Posts Tagged ‘open heart surgery’

Looking Backward for Perspective

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

A Never Ending Journey

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD 2013
All Rights Reserved

The farther backward you look, the farther forward you can see. Winston Churchill.

Two things happened this week that caught my attention. One was a letter I received from a student at Misericordia University abouttonyfrontcover6adjsm our book, Step Into My Heart. The other was a three hour visit to N.E.P.A. Cardiology Associates for a Nuclear Exercise Stress Test. The former was a very pleasant experience, the latter brought back memories I try to forget.

For those who may not know, heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack.


Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting is the most common type of open-heart surgery in the United States, with more than 500,000 surgeries performed each year

About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year—that’s 1 out of every 4 deaths.

Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, costs the United States $312.6 billion each year.

Approximately every 34 seconds, 1 American has a coronary event and approximately every 1 minute, an American will die of one.

Kaylin’s Note

Kaylin Miley is a student at Misericordia University. For one of her class assignments, she read Step Into My Heart.

This is the letter she wrote after she finished reading the book.

Dear Dr. Mussari,

I have just finished reading your book Step Into My Heart.  I chose the book for a paper I was assigned for my Impairments and Disabilities class here at Misericordia University. 

I cannot express how amazing this book is.  The book,HS 16 Caregiver 1_sm although there is no mention of occupational therapy, gave me much insight into how important being a competent and caring therapist is to the recovery and advancement of a patient.  The words you wrote have touched me deeply and I can say for sure that I will strive to be as good as the caregivers you had, both medical and nonmedical, after your surgery.  The book will forever be a part of me. 

Also, the book gave me insight into what my dad went through this summer.  Although he did not have a heart attack IMGopersm_2222(the doctors caught the blockages before it came to that) he did have triple bypass surgery.  I was like the people you mentioned in your book who said it was a common procedure and that my dad had nothing to worry about. 

After reading the book, I realize there is much more to what went on than I realized.  I am so much more grateful to the team of professionals that have helped and are still helping my dad.  Thank you so much for the inspiring story and the new knowledge of what goes into being a well-rounded and successful caregiver.  I will strive to meet these standards throughout my school and professional careers.

Thank you so much!

Kaylin Miley, OTS

Kaylin’s beautiful, encouraging and thoughtful note could not have come at a more opportune time.  We have been struggling with three health issues, and Kaylin’s caring words helped us to put some things in perspective.

I’m a man with heart disease.

Yes, I had life-saving open heart surgery in 2007, and I’m fortunate to be alive.

This is a summary of the things I learned about heart disease and open heart surgery before and after my operation:

1. It’s a life-altering experience;IMG_opersm_2215
2. It’s a challenging experience;
3. It’s a widely misunderstood experience;
4. It’s a soul-searching/spiritual experience;
5. It’s a family experience;
6. It’s a highly personal experience;
7. It’s a humbling experience;
8. It’s a liberating experience;
9. It’s an opportunity for growth;
10. It’s a journey that is never ending.

A Harsh Reality

That being said, a report published by the U.S. Library of Medicine serves as a chilling reminder to those of us who have the scars of open heart surgery “…this surgery does NOT prevent the coronary artery blockage from coming back. You can do many things to slow it down. Not smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and treating high blood pressure, high blood sugar (if you have diabetes), and high cholesterol will all help and are very important,” but there is no guarantee that the blockages will not return.

Three weeks ago, I had a stress-induced cardiac event. Like my first cardiac event, it happened on location, and aspirin therapy saved the day.

The Test

IMG_NEPACA8_0682On this day, Kitch and I made our way to N.E.P.A. Cardiology Associates for a nuclear stress test with exercise. The test measures how well the heart is pumping blood. It can detect muscle damage and the existence of narrow or blocked arteries.

An appointment to have a stress test is something few people look forward to. The people we met at NEPA Cardiology Associates did a number of things to reduce the apprehension and anxiety that comes with this experience. The technicians and nurses were competent and understanding.

In the waiting, room we met people who were welcoming and kind. There were five of us, and all of us were a little bit on edge, because we were facing the unknown.  We formed a community. We shared our stories, experiences and information.  We were strangers, but each of us knew something about defeat, loss, suffering and pain. We were connected by the power of compassion, and that made all the difference.

After a very competent technician inserted an intravenous line in a veinIMG_NEPACA01_0183 in my right hand, she took me to a room where a gamma camera recorded pictures for about nine minutes in what is known as a “rest scan.”


About 30 minutes later, two nurses took me to another room where sticky patches, were placed on my chest. These patches are essential for the electrocardiogram and the heart monitor.

Then I was taken to the treadmill for the actual test. Before theIMG_NEPACA6_0332 test ended, a radioactive dye was injected into an intravenous line. This substance travels to the heart.  A special scanner similar to an X-ray machine detects the radioactive material in your heart. It creates images of the heart muscle. Inadequate blood flow to any part of the heart will show up as a light spot on the images because not as much of the radioactive dye is getting there.


The final part of the test involves another session with the gamma camera.

For seven minutes the camera records images of the heart after the stress test. During this procedure any motion on the part of the patient will distort the image. It is a very quiet time of thought and reflection.

The Power of Kindness

Our three hour visit to NEPA Cardiology Associates was pleasant and productive. The atmosphere was welcoming and the personnel were helpful.

The nurses and the cardiologist who worked with us wereIMG_NEPACA4_0304 wonderful. They treated both Kitch and me like members of their family. They were sensitive to our fears. They were not rushed or patronizing. They made us feel secure. They explained every step in the procedure. There were no unpleasant surprises.  They were cooperative and helpful enabling Kitch to record this episode in our heart scene journey.

As we left the building I had a conflicting sense of gratitude and sadness. I was thankful for the positive experience, but saddened that I would probably never see my waiting room friends again.

Recalling the 37 magical words of Leo Buscaglia put everything in perspective,

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Thank you, Kaylin.

Thank you, Dr. Das and the professionals at N.E.P.A. Cardiology.

Thank you, Arlene, Florence, Lee, Leslie, and George.

You are examples of America at its best.

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Life is for the Living

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Life is for the Living

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
All Rights Reserved

I’ve got nothing to do today but smile. Simon & Garfunkel

One of the goals of our Face of America project was to demonstrate that one can live a full life after open heart surgery.

Five years ago this day, Operating Room 4 at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital was my home. The fact that I am writing this note indicates that Dr. Michael Harostock and the members of the surgical team who helped him performed my quadruple bypass surgery did a good job.

During the past five years, I tried to make the most of the opportunities I had to help others and serve my community.  I tried to be a good friend to those who sought my friendship. I tried to produce television programs and tell stories that would help people find examples of hope, inspiration and service. I made a commitment to do at least one kind act every day. I worked in quiet ways to refine the gifts of forgiveness, tolerance and understanding. I realized a childhood dream to travel the highways of our country searching for the greatness of America. I tried to be a good steward of Windsor Park.

Most important, every day I try to be a good husband to Kitch, father to my children and grandfather to Julia and P.J.

On the good days when I am successful, I feel a peaceful kind of joy. On the bad days when I don’t quite measure up to the standard, I remind myself that I can and must do better. Every day, I learn something that helps me to grow in ways that would make my parents proud. I gain strength and comfort from the words of George Bernard Shaw:

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

The Blessings of a Second Chance at Life

For the past five years, I have enjoyed the blessings of a second chance at life. For that I am more thankful than any words can express.

In 2007, my near death experience taught me some invaluable things about life.

Life is what you make it, not what others give you.  Make it a good experience. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson apply:

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Life is not always kind. There are many disappointments, but disappointment is the mother of opportunity. Margret Mitchell’s words are prophetic:

Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.

Life is about humility. Not the humility of the saints, but the humility of the heart makes you realize that you are not the center of the universe. To paraphrase the words of Khaled Hosseini:

It is better to be hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.

Life is short, and it is about slow progress:

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Ralph Ellison

We have to be content with slow progress. Fr. Joe Grizone

Life is about giving, not taking. Give generously and thoughtfully of your time and your talents when you can. One of our greatest minds gave truth to these words:

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. Albert Einstein

Life is about looking forward. Don’t look back with regret. Move forward with resolve.

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride! Hunter S. Thompson

A meaningful life is about caring in genuine ways about family, friends and country. Emily Dickinson’s advice always wins the day:

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

Life is for the living. Live it fully, because you may not get a second chance:

Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted. Sylvia Plath

Life is a monument to friendship. Without friendships deeply rooted in caring, gratitude,loyalty and sharing, life is empty:

Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing. Elie Wiesel

Life is about courage translated into daily practice.  Do the right thing for the right reason:

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. Anais Nin

Life is about disappointment, discouragement and despair. Don’t Give Up!

When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way. Paulo Coelho

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today life goes on, and it will be better tomorrow. Maya Angelou

The words of Langston Hughes summarize the most important lesson I learned on June 12, 2007:

Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.
Langston Hughes

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