Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

A heartfelt thank you


September 20, 2019

For you Heritage Florida Jewish News readers who have been following my heart saga that began some 16 months ago, I wanted to give an update. As you might recall, I am the one who had a heart attack while playing chess, and ended up having quintuple bypass open-heart surgery. When I left the hospital five days later, I had the expectancy of recovery, but rather than getting better, things got worse. Not long after I got home from the hospital, my health began to decline and I was diagnosed to have “heart failure,” and told that I was a “candidate for sudden death.” The problem was my heart function, or “ejection fraction.” It was 30 percent and, generally speaking, anything 35 percent and below was considered extremely dangerous.

What I needed most then was a surgically implanted defibrillator to zap and kick-start my heart should it stop beating, but that could not happen until three months after my surgery. In the meantime, all I could do was continue on with cardiac rehab, take my medications, and count the days. During those months, I prayed a lot, shed tears, and suffered a series of complications.

The day of my defibrillator implant did finally arrive. There I was on the operating table, shaved chest, an IV needle in each arm, and a large surgical monitor screen above me. Not yet sedated, I became aware that things were not what they should be. There was a problem. They brought my wife in and explained to us that my body had an anomaly: I had a “persistent left superior vena cava.” A benign condition, but a condition that nonetheless canceled the implantation procedure that day. There was another defibrillator company that made an alternative defibrillator for people like me, I was told, but that would be another day. And that is pretty much where my last story for the Heritage Florida Jewish News ended and where we now begin.

My anomaly and last-minute canceled surgery experience gave me a lot to think about. I thought that perhaps I could raise my ejection fraction from 30 percent to above the much revered 35 percent. It was not unheard of for one to raise the ejection fraction through exercise, medication, and right eating (low sodium, low fat). Perhaps I just needed more time. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to have a defibrillator. These were dangerous thoughts, I admit, and I am not recommending anyone in a similar situation to do as I did. Despite the grave risk, I opted for more time to at least temporarily forgo the defibrillator while I would work at raising my ejection fraction. It was my decision alone.

Working hard at staying the course, months later I had another echo cardiogram. My ejection fraction this time had now gone up from 30 percent to 35 percent. I was now on the cusp, headed in the right direction, I hoped, but still in very dangerous territory. Then recently, I had another echo. This time my ejection fraction rose from 35 percent to somewhere between 40 percent and 45 percent; well below normal, but I was no longer a candidate for a defibrillator. There was also no scar tissue to be found. My heart had physically gotten slightly smaller too and, according to my cardiologist, that was also a good thing. The results were “all good.”

I am inclined to say that while my heart has been getting physically smaller, it has also been growing a lot on a spiritual level. This whole experience has made me a better person, although I’m still a work in progress. Open-heart has opened my heart. Looking back, it was not a heart surgery that I went through, but a circumcision of the heart.

Many thanks to my medical team, but my gratitude extends far beyond them. I am grateful to G-d, who has seemingly granted me more time to make the most of; to my beshert Judy, who read Rumi love poems to me while I was in the hospital, and who is forever looking out for me; and to my family and friends, who I can count on in time of need. I would also like to extend a special thank you to the many wonderful people who prayed on my behalf even though we never met. May you all be inscribed in the book of life. 

L’Shanah Tovah 

Harold Witkov


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