A story I was happy to read from baseball's minor leagues Monday night:
Aaron Boone is back playing baseball, appearing in a minor league game in Texas less than five months after open-heart surgery.
Boone batted second Monday night for the Corpus Christi Hooks, a Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. He swung at the first pitch and popped up to the first baseman in foul territory.
He was scheduled to play five innings at third base against Midland. The 36-year-old Boone had an operation in late March because of a congenital defect in his aortic valve.
I find this of interest not primarily because of any particular warmth toward Aaron Boone--by all accounts he's a good guy, but I don't know him personally, he never played for the Phillies, and I was if anything mildly disappointed from a rooting standpoint when he made his mark on baseball history--but because three weeks from tomorrow, I'm scheduled to have a similar surgery to the one from which he's now fully recovered: aortic valve replacement.
Like Boone, I have a bicuspid aortic valve--you're supposed to have three--that contributes to "aortic insufficiency," or aortic regurgitation. If you listen to my heartbeat, it sounds like someone walking through about six inches of standing water. Like him, I've known about it for awhile--not quite as long as he did, which was evidently since college--and had it monitored, but the condition didn't require surgery until fairly recently. Like him, I'm asymptomatic; I was at the gym today, as I am most days, and did pretty much my full workout, which is about an hour and ten minutes, without feeling any more tired than usual (and it was damn hot today.) And like him, I'm 36. It's a deeply strange thing: you feel perfectly fine, and you know that you have a problem that, if unaddressed, probably would kill you within ten years.
What I'm nervous about isn't really the surgery itself; the mortality rate for this procedure is pretty much as low as possible, around one percent. ("If you absolutely have to undergo one kind of open heart surgery, MAKE THIS THE ONE!!!") The procedure takes about three and a half hours, and I'll be zonked for all of it. The recovery, however, sounds like a bitch and a half: four nights in-patient, which itself is upsetting, and one to three months for full recovery. My surgeon suggested that six weeks wa a reasonable guess for me. Here Boone's example is both comforting and distressing: I found this footage of him on an Astros broadcast about six weeks after his procedure, and he sounds pretty good, but he makes reference to feeling better "in the last couple weeks." The thought of spending all of September in relative physical misery--and the concern that if it took a professional athlete a full month to feel decent again, it stands to reason that a guy who's probably 30 pounds overweight will require more time--is less than delightful.
Still, when I step back from it, I feel more lucky than anything else. A hundred years ago, this simply would have killed me by age 50 at the very latest. Thirty years ago, it was considerably more dangerous, and I probably would have required a metal replacement valve rather than the cow tissue one they'll fashion and install. (I sometimes just moo to Annie these days.) I have a wonderful support system, starting with my wife. We're insured. My work arrangements are such that I can weather what I'm assuming will be a month without income in fine shape.
Here's hoping Boone and I will both be celebrating our recoveries and baseball triumphs this fall--him a resumption of his big-league playing career, and me a second straight Phillies title. Hearing about his return to action tonight does buoy me up some.