Full Circle: The Journey from ICU Charge Nurse to Open Heart Surgery Patient

On March 24,2010, 12 days after my 40th birthday my life changed forever...little did I know it probably would have been my destiny no matter what.

I was at work in the ICU at the Palo Alto Veteran's Affairs Hospital where I am the assistant nurse manager of the MSICU, I hadn't been feeling well for a few weeks with episodes of "heartburn", severe fatigue, and I was becoming increasingly short of breath with minimal activities. I chalked it up to being overworked, what mom with a fulltime job doesn't feel that way? Well, little did I know it was my heart all along.

I developed chest pain on that fateful morning shortly after our bed control meeting. Again, I chalked it up to heartburn so I went and had a snack thinking that would help. It didn't. A couple of hours later I texted my husband and told him I wasn't feeling well at all and was seriously thinking of going to the doctor. A few minutes later I told a coworker how I was feeling...she immediately checked my pulse and became alarmed as it was too fast and I was skipping beats. She walked me over to our code bed and hooked me up to the EKG. Before I knew it I was surrounded by a couple of our ICU physicians and nurses who were working to stabilize me. My symptoms screamed "heart attack" but initially we were all in denial as I was a healthy 40 year old and a former competitive athlete.

The next thing I knew, after receiving an aspirin, a beta blocker, and sublingual nitroglycerin our wonderful cardiologist came to see me. She tooked one look at my EKG, held my hand, and told me this was real and I was going to the cath lab ASAP.

Fast forward to the end of the cath...my husband had arrived and we were discussing the results with the cardiologist. Apparently I had an extremely rare coronary artery anomaly. I was born with just a single coronary artery and my anomalous right coronary artery originated off my left main and coursed between my aorta and pulmonary artery! One of our cardiac surgeons walked in, looking very stressed and told me that I needed surgery to correct this ASAP! I was consented for a CABG x 1 on the cath lab table for the following morning.

On March 25, 2010 I underwent a CABG x 1 (RIMA to RCA) to bypass the anomalous vessel. Given my age and surgical risk factors my surgeons felt this was my best option. I've gone on to make a full recovery and was back working in the ICU where I was cared for after surgery exactly 12 weeks later. I was told it was a miracle I survived my athletics and childbirth and I cherish my two NCAA Div. II National Championship volleyball titles from West Texas A&M (90-91) that much more knowing I could have experienced sudden death any time I stepped on the court!