Post Number: 10580
|Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - 12:45 pm: ||
My name is Joseph Lipovsky and my transplant story begins in the spring of 2000, at the age of 40, though at the time I did not know it. I was driving back to my home in Peoria, IL after attending a farm auction and had a period of heart racing. I did not give this a great deal of thought because I attributed it too a "low blood sugar" and a need for food. In my manner of eating at the time I solved the problem by picking up a pair of "whoppers". The discomfort subsided and I gave it no more thought.
My hobbies involved woodworking, gardening, and tearing down and rebuilding olds barns among many things, and though living in town, we bought an old "slaptrap" 6-acre farm-ette in the country. We were busy renovating it and on August 12, 2000 I moved a 600 lb. block of sandstone with my 14-year-old son to the property to be used for an entry sign.
That is as far as the block got because on August 17, 2000 at 8:35 in the morning I call my wife from work just to touch base. She being a registered nurse, told me that my speech was slurred and told me to put the secretary on the line. She had them call an ambulance and had me taken to the hospital. I felt this reaction was out of hand because I didn't think anything was wrong, but I went along with it. I got to the hospital very quickly and they checked me out. They admitted me and did brain scans and checked my heart function. What they found was that I had had a major stroke. I had lost about one third of my left hemisphere. My heart function was also compromised, I had it turned out severe cardiomyopathy with an ejection fraction of 12%. That evening the stroke evolved and I was temporarily paralyzed on the right side. This resolved with heparin while I was at the hospital.
One week later I was discharged and sent home where I made great progress with speech, occupational and physical therapies to recover from the stroke. My family (4 brothers and a sister) made separate journeys from their homes in Maryland and Arizona to come and visit. My brother John asked me to multiply 100 by 1.5 and I couldn't at the time. I went through therapy and regained my right-sided use and strength. Apparently being young helped a great deal and I made what has been termed a full recovery from the stroke. My recall for old events is still in place, the only changes I note are that I dream very rarely now and that I no longer get migraines (one of the few good things). Over the month of September and October I started going into work for a few hours a few days a week, and attending rehab clinic. This did not last long and my boss told me to stay home and work on recovering.
During this period I started learning what heart failure was all about. I started retaining water, and got to the point where all I could eat was an egg-sized portion of food at a time. I started putting on water weight (or actually losing weight but retaining water). My kids started understanding the process when we took them to a Mexican restaurant for my fourth child's birthday on October 24th and I threw up the food there. The store went out of business at the end of that month and the kids blamed it's closing on me. I was admitted to the hospital eleven days before Thanksgiving. I had twenty-two pounds of fluid pulled off me caused by heart failure and I was stable enough to go home for Thanksgiving. I also had at the hospital a defibrillator placed in my chest for my arrhythmia. My new weight was 155 lbs (my college weight). Little did I expect that I would get back to that weight - but the route was not enjoyable. It was at this point in time that the doctors started talking transplant to me, and I started processing the concept. Thanksgiving was a nice period and we had guests but within a few days after I was feeling poorly again and putting on fluid. I was going to the hospital three times a week for intravenous therapy and getting fluid drawn off through the use of I.V. cardiac medications.
December 7, 2000 was a bad day, I woke up and developed a bad headache, which was not a typical one. My wife took me in to the hospital and it was determined that I was having a second stroke. This time they told me I had a right occipital stroke They said that this was caused by not being able to control my blood thickness well after installation of the defibrillator. That is how I remember it. I spent a week in the hospital this time and was informed that this stroke was not as bad as the first one. This one was on the right side and caused a loss of peripheral vision and caused some light feelings of paralysis on my left side. I was in the hospital for about a week as they tried to straighten my medications out. During this time it became very clear that I was heading down the road towards a transplant.
Mid December 2000 was a rough period. I accepted the concept that to live I was going to need a transplant. And through all of this my belief in God never wavered. I just accepted the idea that what I was going through was for a purpose I did not understand. And that it was for God to know and not me. This helped me through the process. I knew that I would not give up without a fight, because we had four kids to rise and I was not ready to "check out" of my own free will. Christmas came and went with me paying what attention I could to the process. I was now sleeping 20 hours a day and not "with it" much for the other four. I could still climb stairs but I was like a 90 year old in that I had to go up one at a time and rest at each one.
Jan. 6, I had a scheduled angiogram and measure of pulmonary arterial pressure. I was told that it was a four-hour procedure and then I would go home. A week later I went home. During the angiogram they found that my pulmonary arterial pressure was now compromised from the heart failure. Through medications during the hospital stay they were able to get my pulmonary arterial pressure back within the acceptable range and thereby got me in a condition acceptable for a transplant. I was told that they got me on the transplant list on the Jan 11th. I was sent home after having a central line installed and was given intravenous meds to take this way. Having a wife who was a trained as a nurse definitely helped.
Now the wait started, but it was not long. With a weight of 150 lbs and having AB+ blood type helped a lot. Three hearts were offered the first three days, but they were turned down by the clinic. The morning of January 25th brought a phone call that they were flying a surgeon out to check a heart. At about two o'clock the call came in to go to the hospital. They then started prepping me and around 6:00 they let me say bye to my wife and wheeled me in.
I received my heart from a 28-year-old male out of Pennsylvania and I am grateful for the chance at life that I was given. I have written to the family but I have not heard back. I will try again but give it some more time. I have not had dreams but I have had a desire to do stone carving that I had not had before – perhaps it is related.
I didn't wake up until the next morning. My wife had waited up all night for me, but I did not become conscious like they expected. The first day was not good, the heart was only functioning at 30% ejection fraction rather than the 60+% they were expecting. That had me worried also the fact that I was in acidosis. They were worried that I had thrown another clot. I went back to surgery and they installed an inflatable balloon pump in the aorta to control the blood flow to the heart, because the heart was working too hard. The acidosis it turned out was not caused by a clot and slowly reversed itself. Normally they have the transplant up the next day to walk. I remained intubated for four days. I remember my wife telling me before the transplant not to fight the tube and I didn't. All my life I had done things for myself, but at this time I was truly at the mercy of others. I just lay back and let others do their job, and I said a lot of prayers.
I was in the hospital for two weeks after the transplant. I did everything that they said. I also ate like a horse and had a double portion for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They got me on the treadmill every day when I was there and I got up to 1.2 miles per hour. For a guy who used to be a runner, this seemed pretty pathetic to me. I also got to walk up and down the stairwell as well as doing walks on the floor. Before being discharged they did another biopsy that showed my ejection fraction at 35%. Winter in Illinois is cold and there was a lot of snow outside with temperatures at night running -10 degrees F at this time. They sent me home where I was going to have to learn to live again in a non-protected environment. I had gotten used to the pampering treatment at the hospital.
For the first two weeks after the transplant I was not allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. For the following two weeks I was limited to lifting two gallons of milk at a time. For me this seemed constraining because I wanted to clean the garage and get my woodworking going. This ended up waiting a couple of months. I was told to walk at least 10 minutes a day. I wore a path in the house from the back bedroom to the entry foyer. It took 50 laps to do the distance they wanted. One month after the transplant I started an exercise program at the hospital, which I found very helpful. I walked on treadmills and got up to 4.2 miles an hour and a 7% slope. After I finished the program at the hospital the weather was warm enough to start walking outside and I got up to walking 2 miles a day. Medicine-wise I had to get used to consuming the large pile of pills. I found this ironic because in college I had the rule I would not date anyone who was on a long-term medication (stupid, I know). Anyway I felt that God got me for that one. I started at 90 mg of prednisone a day and over time (a long time) got weaned off it completely. I had a rejection episode at 2 mg of prednisone a day and the doctors had to juggle my medication to get me past that.
Now two years out - life has become fairly normal again. I started back at my job part time 3 months after the transplant and reached full time eight months after the transplant - it's a desk job. I have only had two minor colds in that time span and take preventive measures. I have found that my short-term memory, which used to be almost legendary has faded considerably. I attribute this to medicine I am taking and have to get used to forgetting where I place my keys, etc. That is my biggest nuisance. I am glad to have my family and my wife and I love them dearly.
My wife Georjean has taken excellent care of me and our family through this process. I am eternally grateful and hope to make it up to her one day. I am getting back up to speed but it is a different speed than what I was used to (I can now only dig 8 thirty inch deep fencepost holes an hour instead of 12). She makes sure we all eat correctly and has made sure that our diet follows the guidelines. Our children Stephen 15, Andrew 14, Kate 11 and Nicholas 9 have had their own issues with this process. I cannot say it was easy on any of them. Kate and Nick have handled it the best, Stephen is the quiet type and Andrew is the emotional one. For each they have had to work through the situation and find their own form of peace.