Tick Tock The Clock Is Ticking

Leon Hammack
B-757 cockpit somewhere over the Pacific between LAX and HNL.

The FAA grounded me for the duration of their investigation, which took about three and a half weeks to finish. So I was released back to flight status by the FAA thereafter, around the second week in June.

I returned to the air on the last week of June. At the end of that trip I noticed that my heart was beating weirdly, irregularly, or it was doing something that I had never noticed before.

When I returned to my house in Yuma, AZ, I made a phone call to my cardiologist, Dr. John Nelson in Fresno, CA, on Friday July 2, 2010. I expressed to him the feeling that I was having in my chest. He asked me if I could be in his office Monday morning? I acknowledged that I can easily be in his office on Monday morning. The appointment was scheduled and set in stone for 8 am.

My cardiologist decided that I needed to wear a heart monitor for 48 hours so that he could see, in more detail, what the heck was going on with my heart. So at the end of the 48 hours he took the heart monitor off, reviewed that data, and got me an appointment with an electro-physiologist, Dr. Koi Le. As Dr. Le explained to me, even though he was a cardiologist, his specialty and training was in electro-physiology. He continued to explain that my cardiologist is like a plumber and he, Dr. Le, is the electrician!

To make a long story short, once. again, by the end of the week, Friday specifically, I was having a procedure known as a Cardiac Ablation. For those who may not be totally familiar with that medical procedure, you might want to check out that link and read my five part rendition of what it was like to go through that, along with the overnight hospital stay. You may find this informative and I hope entertaining!

After recovering from the Cardiac Ablation and notifying the FAA of that procedure, my airline flying career came to a grinding halt. My flying career dropped like a prom dress. The FAA, in its infinite wisdom, revoked my medical certificate rendering my aviation career finished effective July 9, 2010. Even though your FAA pilot’s license has no expiration date, it is rendered invalid when you do not have a valid medical certificate to accompany it! That is the lone catch.

One of the outcomes from the cardiac ablation was that Dr. Le got an up close and personal look at my bicuspid aortic valve. It was at that point that there was definitive proof that, in time, I will be having to have my aortic valve replaced at some date in the future. Additionally, this event signaled my cardiologist that he needed to come up a plan to monitor the degradation of my aortic valve.

For the next five years my cardiologist put me on a schedule to have echocardiograms every six months in order to keep a close look at my aortic valve. Everything seemed to flow nicely for the next five years. In June of 2015 the echocardiogram results began to show that my aortic valve and the left ventricle might possibly be beginning to show signs of stress and change. My cardiologist decided that I need to have my second angiogram so that there can be another “up close and personal” look at the ol aortic valve.

After reviewing the results of that angiogram my cardiologist said that I needed to look into securing a thoracic surgeon’s opinion on my status. With that tidbit of advice I began my homework via the internet.

Now that I was living in Yuma, AZ I decided that I need to research thoracic surgeons at Scripps in San Diego, a mere three hour drive from Yuma vs. an 8 1/2 hour drive to Fresno! I began my in depth research looking for the best thoracic surgeon available associated with the Scripps system. After much scrounging, and with a suggestion list from my cardiologist, Dr. John J. (Jeff) Tyner was my overwhelming choice.

It took about 2-3 weeks to get on Dr. Tyner’s schedule to have a consult. Prior to the office visit I had to forward most of my medical records from my cardiologist and from the doctor that performed both of my angiograms, as well as my last two echocardiograms.

Making the three hour drive to San Diego gave me ample time to ponder what was to come after the doctor visit. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to undergo aortic valve replacement soon after this visit. To say that I was nervous. is a gross understatement! Once I was ushered into the room awaiting my introduction to Dr. Jeff Tyner, listen to his analysis of my case, and get some of my questions answered the nerves went supersonic!

Mayday, Mayday!

When Dr. Tyner entered the room, he introduced himself, engaged me, and then went over all of my records that was at his disposal, I realized that I couldn’t have selected a more professional, a more empathetic, and top-notched thoracic surgeon than Dr. Jeff Tyner! I am beginning to feel more assured.

After reviewing all of my records and medical data, Dr. Tyner told me that open heart surgery was not indicated at this particular time. However, it is definitely in the near future. If the criteria for replacing my aortic vale was solely based on the severity of the murmur/regurgitation/leak, then he would be doing my surgery on the following day! But he said that the severity of the leak is not the sole criteria to require this surgery. He added that as long as the walls of the heart have not started to show stress, then he thinks that we can buy some more time! Whew! That took a lot off of my mind!

So back I go to Yuma with a reprieve!

For the next four years everything seemed to flow smoothly, or so I thought!

Stay tuned the saga will continue.


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