Jor-El won’t give up on being stronger than he was before open-heart surgery.
I have known my entire life that my heart was different. I was born with congenital bicuspid aortic stenosis. During my early years of life, it didn’t limit me at all. However, as I got older that changed. When everyone else was playing football, I couldn’t because of my condition. I took up baseball instead and played this sport for 7 years. The only reason I quit playing was because, once I reached a certain age I was required to wear a protective plate in front of my heart. Kids can be mean and would tease me for it. A few years went by without me playing any sports. I did, however, spend everyday after school and summers outside running and playing with no side effects from the valve.
I continued to see my cardiologist until I was 18 and quit going when my parents couldn’t make me anymore. I knew in the back of my mind I needed to continue to see one, but it wasn’t on the top of my list of things to do. After all I was 10 foot tall and bulletproof.
I began weightlifting and power lifting roughly 9 and a half years ago. I took supplements and testosterone boosters and high caffeine drinks to “give me a push.” The guys I worked out with didn’t need this stuff as much as I did, and I just put it off as they were stronger and had better endurance. Looking back this was my first warning that something was changing in my heart, but I ignored it.
In the summer of 2012 while at work, I felt a pain in my chest and immediately took myself to the emergency room. It turns out that I had pulled a muscle right above my sternum causing pain. This did, however, prompt some tests to be run to make everything was fine. I continued to work out and use every type of supplement on the market except steroids because I knew those couldn’t be good for my heart. I made excuses for why I needed to use the other ones.
Fast forward 3 years, my wife has become an R.N. and now I have to see a cardiologist due to my wife’s orders. My cardiologist tells me in the prior 3 years my valve has been drastically tightening. I realize that heavy lifting and forcing my body to do things my heart wasn’t ready to handle had done more harm than good. I was only 28 years old and had 2 kids I knew I had to do something. So, I was referred to a surgeon who ran some tests. It turns out an aortic valve is supposed to have a 3.2cm diameter. Mine was .8cm.
The surgeon asked me if I was having symptoms such as short of breath or fatigue to which, out of fear, I said no. I waited a couple of weeks struggling through work and basically everyday life. The final straw for me was getting lightheaded after putting my daughter’s shoes and then struggling to walk around for 30 minutes.
I reluctantly decided to have the surgery. I was given the choice of having the surgery two days later or two weeks later. I originally said two weeks so that I could mentally prepare which was just an excuse to put it off longer. My wife suggested to just go ahead and have it done so I wouldn’t talk myself out of it. I finally agreed to the two day option. As it turns out this was truly a smart decision.
On April 21st, 2015 after living with my heart disorder for so long, I was about to have open heart surgery. As I walked into the hospital I spit out my last pinch of tobacco. I had been using tobacco for 10 years and knew this would be the perfect time to finally quit. To say I was scared is a drastic understatement, after all I was 28 and about to have my chest cracked open.
After saying goodbye to my parents and my wife, I was taken into surgery to fix my valve. The procedure was supposed to take roughly three hours. At the three and a half hour mark the surgery team informed my wife that after opening me up they discovered an aneurysm on the root of my ascending aorta, which had the thickness of wet tissue paper. After seven and a half hours and being 15 minutes away from being placed in cardiac arrest, I was being stitched back together. I had made it through the surgery and now it was time to start recovering!
The first time the nurses wanted me to stand up and walk I tried to convince them otherwise. After two days of doing laps around the floor three times a day, I decided I could do more. On my third night I walked around my floor thirty-five times. I had decided I wasn’t just going to survive I was going to thrive.
I was released from the hospital after a week and my real recovery started. As soon as my doctor told me that I could lift fifteen pounds, I did. Every time he raised my max weight I would crush it. I was slowly gaining back my strength and wasn’t getting winded as easily.
Just three short months after surgery, I was lifting weights again and running all with more stamina and not having to use supplements to give me prior results.
I still have a long way to go to reach my weight lifting and running goals, but I will not give up on being stronger than before.
– Jor-El King, Seymour, Tennessee