Tag Archives: St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center

How to sell a book: Step 1? Be famous.

In late January I signed up to take a Writer’s Digest webinar called “3 Secrets to Selling Your Nonfiction Book.” A few days after I paid for the session, I was invited to observe an open heart surgery scheduled the same day at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center.

It wasn’t a tough choice. The chance to stand in the operating room watching cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. do a double valve repair and maze procedure on a 60-year-old Valley wife and mom was a once-in-lifetime opportunity and an experience I will never forget. (Find related blog posts here.)

At one point during the six-hour surgery, Brian looked up at me and said, “Bet you thought I was kidding about all this heart surgery stuff!” It was certainly a different look at his life. Six months earlier, I was riding around Ethiopia in a white Toyota Land Cruiser with deGuzman and his wife Keri, who had just adopted their two youngest children. (I wrote about that experience, “An Ethiopian Adoption Story,” for our December magazine.)

I knew the audio transcript of the webinar would be available after the event, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I found time to listen to it.

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What it was like to watch open-heart surgery (Part 4)

I guess I watch too many medical shows on TV. But I was expecting something a little more dramatic.

When cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. finished repairing two damaged valves during an open heart surgery I watched at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center last week it was time to give the repaired heart a test drive. The intricate network of cannulae (tubes) that had been set up to detour the patient’s blood away from the heart during surgery were reconfigured and perfusionist Barry Steinbock gradually sent warm, freshly oxygenated blood back into the heart, which had been in a state of suspended animation throughout the delicate repairs. (To give you an idea just how precise his movements must be, deGuzman at one point told me, “One stitch too deep and she’s on a pacemaker.”)

I was expecting paddles, someone calling, “Clear!” and an electrical shock to restart the heart.

Instead, as I was waiting around for that dramatic moment, the 60-year-old woman’s warming heart quietly welcomed the resurgent lifeblood. Almost imperceptibly, anticlimactically, it slowly started beating.

“Hey!” I said to Steinbock in disbelief. “Her heart is beating!”

Though his mouth was hidden by a surgical mask, I could tell from his eyes that he was smiling indulgently. “That’s usually what happens,” he said. “It usually starts beating again on its own.”

Proving once again that the quiet miracles are the most profound.

That beautiful heart

I had a new appreciation for the heavy pounding of my heart as I trudged up the mountain trail near my home late this afternoon. I will never again take for granted the miraculous choreography of muscle, tissue and resilient fibers that keep my heart functioning and strong.

This morning, I attended a two-hour symposium, “Living with Heart Valve Disease,” at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Almost everyone in the audience was there because they have some type of heart disease — or a loved one who does.

Lishan Aklog, M.D., director of The Cardiovascular Center and chief of cardiovascular surgery at St. Joseph’s Heart & Lung Institute, gave a crash course in heart valve disease, diagnosis and repair. “Plumbing 101,” as he called it. He and Brian deGuzman, M.D., the hospital’s associate chief of cardiovascular surgery, take turns doing these Saturday morning presentations, typically once or twice a month. Some of the symposiums focus on valves; some on atrial fibrillation. All are free to the public. All are presented by two very busy doctors with families of their own who volunteer time to do this  because they believe that patients deserve to be fully educated about their options and involved in decisions about their care.

Aklog showed lots of diagrams, pictures and even audio/video clips to support his explanations. He used analogies to facilitate understanding. (“Think of valves as the doors leading to the rooms that are the chambers of the heart.”) At one point, he played two audio files — one with the steady “lub-dub, lub-dub” of a healthy heartbeat, the other with the eerie, whooshing sound of a narrowed aortic valve.

Imagine a valiant heart struggling to pump gallon of blood every hour through a tiny pinhole. That can happen with severe aortic stenosis. Imagine a determined heart working overtime to prevent the backwash of blood when the “parachute chords” that typically yank the flaps of the mitral valve closed have evaporated or frayed. That can happen with mitral regurgitation.

As Aklog explained complex terms, flipped through visuals on his PowerPoint presentation and patiently answered questions from the audience, I saw anatomy as poetry, anatomy as art.

One morning next week I will don scrubs and watch an open heart surgery. It’s background for some future writing, part of a larger story that involves deGuzman, the adoptive father of four Ethiopia-born children, and Aklog, his Ethiopia-born colleague, collaborator and friend.

That day, I will see anatomy as adventure.

For information about future Heart & Lung Institute symposiums, call 1-877-602-4111 or email info@heart-valveclinic.com.

Ethiopia – the babies are thriving!

I hadn’t seen the deGuzman babies since their birthday party in mid-November. So when I stopped by the family’s Paradise Valley home yesterday morning for a visit, I was pretty sure Tesfanesh and Solomon had forgotten all about me.

Keri greeted me at the door with Solomon in her arms. As I expected, the now 1-year-old toddler (who spent nine blissful hours on my lap during the flight home from Ethiopa last July) nestled his head against his mom’s neck when he saw me, curious but shy.

“He’s playing hard to get,” Keri said, confident that my bond with her children was intact. We greeted each other warmly, eager to catch up on the last few weeks’ flurry of holiday activities, family visits and progress on projects the deGuzmans support in Ethiopia.

Tesfanesh deGuzman.

I heard laughter down the hallway to the left. When I turned to look, I saw Tesfanesh crawling furiously down the hall in my direction. Instinctively, I got down on my knees to put myself at her eye level. Without a moment’s hesitation, she crawled straight to my thighs, using them for leverage as she hoisted herself up to standing and held out her arms for a hug.

I almost lost it. And I definitely lost any resolve I may have had to get back to the office any time soon.

I ended up spending three full hours with Keri and the babies — and also had a moment to catch up with Brian deGuzman, M.D., who had returned from a bike ride as I arrived that morning and had a bit of time at home before heading off to his work as associate chief of cardiovascular surgery at The Heart & Lung Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. (As he kept insisting he would, when we were still in Ethiopia, Brian calls Solomon “Minte,” an affectionate nickname based on his first name, Mintesnot.) The couple’s other two children — 4-year-old Jesmina and 3-year-old Musse, who also were adopted from Ethiopia — were at preschool.

Solomon deGuzman in the family playroom. A map of Africa is on the wall behind him, part of a wall-size map of the world that was already there when deGuzmans bought their house.

The family has pretty much adjusted to their hectic, happy lifestyle and the babies are thriving. Solomon (who did eventually warm up to me) is wiry, strong and as charming and flirtatious as ever. As he moves toward the “terrible 2s,” he’s also developing a knack for drama — moments of frustration quickly manifest in piercing cries and explosive jumps that suddenly stop when he is comforted, distracted or appeased.

Tesfanesh, who is a few weeks younger, remains sunny and serene. She is insatiably curious and (so far) very patient with the process of discovery.

It’s been six months since I traveled with the deGuzmans to bring home these two beautiful babies, born into poverty and orphaned in a country more than 9,000 miles away from Arizona. They are happy, cherished, growing and developing right on track. What could be more remarkable?

MORE about the deGuzmans

My December 2010 article, “An Ethiopia Adoption Story,” is now archived online.

Read more blog posts about my Ethiopia journey.

Ethiopia – a new model for the long-term care of orphans

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine converted to a new website platform. Find this post here.

Preparing for Ethiopia: the health aspects

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine launched a new website. You now can find this post here.