Turn my Beat Around!

My name is Steve. I am 41 years old, and I have a Congenital Heart Defect known as Tricuspid Atresia. Before you can understand how my heart works, you have to have an understanding of how a normal heart works. Come with me, I’ll be happy to walk you through it.

Draw a circle on a piece of paper and split it into fourths with two intersecting lines – top and bottom, left and right. A simple drawing, because the heart is a simple machine. It’s really just two pumps fused together. The two upper chambers are called atriums, and the lower chambers are called ventricles.

Blood flows into the Right Atrium (which is always pictured on the LEFT side of an anatomically correct heart drawing. Imagine the owner of the heart lying on a table in front of you.) and drains through the Tricuspid Valve into the Right Ventricle. The heart then contracts,  sending blood through the Pulmonary Valve into the Pulmonary Artery. The Pulmonary Artery looks like a capital T, as it branches both left and right and delivers blood to the lungs.

After being oxygenated in the lungs, the blood returns to the heart, flowing into the Left Atrium. It then flows downward through the Mitral Valve into the Left Ventricle. The next heartbeat forces blood out of the Left Ventricle, through the Aortic Valve, and into the Aorta. The Aorta is easily recognized; it is the blood vessel that loops over the Pulmonary Artery’s T. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

But that’s not the way *my* heart works. Blood flows into my Right Atrium just fine, but then it bumps into the “Atresia” part of Tricuspid Atresia. Atresia is a Latin word meaning “very small or underdeveloped”, or as we say in the South, “It just ain’t there!” And that describes my Tricuspid Valve… it’s just not there.

This is a major problem. Blood must get into the Right Ventricle, so it can be pumped through the Pulmonary Artery to the lungs. There is no exception to this rule. So my blood is forced to use the back door.

The second part of Tricuspid Atresia is a hole in the wall separating the two Atriums. My blood flows across to the Left Atrium, where it continues into the Left Ventricle and then out into the body. This isn’t good, because the blood in the Left Atrium is full of oxygen, and the blood coming from the Right Atrium doesn’t have much oxygen at all. It never made the trip to the lungs, but it still gets pumped out to the body. Since the oxygen in my blood is lower than it should be, I’m Cyanotic – I have a bluish tinge to my fingertips, my lips are dark, and I tire easily.

So now we have a path for the blood to bypass the Right Ventricle and flow back to the body, but I still need to get my blood to the lungs. I also have a hole in the wall that separates the two Ventricles. This is known as a Ventricular Septal Defect, and it allows blood to find its way from the Left Ventricle over to the Right Ventricle. Now that the blood has finally made it to the Right Ventricle, it can make the trip to the lungs.

It’s a complicated heart defect, and has made parts of my life complicated. I’ve had three heart surgeries, two that went well and one… not so well. I take an entire pharmacy full of pills every day! (OK, I’m exaggerating that just a little!) But I have also met some of the nicest people and some of the best doctors in medicine.

I’m here to tell you my story, if you’ll hear it. Maybe I can break a few stereotypes along the way.

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3 Responses to “Turn my Beat Around!”

  1. The Organ We Love - How the Heart Works Says:

    […] Turn my Beat Around! […]

  2. April D Says:

    I look forward to hearing your story! 🙂

  3. Steve Says:

    Hi Steve, I’ve just come across your article about the pioneering of operations for blue babies. I was also a blue babies born with TGA. I was just wondering if I could use your story on my website with links leaving people back to your blogs which are great by the way (no that was not an afterthought lol).

    Anyway, please feel free to email.

    I also have a page on Facebook called CHD-UK and also on MySpace.

    Wow, someone older than me 🙂

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