Personal Stories: Kim W.Adams-By Jeff Hurt
My name is Jeff Hurt and I am using my partner–Kim W. Adams–of 19+ years’ account to post some info. The day before Thanksgiving 2003, Kim had an aortic dissection followed by a 10-hour surgery, six days on life support, ten additional emergency room visits after the surgery and three more additional hospital stays. Kim experienced a host of complications and today all his doctors say he is a true walking-living-breathing miracle. Kim’s an RN-case manager and works for Dallas County Parkland Hospital which is also a teaching hospital for University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. I will let Kim eventually post his story and then I follow up with a view as a family member and caregiver. The main reason I am writing today is to address a side effect–cognitive processing deficits–of the open-heart surgery used to correct the aortic dissection. Five and half months after Kim’s initial dissection, Kim’s health is great. Aside from the frequent back and chest pain from the surgery, he is doing well. He tires quickly and easily but the biggest challenge facing us today is the setbacks from his cognitive thinking and processing. Kim’s short-term memory is poor and he often has challenges with word finding, expressing himself, multi-step tasks, normal coping skills, poor judgment, loss of inhibitions and other normal thought processes. Stress exacerbates the problems and work has been somewhat difficult at best. Some of his doctors think he went back to work too soon and we are now waiting for test results concerning his brain to see if he should stop working for a while. We were unprepared for this side effect and have since learned that this is rather normal for anyone who has open-heart surgery. Some of the docs lovingly refer to this side effect as “Pump Head” because of the time spent on the lung and heart bypass pump. Short-term memory loss, mood swings, difficulty focusing and intensified emotions are some of the traits associated with “Pump Head.” At first, Kim was unaware of his deficits but eventually came to realize that he had some challenges with his brain. Three weeks ago, Kim spent two days in neuro-psychological testing in hopes of identifying the problems and finding ways to deal with them. The Neuro-psych doc stressed that Kim’s challenges are common for people who have open-heart surgery and could last for up to two years after the surgery.
This doc further stated that current research showed that those who did not have immediate symptoms experienced similar challenges five years after the surgery. We will receive all the results next week and are anxious to have a medical diagnosis. Then we can officially start making the necessary changes to our lives to adapt to these new challenges. For a long time after the surgery, I was not sure that Kim was the same person I had known for 19 years. He looked the same and sounded the same yet he acted very different. In today’s world, change is the one constant but when it is in your own household, with the family you love, it is still hard to embrace. I have titled this portion of our life together “White Water Rapids Change” and decided just to enjoy the ride. If I get soaking wet from the river ride, it really doesn’t matter. Life is a journey and when you’ve seen and faced death, nothing else really matters. We have a saying in our home, “What’s the worst thing that could happen at this point?” Death? Well, our faith rests in a higher power and for us that is just a crossing over to the other side. Yet, deficits of the mind were one of those challenges we never thought would happen. We have not come this far to give up. We will get through these hurdles and will make whatever changes to our lives are necessary so that we both can experience “quality life.” I primarily wanted to share with folks that once you clear the hurdles of diagnosis, successful surgery, the correct balance of meds and some semblance of a normal routine again, there may still be another unexpected challenge staring you in the face: “Pump Head” or deficits with normal cognitive brain processing. Face those challenges with the same tenacity as the aortic dissection, one day at a time.
Thanks for stopping by to view our stories. Please help me keep the site going by shopping at Amazon.com-It’s very much appreciated. Brian Tinsley founder of AorticDissection.com (please book mark the link once you get to Amazon.com for future purchases!)