it would work - evidently it didn't.

Now after enduring the pain, recovery and set backs of going through full open heart surgery I was being told that the possible reason for my heart attack was the failure of the heart to start growing new blood vessels before the holes healed and sealed themselves shut. I began to cry because at the time of the surgery I was told this was the last resort to resolve my chest pain. We had slipped back to square one and I couldn't see there were any other squares to move to.

I laid in ICU wondering what would happen next. My Cardiologist, Dr. Richard Feingold, suggested that his associate Dr. Kevin Thelman come into the picture. I had met Dr. Thelman once before and I must say is one of the most handsome doctors I know. I take pleasure embarrassing him knowing that every nurse and patient he comes in contact with feels the same way. He was being brought in because he is especially gifted in the area of "interventional cardiac medicine." I certainly was a candidate for intervention - of the most divine kind.

Dr. Thelman said that he wanted to put in as many stents as possible and would be doing it in two stages. One stage on Wednesday the 14th and another on Friday the 16th. Knowing this would mean two more heart caths in the same week made me question his sanity but they explained that my diseased kidney could not handle all the dye needed in one day so they had to split it up so I could rest in between sessions.

Wednesday went surprisingly smooth and two stents were place in the front of my heart. Then came Friday. I went to sleep when they "asked" me to and woke up to hear that the doctors had successfully implanted five more stents in the back of my heart. I wasn't sure but to me that sounded like some kinds of record. Not one of my nurses, my roommate who is a cardiac nurse nor my other doctors had heard of seven stents. Not only did I have the notoriety of being the first at Baylor Grapevine to have a TMR but I had more stents than my caretakers could remember, It just seemed like somehow God had a reason for seven - not five, not six, but seven stents in my poor battered heart. So I began to ask Him for the reason.

I left Baylor to go to a short term rehab facility - an experience in life and death which I will not to into now. But on February 28th I was given the opportunity to leave for a couple of hours to attend a conference taking place that I had been looking forward to for months. Plus it was my roommate's birthday and she was leading the worship that morning. I so wanted to be there that I asked the Lord to send someone willing to pick me up and drop me off there in the morning.

I went in via a wheelchair and stood in the back of the room hoping to not disturb the worship which had already started. A couple of people saw me and there were tearful, joyful reunions and many hugs - all very encouraging and therapeutic for me.

In the front of the room was a small "room" set up. It was a chuppah tent with a small elegant couch - like would have been used thousand of years ago for the bride and bridegroom. I wanted nothing more than to go up and sit right in the middle of the tent and be "with" the Bridegroom who I knew loves me more than any earthly love can. But I waited.

At the end of worship my friends in the front row saw me and insisted I come sit with them. I refused the wheelchair and slowly walked up and sat in the closest seat I could find. Again there were tears, hugs and prayers of thanksgiving for my being there.

At the end of the teaching came my opportunity to sit in the the tent and I asked as many of my closest friends present (most of whom had traveled to Israel with me) to come pray for me, for my healing and for my continued walk through this valley while waiting for healing. I shared quickly how enlivening the two hours had been and how much I cherished their ongoing prayers. I also shared what I believe is the basis for a book that I am committed to writing based on many of my experiences during this time.

The ladies were loving and sincere as they prayed over me each having their own words and style of praying but all praying in unity. At the very end a dear friend from Missouri who went to Israel with us had a special word for me. She said, "I see the seven stents in your heart like the seven lamps (lights) of the Menorah lighting up your heart. May the light shine so bright in your heart that it is visible to men.

Of course, I cried knowing that this was an answer to my prayer that somehow God would speak to me about the seven stents and why seven.

The picture at the top of this blog was created by my daughter-in-love. It is a combination of a pendant I found at http://store.biblelandshop.net/1234567891213.html and a pictures she had available from her photography business. The verse is Psalm 73:26 and says, "My flesh and heart may fail me, BUT GOD IS THE STRENGTH OF MY HEART."

The doctors or nurses don't clearly understand how I can do so well with only the right side of my heart and seven stents working full time. But God knows and He is the one responsible for my life - physically and spiritually. He can be fully trusted - by me and by you. I don't know what is about to happen in my life - there are many uncertainties right now. And honestly I have experienced more intense fear this week than even before my surgeries. But somehow He is going to bring me through these uncertainties like He has everything else and that is what I must remember. He didn't bring me this far to let me be abandoned even though that is what it may feel like.

So don't lose heart...I didn't, I can't and I won't. As long as my heart is still beating I refuse to give up...so don't you give up either.

From the Heart,


Monday, March 16, 2009


An Open Heart Journal
March 16, 2009

This may seem like a digression but it is as much as "from my heart" as anything I've written.

I remember I very first solo. I was in sixth grade and in the church youth choir and the director had gone to my mom telling her that I had a wonderful voice and she wanted to give me some voice lessons so I could sing a solo on Sunday morning. That first song was "Fairest Lord Jesus" and it started me on a road that I stayed on the rest of my life.

My singing was only in church and at the occasional women's luncheon. I stayed in band and orchestra as a last chair trumpet player but no one at school even had a clue I sang. The shock came when the Junior High Choir Director had open auditions for Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury." I had literally grown up listening to my father's collection of Gilbert and Sullivan records and already knew every song of "Trial by Jury" so trying out just seemed natural. But little did I know I would start a historic battle. I was not in the choir but I successfully beat everyone in the audition for the lead role - including the pretty, rich and snobby president of the Ninth Grade choir. The furor was so bad that we had two more auditions - one in front of the choir parents club and one in front of the choir. I won both auditions. This girl and her parents were so angry the choir director ended up having two showings with two different leads. Then when we were invited to give the play to the entire school the choir had to choose who would have the lead and I once again won. That girl hated me all through high school.

Not only did I realize that this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life but everything I did was either focused on singing or swimming with band eventually falling to the bottom of my priorities.

The choir director gave me voice lessons for a year and then passed me onto HER voice teacher who had sung in the Met and personally knew Beverly Sills - my singing hero.

I sang in every contest I could enter from my Baptist Convention Nationals to School and radio contests. I learned to sing in every language operas came in and amazed judges with a large soprano voice from my then 98 pound frame. I sang every chance I had and even hummed my songs while swimming. Unlike my many years of piano and trumpet lessons I never had to be told to practice.

I went to college on a minimal scholarship and again had one of the most talented voice teachers in the country. She had actually completed her doctorate by participating in an autopsy to examine the diaphragm and how it works.

I didn't sing a single solo my freshman year - a big blow to my ego but finally got a part in a German version of Anna Bolen. In my fantasy world I was headed to sing at the Met - in reality I got married and headed to Bible College. I did finish my college education with a degrees in both Music and Biblical Education but the dream of singing on stage became the reality of singing in church with my husband, my gifted pianist and accompianist.

Three times I've stopped singing - once when illness took my voice and lowered my range a full octave. The second when my husband left the marriage and I couldn't bring myself to sing with another accompanist but returning when the idea of accompament tapes were introduced. The third time came in 2005 when histoplasmosis destroyed not only my lungs and voice but I found my hands could no longer play the guitar like I had been doing since 1991.

This morning I awoke from a dream where I was seeing myself playing my beautiful white guitar that right now sits in the corner of my bedroom unplayed since July. I remembered that I was so attached to my guitar in the 90's that I never went anywhere without it. I took it with me every time I left the house because I never knew when a new song was going to start going through my head or someone would ask me to go sing for a friend or family member in the hospital or at their home. My singing then had drastically changed from my operatic training to singing soft enough to sing in a hospital room. And all my songs were "original" to me at that time. They were simply Scriptures put to music with the goal of singing life and healing into the hearer.

It was nearly a year before I knew what this type of singing was but finally a prophetic music class introduced me to the concept of the Psalmist. I immediately identified with the teacher's definition of Psalmist - but still found it hard to explain to others who were just looking a Sunday Morning Soloist.

During the first five years of the 90's I recorded four full length music tapes - all recorded live at churches with intercessors in the "audience" to pray for me. It seemed like new songs were coming every single day - some even in Hebrew which I didn't even understand at the time.

One of the pluses of these songs is that they were quiet, encouraging and even relaxing. I got used to the listener falling asleep and even jokingly warned those who took my tapes to not listen to them in the car because it might put them to sleep while driving. At one church I sang for over 30 minutes and when I was going to stop I look over and the Pastor had fallen asleep sitting on the podium.

I continued to write songs, play the guitar and sing until 2005 and when I first discovered that my hands couldn't hold the strings down I cried. I haven't recorded any songs since 1996 but have dozens of new songs including two dozen songs written about and for Israel which had no written or recorded archive.

I sang for the first time since 2005 when I was able to give a portrayal of Anna in the Temple and sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Even though I had problems practicing at home my voice was strong that night and I began to feel "at home" in that place of music I had so missed.

Thinking about all of this as I woke up this morning caused me to weep and I asked the Lord to restore not only my voice but my hands so I could play the guitar once again. After fully waking up I turned on the TV looking for something encouraging and on the very first channel saw, of all people, Wynonna Judd. I'ver never been a real lover of country music but I do like Reba MacIntire and the Judds - mostly because of first seeing Wynonna on "Touched by an Angel."

Wynonna was introducing her newest CD "Sing - Chapter 1" She then sang the title song, "Sing" These are the words - yes, from a secular, country song - that pricked my heart and gave me hope that the Lord was going to give me back my voice and guitar so that the songs in my heart would be released once again.

[ Wynonna Judd Lyrics are found on www.songlyrics.com ]

Sing your songs of truth and pain
All the things you can't explain

Sing the way you feel inside
Let the music be your guide
Sing your heart out

Sing it like you hear it
Like you have no need to fear it now
Sing it like you know it
Like you're not afraid to show us how

Sing from somewhere way down deep
Sing and make the angels weep
Sing and open heaven's door
Sing 'till you can't sing no more

Sing your songs of dark and light
Make your mark with all your might

Sing your songs of hope and fear
Sing the song that sent you here
Sing your heart out

Sing, sing, sing your heart out
Sing, sing your heart out

Now I might not agree with every single word here but there is a lot with which I do agree and I look forward to being reunited with my guitar and "singing the songs that brought me here"

I believe music can truly change a heart - physically, emotionally and spiritually. Years ago, when I was "hearing" new songs every day the Lord gave me this promise: "If you sing these I will heal." I began singing in hospital rooms, nursing homes and in church prayer meetings but never saw anyone jump out of bed because of my singing. But I did hear of people who were given a hope for life, an encouraging word and broken hearts mended. I don't take credit for any of those but believe that the Scriptures have a life that music brings forth true life.

So, today I will sing - if only inside my heart - and hope for the day I can once again sing my Father's of life.

From the Heart,

Sunday, March 15, 2009


An Open Heart Journal
LifeCare Hospital. Fort Worth
Day Ten
March 15, 2009

As a whole my rehab here is progressing better than I expected in just ten days. I am getting a lot of physical therapy and even though it seems elementary (kicking the ball back and forth to the PT) the reality is that it is working. I am slowly able to take more walks and have finally been allowed to walk when ever I want as long as I use my walker. This small privilege lets me go to the patio and sit in the sun - glorious, glorious warm sun. I think it is the first time I have been truly warm since my open heart surgery. If I could just take that heat back indoors with me. Little things mean a lot when you’ve been inside for three months and six days.

If there were a time stamp on my blogs you would see that much of my writing takes place between four and six in the morning. There is this thing I call “Hospital Time” which any of you who’ve been in the hospital knows that at 4 a.m. is when generally the lab comes and takes blood. Now this is a process that means turning on every light in the room, wrapping a tight rubber band around your arm, and in my case, trying to find just one more place to draw blood that hasn’t dried up or developed scar tissue in the last three months of being poked and prodded. And then they turn and leave expecting you to return to sleep.

Okay, I hear those who know more than others and you’re wondering why I don’t have a PIC line in my arm to make this easier for me and everyone else. (If you don’t know what a PIC line is you can Google “PIC line” but most website definitions require a medical dictionary to understand it,) The simple definition is that it is a catheter line inserted into the arm and guided toward the heart. They can be left in place for a year and are used for patients to receive long term IV medications. In 2005 several different radiologists made numerous attempts to put in such a line taking several hours and putting me in incredible pain and stress. All of this only to discover that my veins are too small to even get the guide line in a few inches. I swore off PICA lines after that day.

So every nurse, lab tech and doctor asks me why I don’t have a PIC line by now seeing that one more IV will be impossible. I’m just praying I can get out of here without the need for another IV (blood transfusion, IV antibiotics, or pain meds). If I need anything via IV they will place the port in my neck - yuck!

So here I am, an acute cardiac patient but I have no IV line, no telemetry monitor and frankly I just don’t look sick any more. In my physical therapy group I am the youngest, most healthy looking patient in the circle. In fact, more than once I have been mistaken for the Physical Therapist.

Then last evening I almost didn’t get my supper. The gal came in with my tray, saw me sitting in a chair and left - with my food! She returned a few minutes later, looked at me, looked at the empty bed and again started to leave. But she turned back around and said, “Well, she isn’t here but I’m going to leave her tray here for her - is that okay?” I gave her a funny look and she read my last name off the tray and I said, “That’s me.” not thinking this would come as a great shock to her. She was surprised and embarrassed and I was just happy to get my food.

What I really wanted to do was to open up my shirt and show off my open heart surgery scar but I knew that would be rude. Can I help it if my outside doesn’t rightly picture my inside.

When I walk slowly across the room no one expects it because I don’t look sick. When I use my walker I look somewhat silly - like a kid playing with a friends crutches. But what they can’t see is my heart beating so hard I feel it against my ribs and my lungs screaming because the oxygen is being blocked by dozens of calcified nodules.

But isn’t that the case with many of the people walking around. Before September 4th I had no idea that the left side of my heart was totally diffused and calcified. In fact, since then I have learned that more women die of heart disease than all the female cancers put together. Why? Because, like me, they don’t know. I was told many times while working as the “Living Well Manager: that I looked wonderful, younger than my 54 years, and was a very hard worker. The outside looked great while the inside was deteriorating.

I think the very same could be said about hundreds or thousands of us who spiritually look great on the outside but have spiritual heart disease in the inside. We can go through life denying or just not knowing but eventually that spiritual heart will fail.

Despite how I may look on the outside the reality is that the left side of my heart is medically inoperable. The doctors have done everything possible and now it is up to me to learn how to live with the heart I have left. Every doctor who has come into my room today has told me the same thing. This is my reality - in the natural.

Do not think that by seeing or speaking about my situation in the natural or medical sense that I am denying God’s ability to heal my heart once and for all - I am not. Nor do I believe that by looking at my situation honestly I am disqualifying myself from being healed. I DO believe God heals and more than once I have experienced His healing - even after honestly accepting where I was and even saying it out loud. I am very much an optimist - but I am also practical and honest about my weaknesses and strengths.

In this case my strength is fully God’s strength and His ability to bring me through or out of any situation according to His will. And I will trust Him to do for me what ever is going to be best for me, for my family and for all those I come in contact while on this journey called Heart Disease. The truth is, I shouldn’t be alive - but I am. I shouldn’t be able to do all I can do physically - but I can. I shouldn’t be hopeful that I have many years of life before me - but I do. THAT is the evidence of God’s strength in me and all the proof I need to know that He loves me, is caring for me and that He is continually giving me Life in its truest form.

With every heart beat I feel and hear I know that it is God is Who keeps it beating regardless of its condition. And with every heart beat I will trust, praise, worship and obey Him.

This is...

From the Heart,
Kathleen Anne Gabrielle

Friday, March 6, 2009

Day One at LifeCare Rehab Hospital

Until I can play catch up we are going to jump ahead to where I am now. But I promise to go back to my hand written journals and tell the stories and lessons I learned while entering this world of heart disease. In the meantime, here is the daily journal of learning how to start over.

An Open Heart Journal
LifeCare Hospital. Fort Worth
Day One
March 6, 2009

DAY ONE - Strange, humbling, learning day

Today was one of those strange but learning days. I left Baylor after being there one week where I experienced passing out during a chest xray, being the subject of an RRT (Rapid Response Team) call, one day in ICU and the joys of having a 24 hour stomach virus for 48 hours while trying to cope with chest pains at the same. I’m glad they were able to get me one more day to stabilize but I’m a little miffed that I haven’t seen Dr, Feingold and didn’t get to say good bye to him. He won’t be my doctor at LifeCare and I have no idea how things will work out as to who IS my cardiologist once I’m back home.

LifeCare is a fully equipped hospital with stellar rehab facilities. They will be much better suited to meet every one of my medical needs and hopefully work me physically enough I return home with the ability to care for myself, cook, clean and well, have a life. No more thoughts of returning back to work right now. I’ve got to be content with being left alone safely and moving about with freedom. Of course, all I can think about is the lack of income but I battle those fears and try to be content with the hope of finally going home in 30 days. That means sometime around April 8th or 9th - three full months since I first had a heart attack while riding an exercise bike in Baylor Cardiac Rehab January 9th. Talk about living the unthinkable. I though open heart surgery would be the end of my challenges but now I’m facing a whole new world - the world of true cardiac arrest and stents. Little did I know that in just a few more days I would be the proud owner of seven bright and shiny titanium stents thanks to the giftedness and determination to bring a valid change to my life of Dr. Thelman.

To recover from the stents and hopefully give me a few weeks of cardiac rehab I was transferred to Heartland Manor Care. I made the simple but potentially fatal mistake of not listening to my roommate and chose this short term over a long term with the suggestion of the Social Worker and Doctors. I found out the difference between long and short term and L Tech facilities the hard way and by February 28th found myself back in the Baylor ER with uncontrollable high blood pressure and sugar levels of 31. The first promise I made to my roommate (a Cardiac R.N.) was to listen to her suggestions next time. Well, after trying to get into a brand new facility I was accepted in her first choice “LifeCare Hospital of Fort Worth.”

Oddly enough I have been here before - but as a visitor to a dear friend last Spring - never guessing I would be a patient here myself less than a year later. What made the day start out strange is that I was first taken to the wrong LifeCare facility. When we arrived they didn’t expect us, didn’t have any paperwork and ended up setting me up in a room that looked more sad and deplorable than my last unfortunate experience and in a bed next to an 80 year old woman who reminded me of my mother in her last year of a nursing home. I laid there mentally refusing to unpack my belongings hoping there had been a serious mistake. “God, I prayed, “Please don’t tell me I’m spending 30 more days here.” Within a few minutes I saw my transport driver heading toward my room with a wheelchair - Yea, HE had brought me to the wrong location.

Even though this particular LifeCare Facility is further away from my friends and family I know when we pull up it is the correct place as I quickly recognize the location from my one previous visit last Spring. We go in and immediately the receptionist recognizes my name and send the driver pushing my wheelchair toward Room 113C. As we go down the hallway I see a gym as big as the one I used to go to in Junior and Senior High. I think this is going to be a much better experience.

The next portion of this blog is actually very embarrassing but contains a story that needs to be told. When first arriving at the correct location there was a patient sitting in her wheelchair in the foyer that made me a little fearful initially. She was very large, coughing and appeared to be needy of much physical and medical attention. By the time I was brought into my room I realized that the same person laying in the second bed was the same patient I had encountered. I started to choke at the thought of this particular roommate and I’m embarrassed to say that my thoughts were neither gracious nor loving. I was about to eat a big serving of humble pie and all I can say is that except for my public admission on this page the Lord allowed me to be humbled privately.

A couple of visitors arrived after supper for my new roommate. The teenage daughter appeared and talked like she was seriously mentally challenged and the man was a tall version of Santa Claus. To be honest I felt like I was back in the mountains of East Tennessee where I had mission-worked several years ago. You would think that just that clear association with people I dearly came to love would slap me the one time I needed but it didn’t. It took a serious jolt from the Father to get my head back on straight. The guests were loud but cheerful and it was clear this man tenderly loved his wife. But it was what happened at the end of the visit that made me repent repeated throughout the night and opened my heart to pray instead of bitter. The TV suddenly went off and even through the curtain it was obvious the trio was holding hands and the man began to sweetly ask his Sweet, Precious Jesus to come that night and be with his dear wife that night. His prayer was one that not only broke his heart but mine as well and I am sure the heart of OUR Savior Who I knew we all loved no matter what name we called Him by or how we looked or even smelled. My repentance softened my heart and through the night I found myself listening for my roommate’s labored breathing and responded by calling the heat of the room or other things I knew troubled her to the nurse’s attention. I went from bitter to caregiver before morning and I’ve found myself blessed with a sweet friendship with a family I would have never met had it not been for the room selection obviously done by the Lord and not man.

So today, getting moved, feeling the sun on my face for the first time in a while and traveling throughout most of Fort Worth where just months ago I drove, shopped and worked. Yes, I cried when we passed a corner close to my apartment thinking, “If only I were going home instead of another hospital.” I’ve learned a very hard lesson and once again my heart has been “stented” by the Lord Himself. I get ready for bed hoping the battery on my iPod carries me through the night so I can sleep.

From the Heart,