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True Tales of a Collegiette: The Story of My Father’s Heart

I’m going to share with you the first and last time my dad ever watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

It was season 7, episode 15 – “Golden Hour.” For those who are not avid watchers of the show or simply need a refresher, this episode covers one hour, an hour that showcases how much of an importance time is in the medical world, a world where anything could go wrong.

One of the patients that Meredith is taking care of is a dad that comes in thinking he has a bad case of heartburn. 45 minutes later (in show time) Meredith and Teddy are rushing to an OR with the patient and talking about how they have no time to “scrub in” and need to open him up immediately. In the end, the patient dies, my father walks out of the room and we’re reminded of why he doesn’t like to watch medical shows. My father and this fictional patient are more alike than most would think because they both suffered from an aortic dissection.

I remember being four-years-old and being so small that I could lay on my dad’s chest as our family watched TV. Even today, he still wears the same white t-shirt and dress pants when he’s relaxing at home. I remember this bringing me comfort as I annoyed him with typical four-year-old questions like, “Do Digimon go to Heaven?” and “Can I have popcorn before bed?”

But the one thing that emulates from this memory for me is the tick, tick, tick that I would hear coming from his chest. The ticking of my dad’s heart was normal to me and while I knew not everyone’s heart ticked like his, I never thought to question it. It turns out it was from his aortic valve replacement.

Rewind 20 years ago to September 27, 1996. I was 18-months-old, all my siblings were still in school, barely teenagers, and my dad had been complaining about chest pains. He decided to go for a check-up, assuming those pains to be a form of indigestion, despite his neck feeling weird and an irregular heartbeat. However, after looking at my father’s tests and scans, the prognosis wasn’t good. What had been found was definitely not indigestion, it was an aortic dissection.

An aortic dissection is when the inner layer of the aorta, the main artery of the heart, tears. As rare as the condition is, it’s just as rare to properly diagnose it. Catching it is key – it’s life-saving as that’s exactly what happened in my dad’s case. My mom met my dad at the hospital and my siblings and I stayed with our aunts. The doctors explained to my mom and dad the seriousness of the surgery and that, basically, no news was good news – the longer that he was in the operating room, the better.

They told my mom that the survival rate was 40/60, but they later told her that they had lied. They thought he had no chance of surviving at all.

I learned more about his surgery the older I got. I would give my medical history to doctors during my check ups and as soon as I say the words “aortic dissection,” people’s eyes get wide and I’m told how lucky my family and I are that it was caught. The seriousness of my dad’s condition set in more over the years and I realized how truly fortunate I am.

What happened with my dad is something that has affected me in a lot of ways. It’s what makes me believe in my faith and that there are those who watch over us – my dad always tells me of the overwhelming feeling of peace that he felt when he was going into surgery, a peace that is unexplainable. It gives me a certain kind of appreciation for him, one that is different than most father-daughter relationships. Even at 18 months, I was a key in my father’s recovery and even tried to make him feel better by giving him one of my stuffed bears, which is currently sitting on my bed in my dorm.

Every day of the last 20 years has been a blessing. I almost grew up not knowing my father and he’s one of the most important people in my life. The more years that pass since my dad had his surgery, the more emotional he gets. We sometimes joke about it, but now that I’m older, I find it hard to not get emotional or at least sentimental in a way. My dad survived a condition that in many cases, if not most, has been fatal.

My dad was given a second chance and it has taught me all that I will need to know in life.

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Junior at Montclair State University who plans on majoring in English. Known for being stressed, well dressed, and boyband obsessed.
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