On September 9, 2010 I entered the Cleveland Clinic for a procedure to replace my aortic heart valve (AVR). During the procedure and recovery loved ones were kept up to date using a personalized section of the Cleveland Clinic’s portal called “theStatus.com”.  I thought it was only fitting to make the last post there the first post here.

First, a big thank you (and kiss) to Judy for updating the site during my ordeal.  I don’t know how I would have gotten though this without you.  Love you!  ♥

September 20th, the day after the last update, was my first walk outside.  I walked the length of the front grounds and kicked the mailbox (a Tom Lillis tradition).  There was concern over my cough.  During my lengthy operation fluid had collected outside my lungs, specifically my left lung, and it was shortening my breath.  Now that I’m on blood thinners (for life) the old stand-by of “oh, we’ll just stick a syringe in you and suck it out” was not on the menu.  Instead I was instructed to walk.  So, there I was for much of September and October walking up and down our little cul-de-sac, heart shaped pillow clutched to my chest every day.  I can’t imagine what the neighbors thought at the time.  Judy fixed everything, though: she told the local busy-body and within a week lovely “get well” cards came in from all the surrounding neighbors.  For good measure every hour to two hours I would do a circuit of the downstairs of the house to help the lungs and to start the blood flowing to my left leg.

My left leg was still quite swollen. The doctors had taken three veins out of it to use as grafts if it became necessary during surgery (because, finding out you need a graft you don’t have whilst the patient’s heart is stopped is considered a medical “no no”).  Mercifully, they didn’t need the grafts but that meant that for a good month afterwards blood was accumulating in the bottom of my left foot.  Judy to the rescue – she picked me up support socks that did wonders for the circulation.  Eventually, the body builds new routes for the blood to take back to the heart and now I just have the scars to show for it.

We were grateful to have my brother Jason for a couple of days in Columbus not least of which so Judy could get

Jason was a God-send during my first days home from the hospital.

some sleep!!  While I was set up in the sunroom a baby monitor was hooked into the guest bedroom where, more than once, Jason came downstairs because he “didn’t like the sound of my coughing”.  We also found out that, when you unplug the downstairs monitor at 6:30am it emits an ear-piercing blast of static at the other end (sorry about that).  Jason was great helping me around/up and down the stairs during those tricky early days home.

We went back to Cleveland on September 30th for a checkup.  They were concerned about the fluid in my lungs but otherwise were quite satisfied with my progress.  The “discharge” from my wound had long since stopped and infection that the infectious disease doctors were fussing about never materialized.  I was later shocked to see how much they charge to fuss by the hour!

By October I was still shaky and weak but getting about pretty well.  Judy and I went to a fancy restaurant near the house to celebrate our anniversary on the 11th.  I was cleared to drive Oct 21 and on the 22nd I went to see my beloved Columbus Crew soccer team play an international game against a Trinidadian team.  It was my first “solo” outing and though I couldn’t perform my usual lusty cheers it was beautiful weather and a great boost to the morale.

Our second follow up to the Cleveland Clinic was on October 22nd.  We split the driving and, while it still took me some time to shuffle around the complex the verdict was a cheerful one: “go away and we don’t want to see you again” 

I had to promise my wife I'd be nice to the other students....

On November 2nd I started Cardiac Rehabilitation.  It is essentially supervised workouts on cardio equipment and classes concerning nutrition, heart health and such.  Columbus has a state of the art recovery center – the McConnell Heart Health Center. I have workouts three days a week and a sit down class once a week.  Much of this is a review – I was a convert to diet and exercise a long time ago and had the same rehab routine after my bypass in 1998.  But, I suppose it’s good to review and plus I was able to teach part of the “stress management” class.  “You have a lot going on” seems to a the regular response when I recount the last few months.

Thank you for all your e-mail, cards, prayers and support.  We really did appreciate them during this whole ordeal. Now we get to work on a happier project: Judy is in her 14th week of pregnancy and our first child is due May 12, 2011!!!  I can’t think of a better reason to look forward to the future.

Love to you all,

Judy & Tom IV