‘I Had Heart Surgery in the Middle of a Coronavirus Hot Spot’


MIAMI — I really did not want to have heart surgery. Who wants their chest sliced open and carved like a turkey in the middle of a pandemic hot zone? But that’s what I did in August.

An unruptured aneurysm quietly bulged in my aorta, the main artery of the body. For more than a year, blood pressure pills had helped manage it.

In January, the coronavirus — which was spreading in parts of Asia — still seemed like a distant problem.

My cardiologist said it was time. On his advice, I sought a second opinion from Dr. Steve Xydas, chief of the Columbia University division of cardiac and thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, who specializes in aortic aneurysms.

I had always planned to have my procedure at Mount Sinai in South Florida, where I have my partner, family and friends. But the region was also becoming a coronavirus hot spot. In April, a 39-year-old sheriff’s deputy became Florida’s first law enforcement officer to die from the virus. Many tourists who had visited Miami Beach for a circuit party and for spring break returned home infected. By April 11, Florida had confirmed more than 17,500 coronavirus cases and nearly 400 deaths.

Covid-19 scared the hell out of me. But an inner voice nagged me to schedule surgery anyway. Every time I ran, I could not help think of the aneurysm growing, waiting to burst.

Aortic aneurysms are most common in men over 60. Complications account for about 15,000 deaths each year, according to Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. Medicines for blood pressure or surgery are the main treatments for aneurysms. Covid-19 was new, and there was no cure.

I did not know which was worse, the silent grenade in my heart or the virus, but I wanted to take control of my situation.

In early July, I scheduled an appointment to plan the procedure. At the hospital entrance, a staff member took my temperature, asked why I was there and if I had any Covid-19 symptoms (I did not).

Dr. Xydas recommended having the repair sooner rather than later, while it was a choice and not an emergency. He gently explained that Covid-19 patients were kept separately in an old section of the hospital. My surgery and recovery would be in a new surgical tower.

I felt reassured. It seemed like the hospital might be the safest place to be during the pandemic. A date was set — Aug. 17.



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