A Broken Heart

35,000 children are born with heart defects every year (American Heart Association)
Only 1% of those children have truncus arteriosus (many sources, including the Herma Heart Center where Turnip may be treated)
That means about 350 babies are born in the U.S. with the same condition as Turnip every year. (330 according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from jan 6, 2006)
Surgery usually happens at 6-12 weeks (EPA, page 4)
15-50% of children require another surgery within the next five years (i.b.i.d.)
All heart valves are replaced after 12 years(i.b.i.d.)
Newborns with truncus arteriosus stayed in the hospital for an average of 30 days during 2003 (CDC, table 2)
The hospital charges for this stay (not including lab tests and doctor fees) ran to $200,000 (CDC, table 2)
In a small study published in 1996, 6% of infants died before surgery and 10% died during surgery (EPA, page 4)
In a national survey, 20% of newborns with truncus arteriosus died in the hospital in 2003 (CDC, table 1)

Monday, September 1, 2014


Small boy's heart defect and its treatment have affected him and our family in some very obvious and dramatic ways.  They have also affected me more obliquely: they have altered the course of my professional life.

After Small boy's initial diagnosis, I started learning as much as I could about his particular heart defect and about heart function in general.  A few years later, when it became obvious that my foray into science writing was ill-timed and I decided to go back to teaching, I applied for jobs teaching Anatomy & Physiology.  Although I had not taught those courses before, I was able to give a really good job talk based on what I had learned about the heart.  I got hired.

During Small boy's treatment, starting with his prenatal diagnosis, I encountered physicians doing useful, interesting things.  As a healthy child and young adult, I saw my annual trip to the doctor as a bit silly.  The doctors who continue to care for my son make a very real difference in his life, and mine.  During our many visits to the clinic and hospital, I had the chance to observe what doctors do on a daily basis and how they go about doing it--and I became interested.  The profession began to look both engaging and enjoyable as well as useful.

After a few years of teaching Anatomy and Physiology, I began to get jealous of my students....most of whom were going on to apply what they learned in my classes as nurses.

I also realized that without more schooling, I would have neither the job security nor the financial means to adequately care for my son, should I become the sole provider in our family.

All of these factors, as well as many others, led me to apply to medical school a few years ago.

Two weeks ago, I started classes.

As I have walked through the children's hospital to my classroom in the morning during the past weeks, I have found myself tearing up.  Before last week, I didn't understand what I was getting into (and I still now only see some of the bare outlines of what this new venture will mean in my life).  Before last week, I thought people went to medical school to learn how to be a doctor.  Last week, I realized that when you go to medical school you don't learn how to become a doctor, when you go to medical school, you actually become a doctor.  Those two things are very different.  Very different, indeed.

Last night, it finally hit home that during my training and afterwards:
I will be with people when they are born.
I will be with people when they die.
I will be with people when they face some of the most excruciating decisions of their lives.
I will witness, and in some cases, be a part of, some of the most intimate and personal details of people's lives.

It is a bit much to absorb.