• Meeting My Own Personal Rock Star

    by Christy Sillman


    Patient or nurse, nurse or patient — who am I? This was a question I faced often while I attended the Adult Congenital Heart Association annual conference in Los Angeles last weekend.

    I had intentions to stretch myself between both worlds — to attend both patient and health professional sessions. After all I am both a nurse and an adult with congenital heart disease.

    My name badge didn’t specify “who” I was, but next to my name badge, my role was very clear. My “zipper” isn’t that red anymore, but it is visible to those who look for it. I caught myself staring at attendee’s chests, looking, wondering… professional or Zipper Club member?

    Then my identity slapped me in the face. There he was, hugging a “patient” and going on to get his coffee. I think I did recognize him, but I couldn’t be sure — it had been 27 years since I last saw him.

    “Who was that?” I asked the cute blonde with her gorgeous scar winking at me.

    “Dr. Laks”

    Oh my goodness, it WAS him. I ran, fairly quickly, but didn’t even stop to think of what to say.

    What do you say to the man who saved your life? Who preformed a surgery other cardiothoracic surgeons didn’t feel comfortable doing. Who reached into my chest with his skilled hands and fixed my broken heart.

    “Hi, my name is Christy — in 1984 you fixed my heart, and I’m now a mother and a pediatric ICU nurse. Thank you!” I said with my hands trembling. My husband Steve asked if he could shake his hand and thanked him for giving me, his love, my life. We posed for a quick picture as they were hurrying him off to present a lecture.

    I joked with Steve that we would see celebrities while we visited LA, and with the rushed manner in which we spoke I did feel like I just met my own personal rock star. But unlike most celebrity sightings, my rock star turned around and asked me to email him.

    “Send me that picture, it would mean a lot to me, and let’s keep in touch.”

    In that instant, I was no longer the patient or the professional. I was the grown woman who was the product of one man’s life work. I relished that moment, and I was very grateful that I had the opportunity to thank him.

    The entire conference, I was blown away by the collaboration of the physicians. Not just with each other, but with their patients.

    Doctors, cardiologists in particular, can have an unbelievably large ego, but there is something unique about cardiologists who specialize in congenital heart disease. Honesty, partnership, openness and honest to goodness caring make these physicians the caviar of the medical community. They have devoted their life to advocating, advancing and improving care for individuals affected by congenital heart disease.

    We met experts in the field; leaders who are directing the way we approach health care for aging survivors of a “pediatric” disease. But all of them felt more like a best friend who just wants the best for you, and each of their devotion to our cause was palpable. We broke bread, we drank wine, and we danced together.

    The conference went by too fast and I learned a lot about myself, my emotional life journey, and met others just like me. I ultimately assigned my time at the conference to my patient role, but knew that everything I was learning would lend itself to my career aspiration of working with my people, the zipper people.

      • Jesse

      • May 8, 2011 at 10:44 am
      • Reply

      Beautiful. That doctor is an angel, a miracle worker. I am glad that you are here! Jesse

    • Christy, great story. He is one of the best here in LA and around the world. I am assuming that you are 100% fine and have no lasting effects except your faint zipper. I am sure having had a surgery like that makes you an even better nurse.

      • Christy

      • May 8, 2011 at 12:07 pm
      • Reply

      Thats the thing about Adults with Congenital Heart Disease….we’ll never be 100% fine…even if our heart is anatomically corrected to be “normal”. There are lasting effects of sawing through a chest, cutting through the heart, and having a heart which is more susceptible to the changes which accompany the natural aging process we all endure. Not to mention all the emotional consequences of our unique journey and the neurological complications from multiple trips to the OR and on heart/lung bypass machines. There is a lot to learn, and our “field” is rapidly growing as we now out number the children who are living with congenital heart disease. We live longer lives now…and it’s an amazing thing =)

      PS: I want to clarify that Dr. Laks is a rock star for taking on my then challenging case, but I have many rock stars who have been closely involved in my care…including my second open heart surgeon Dr. Hanley at UCSF (now at Standford. Talk about a super hero team!

      • David Lacy

      • May 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm
      • Reply

      This column gave me chills. The comparison to the feeling of anxiety of feeling an admired celebrity and yet knowing the feeling is amplified ten-fold because this person you met is so much more than an entertainer. I also loved your husband’s response.

        • Laura

        • May 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm
        • Reply

        What a wonderful story, Christy! I understand the awe you felt being around Dr. Laks! He performed my valve-replacement surgery two years ago, and I know my heart couldn’t have been in better hands! I, too, was blown away by the group of professionals at the conference! Already well-aware of the compassionate nature of my “rock star” team at UCLA, I was so impressed by how deeply those professionals cared about the total well-being of those of us with CHD! It was truly an amazing weekend!

      • Ana F.

      • May 10, 2011 at 8:04 am
      • Reply

      Christy, this was so good I had to read it again and again. I agree with David that your husband’s reaction was just perfect. There were so many bits and pieces to your story that brought tears to my eyes. I loved it.

      • Sarah P.

      • May 16, 2011 at 7:26 am
      • Reply

      You brought tears to me eyes Christy. I am so glad you reunited with him. Beautiful.

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