by Warren Selkow, heart disease survivor

When I first started to write this, I had no plans as to what the final use of this book would be. In fact, it wasn't even a book. It was, at best, a short monograph. In the initial version, I was just going to report, as factually as I could, what I wanted to know and was afraid to ask when I first got sick. I thought then it was not necessary to tell my story; besides, readers would not appreciate it. I am not a doctor of medicine. Why should anyone listen to me? As you read this, you will decide if what I say has any worth.

As it turns out, it is very necessary for me to tell my story, but not all at once. That is boring and is just one old sick guy blowing off hot air. Instead, I will relate my experiences and what I remember. Someday we can all get together and swap tales of daring do about our shared experiences. Not! I have talked with many surviving open-heart patients. What is more important is helping you prepare for, accept, and live with the disease. Put that way it kind of sounds like living next door to overly loud neighbors. Not pleasant, but tolerable.

I gave that initial paper to my cardiologist with only the hope that he would find it worthwhile and give it to his patients. Things didn’t work out that way. He came back and told me this was really about living with almost all chronic diseases and he named the big four: coronary artery disease, diabetes, renal failure, and pulmonary disease. I don't know squat about the last three of those diseases. However, the doctors do and they say that the advice I give in this book works for all the diseases. Who am I to argue?

I have firsthand experience in living with coronary artery disease (CAD) and, fortunately, none of the others. What the cardiologist told me is that millions of people suffer from both diabetes and CAD. This work could and would lessen the deleterious effects of those twin killers and allow the sufferers to live not only more comfortable and easier lives but longer lives as well. Shucks, Skippy, could I actually help others? It now seems so.

The conversation with my cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Caplan, CEO of Cardiac Solutions in Peoria, Arizona, started me to think about not only the day-to-day disciplines of CAD but also what the patient goes through starting with being diagnosed and then all the catastrophic events that ensue. I use the term "catastrophic," although, if you are diagnosed early on in the life cycle of serious cardiac disease, the term "life changing" might be more appropriate.

Actually, the conversation was with Michele Ridings, a registered nurse at Cardiac Solutions, who educates and treats patients with congestive heart failure and hyperlipidermia (high cholesterol). Mrs. Ridings specializes in education and follow-up regarding diet and the other necessary life adjustments attendant on living with chronic heart disease. I do not recall exactly what Michele said but something in that comment triggered all this work.

I divided this book into four primary sections. The first section deals with preparing for and surviving open-heart surgery and the aftermath, and getting through the first six weeks after the surgery.

The second section deals with living with chronic heart disease for the long term. If you have already had open-heart surgery, then you may skip this first part and go right to either the aftermath section or the section about living with cardiac disease for the long haul.

The third section tackles the exacerbating circumstances of not only having heart disease but also diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lastly, renal failure in multiple combinations.

The last main section addresses the psychological side effects of depression, anxiety, and stress.

As it turns out, the book is organized in pretty much exactly the order in which a patient lives with the diseases. Those who read and vetted the book recommended that all sections be read regardless of where a heart patient might be. Even those sections on the other diseases are helpful because of the additional information presented and the impact of those diseases on heart disease.

In my case, the long haul, that first heart attack turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If not for that heart attack, my condition would have gone undiagnosed, and in a few months, my heart would have literally exploded. It is understandable that most people would wish to never have a heart attack.

Caregiver notes: From time to time, it will be necessary to give some helpful advice and guidance to those providing care to the cardiac patient. Those paragraphs will be printed in italics, just like this.

All the caregiver notes come from my wife, Donna.

The caregiver should read the whole book, if for no other reason than to better understand what the patient will be living through. My wife, Donna, assisted me in writing the sections on the caregiver. And who better? She was with me through both open-heart surgeries and, frankly, I would not be alive today if not for her.

You will also notice much of the book is written in first person plural, we, a strange twist given there was only one sick person. Without my wife there would be no first person, I. We had to get through the serious sick times together. My wife, my primary caregiver, was with me step by agonizing step. My wife understood the grave nature of my illness, better than I did. I was living in Egypt on De Nile. Sorry for the horrible pun. Denial is a common side dish accompanying the diagnosis of serious cardiac disease.

When we first learned the seriousness of the diagnosis, I said, "Can't be." We are sure that many others have the exact same response. We sincerely hope you find some comfort in this book from learning you (the both of you) are not alone and you can both persevere and move on.

One last thought: Knowledge provides power, assurance, and survival. We are nine years post-op for the first open-heart surgery and seven years post-op for the second. We are also in better physical shape now than we were as far back as five years before the first surgery. What we say in this book works for us and it will work for you. Honest.

Few people realize what the caregiver must live through. It is a physical and emotional gut-wrenching experience to get a loved one through open-heart surgery and then help the person deal with the disease. The long-term caregiver has to learn to live with the patient’s disease as well as the patient does. The price of freedom is vigilance; to stay well will require you to stay vigilant. In the main text of the book, some statistics address life expectancy after heart surgery. They are enlightening. More importantly, those statistics demonstrate your importance, as the caregiver, to the long-term welfare and continuing good health of your patient. Please take those statistics to your heart.

It takes a team effort to stay well with serious heart disease. The team consists of your patient (the object of all the attention), the cardiologist for the regular monitoring of the disease, the cardiologist’s medical staff for the maintenance of the disease, your general care physician, and other assorted folks that will come through on a regular basis. As the caregiver, you are the captain of the team. It will fall to you to ensure the proper advice is given and understood, and the patient follows instructions.

The Simplified Handbook for
Living with Heart Disease
and Other Chronic Diseases

This comprehensive, doctor reviewed and approved book explains heart disease from a patientís perspective. Without complicated medical mumbo-jumbo, this blunt and hilarious book is a total lifesaver.