Two Hearts and a Hospital

hearts

I’d like to tell you a story about two hearts and a hospital. One heart belongs to a little girl from Honduras, named Ana Cristina Quevedo. I’ve never met her, but her story matters to me.  Little Ana had a congenital heart defect that caused her to struggle to breathe. She used to crouch down on the ground to conserve her energy, as she was often too weak to stand up.

The second heart belongs to my husband, Frank.

The hospital is the Cleveland Clinic.

 

Until two months ago, when my husband, Frank, suddenly needed open heart surgery, I was aware of the Cleveland Clinic, but only in a general, several-steps-removed way. Frank’s stress test and angiogram that showed an urgent (and unexpected!) need for bypass surgery introduced us to a world many others share, where we were caught up in a whirlwind of doctors, phone calls, questions, answers, and decisions.

Although we were blessed with many excellent options and caring medical professionals, we decided to go to the Cleveland Clinic, for their world-renowned cardiac unit, and some of the most skilled doctors in the world. I wrote about our journey to what we now call The City of Valentines here.

 

I will always have a love for Cleveland now, and for the Cleveland Clinic. When I learned that the Clinic is a non-profit institution that provides clinical and hospital care along with world-class research and education, in one of the largest and most respected hospital systems in the country, I developed a deep respect for the important work they do every day.

It’s impossible to overstate the incredible lifesaving surgeries and care they perform there. Frank returned home, whole and healthy, but he is simply one of thousands who come in through their doors, and leave to return to a full and vibrant life. The motto and mission of the Clinic is “Patients First.” Frank and I can attest to it. We experienced it first hand.

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The Clinic’s March email newsletter told a story of another heart surgery, for little 9-year-old Ana, accompanied from Honduras to the Clinic by her father, Juan Ramon Quevado. Her heart’s congenital defect meant her heart wasn’t strong enough to pump blood throughout her body.

“When we first saw Ana, her fingertips and lips were blue from lack of oxygen in her blood,” said Brain Smith, director of Strategic Project Development at the Cleveland Clinic. He’s also a board member and volunteer for Helping Hands for Honduras, which provides cardiac care to Honduran infants and children with congenital heart defects at no cost to their families.

HHH Logo

Ana desperately needed a complex surgery which would reconfigure her heart. It was impossible to perform the surgery in Honduras, so emails and phone calls were exchanged at a frantic pace, and soon Ana was on her way to Cleveland. Helping Hands for Honduras arranged medical visas and passports, and American Airlines contributed airline tickets.

On September 2, 2014, the pediatric cardiac surgical team gave her a second chance at life. Today, she has an oxygen saturation level of 97 percent, well within normal range, and has grown an inch and a half in two months.

 

Frank and I have become contributors to the Toby Cosgrove Innovation Fund,supporting the clinic in the name of its CEO, Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, and in honor of Frank’s doctors, Dr. Donald F. Hammer and Dr. Edward G. Soltesz. The path we walk through life can open our eyes to  needs we never knew were there.

The best paths through life can also open our hearts. Frank’s heart is open today, because of the Cleveland Clinic. They have our lifelong gratitude. Eight weeks after Frank’s life-altering surgery, we’re back home and back to work: healthy and happy!

frank post surgery

Frank and Trudy at an installation in New York City

Our journey has included an exploration of wonderful heart-healthy meals.   A fabulous book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Cleveland Clinic Cardiologist Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., has, in turn, inspired The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, by Ann Crile Esselstyn and Jane Esselstyn. Here’s one of our new favorites. If you make it, let me know if you enjoy it as much as we do!

Ted’s House Salad

  • 3 cups spring greens
  • 1/2 jicama, peeled and cut into strips
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 purple bell pepper or red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced
  • 2 purple potatoes or red new potatoes, cooked and sliced
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 small apple, cut into thin horizontal circles with the beautiful center star featured
  • 1/2  cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted

Dressing

  • 2-3 tablespoons hummus, prepared without oil or tahini
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (to taste)
  • Splash of orange juice

Combine the greens, jicama, carrots, peppers, cucumber, potatoes, raspberries, apple, raisins, and pumpkin seeds in a funky bowl, dress, and serve with wacky tongs!

The wacky tongs are optional.

The City of Valentines

 

There’s a saying on the island, that “all roads lead to Nantucket.” For me and for my husband, Frank, that’s mostly true. But out of the blue, life presented us with a detour to Cleveland.

As they say, life can turn on a dime.

 

It was only a little over two weeks ago that Frank pulled me aside and quietly dropped a bomb into our lives. “My EKG and stress test weren’t good,” he said. “Will you take me for an angiogram tomorrow morning?”

And so it began. No warnings, no symptoms, just a routine check up. How could we not have known that something significant was wrong? We eat carefully, all organic, few fats. We are not overweight. We exercise. We meditate. We are happy. And still, the verdict comes: “You need open-heart surgery, a multiple by-pass.”

Heart Doctor Therapy

We weren’t sure where to turn, but there were caring medical professionals talking to us about our options. We did some research. We asked questions. Loving, concerned friends told us about their experiences. It was all so bewildering. We were in the middle of a whirlwind.

A measure of calm returned when we spoke to our friend from Nantucket, Dr. Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove. President and CEO of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic since 2004, he made everything simple. “Come to Cleveland,” he told us. “We do 4,500 bypasses a year. We’ll make all the arrangements for you. We have a hotel attached to the clinic by a skywalk.”

 

And then, the magic words: “This is a low-risk surgery.”

What really convinced me, however, was when Toby said, “Trudy, I want you to know that once your husband has the surgery, he will have a normal life expectancy.” That was worth its weight in gold. We chose Cleveland Clinic, and before we knew it, we were on our way.

airplane in snow

The weather in the northeast took a turn for the worse just as we arrived at the airport in New York for our flight to Cleveland, but a series of serendipitous events began that day. All through the process, I felt the gentle nudge of good fortune, and perhaps, something more than that. Friends, family, co-workers, clients, peers and acquaintances were praying for Frank, cheering us, sending poems and notes and emails with encouragement and stories of other successful bypass operations.

It wasn’t a surprise, then, when we arrived at Cleveland airport and our driver, Mustapha, also seemed to have a deeper wisdom to share with us.  He showed us pictures of the many people who had had successful operations going home. How reassuring.

 

The Cleveland Clinic campus is huge, stretching for 14 city blocks, with 44 buildings on 167 acres of land. The Miller Pavilion is an architectural masterpiece, designed by the Columbus architectural offices of NBBJ, and home to the Heart and Vascular Institute.

 

Outside the Miller Pavilion, also known as the J Building, is a wonderful fountain, designed by American landscape architect Peter Walker. Flat on top with a sheet of water three feet high, the moving water never stops, changing colors constantly. Electric heaters keep it from ever freezing, no matter what the weather.

 

People travel here from every state in the nation and 133 countries to seek the very best medical care.

Cleveland clinic welcome

The Cleveland Clinic has 4,500 beds throughout all their medical centers, with 1,400 in Cleveland. More than 3,200 physicians and scientists guide the groundbreaking work, with 35,000 people employed nationwide. Each of the Clinic’s employees we met had a warm touch and a seemingly uncanny knowledge of what to say and do to help us through our journey.

cleveland clinic 9The Clinic is also home to more than  3,500 modern and contemporary art pieces, creating an awe-inspiring experience; the feeling is more like being in a world-class art museum than a hospital. Every where we look, our eyes, and hearts, are lifted.

It’s the work of the Cleveland Clinic’s Arts and Medical Institute, with the mission of integrating the visual arts, music, performing arts and research to promote healing. The Institute is based on the belief that fine art comforts, elevates the spirit and affirms life and hope.

Cleveland Clinic 1

The suspended artwork shown above, Blue Berg, is by Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, a 30-foot sculpture of an iceberg in the Labrador Sea, made out of aluminum tubing. Visitors commonly believe the sculpture to be whatever body part they are there to take care of: a kidney, a tooth, a heart, according to Joanne Cohen, executive director and curator of the Arts and Medicine Institute Arts Program.

The photo below is Cleveland Soul, a sculpture by Jaume Plensa.

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As Frank underwent tests for two full days to assess his fitness for surgery, I had time to walk the halls and gaze at the beautiful art all around me. One of the most moving experiences was walking through an underground tunnel to the pharmacy. Softly changing lights in pastel shades of blue, green and pink illuminate the walls, making the passage almost ethereal.

cleveland clinic tunnel 3

Everywhere, the architects and designers have given thought to the experience. The walls undulate and curve.

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Below is a video projection by Jennifer Steinkamp, an image titled Mike Kelly. Designed to reflect the seasons and the changing color of leaves, Ms. Cohen describes the tree as a whirling dervish that brings movement and nature into the static lobby space. By bringing the landscape in, the piece connects patients and visitors to life outside the clinic.

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I was glad to see that the Clinic has a wellness store that stocks only eco-friendly products!

cleveland clinic wellness store

When the two days of tests were complete (and Frank passed with flying colors), the surgery was scheduled for early the following morning.

We were due to check in at five a.m. By five thirty, they came to take Frank. Everyone involved in his care was also involved in mine, it seemed. I was given a binder with explanations of what to expect, spaces for notes and places to slide physicians’ business cards in for safekeeping. Someone placed a beeper on a cord around my neck, and instructed me that it would beep when the major surgery had begun.

So far that morning I’d managed to be brave, but all at once, I was alone.

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I wasn’t only alone. I was upset. I was angry. I cried for the first time since the bomb was dropped.

But this is the Cleveland Clinic. Not only do they have the world’s top surgeons, most highly skilled and trained physicians, the most effective nursing staff, and cutting-edge treatments, they have compassion. I found myself surrounded by three kind and caring women, Antoinette, Monica, and Manya, who run the family lounge of the hotel, where they comfort new families every week.

Deeply spiritual people, these three beautiful women embraced me and prayed with me. “Only think of good things,” Manya instructed me. Later, Jeanne Murphy, Toby’s invaluable executive liaison, found me in the family reception area for patients undergoing cardiac surgery. What a relief.

Comforting Hands

I wasn’t the only one treated with warmth and concern. All around me were other families, receiving the same kind of loving outreach. Although it seemed at times that I was on a very advanced foreign planet, I made friends with others going through similar experiences. I learned so much.

It’s been two weeks since the surgery, and it’s been a tough road. Recovery has ups and downs, but I’ve stayed by Frank’s side and in spite of the fear, the pain, and the set-backs, he’s getting better every day. Although I wouldn’t want to go through this again, our time here in Cleveland has brought us closer together. That’s the silver lining.

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We’ve had so much help. Dr. Toby Cosgrove and Jeanne Murphy made this happen. Jeanne has been by our side from the very beginning. Frank’s surgical team was fifteen strong, led by Dr. Edward Soltesz, all taking care of my guy.

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Thank you to all of you who kept the office humming: Price, Nicole, Sondy, Randi, Cheryl, and Lisa. Thank you to the lifesavers who kept the home fires burning: my dad, Bob, and Anna, Henry, Gordon, Anna Mae, Danutia. A special thank you to Nick and Emily, who were here by our sides. It meant the world to have you here.

This journey isn’t over, by a long shot. There’s rehab and more recovery. There will be continued adjustments as Frank regains his strength. Our carefully monitored diets will become even more Mediterranean, more heart health-centric. It’s been a journey of the heart, from start to finish.

Doctor holding heart

The first stage will end on Valentine’s Day, when we say goodbye to the Cleveland Clinic and fly back home to Connecticut. The significance of that day is not lost on us. We cherish every moment we have together, and the people who have given us a part of themselves, to strengthen us along the way.

Now that the worse is behind us, I think of all the other lucky hearts helped here, and all the lives saved. I think of all the other people who will go on living, with their quality of life undiminished, thanks to the team of heroes at the Cleveland Clinic.

Because of its location on Lake Erie, Cleveland is often thought of as the city on the lake. It is also the city of healing, the city of love, the city of friendship. For me and for Frank,  Cleveland will forever be our city of Valentines.

city of valentines