Heart to Heart with Anna

An Unseen Threat: The Cody Watkins Story of Heart Failure and Recovery

August 01, 2023 Cody Watkins Season 18 Episode 426
An Unseen Threat: The Cody Watkins Story of Heart Failure and Recovery
Heart to Heart with Anna
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Heart to Heart with Anna
An Unseen Threat: The Cody Watkins Story of Heart Failure and Recovery
Aug 01, 2023 Season 18 Episode 426
Cody Watkins

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Meet Cody Watkins, a beacon of resilience and health, who brushed against mortality when he discovered a congenital heart problem lurking beneath his ripped physique. Unaware of the ticking time bomb in his chest for 30 years, Cody offers a riveting recount of his journey within the world of bodybuilding, his shocking discovery, and how he's courageously navigating life post-heart surgery. 

Cody's story takes an unexpected turn when during a regular training session, his valve ruptures. The wake-up call led him to the emergency room where the reality of his condition hit home. Cody discusses the symptoms leading up to his heart failure, his diagnosis, and the urgent call to action around heart health awareness. 

Brace yourselves as Cody talks about his astonishing recovery - from reversing heart failure to shrinking his heart back to a normal size within a year. We discuss the adjustments to his diet, the role of supplements, and his determination to participate in a bodybuilding show, all while healing. With a fresh lease on life, Cody's journey is a testament to the human spirit's resilience and an unyielding desire to inspire others walking a similar path. Join us as we delve into Cody's extraordinary journey and the valuable lessons he's gathered from his heart condition.

We appreciate it when people support Hearts Unite the Globe podcasts. Thank you to our newest supporters -- Annie Ulchak (Patreon) and Judy Miller (Buzzsprout)!

& so much more
A bi-monthly podcast where we share the stories of our Caregivers, patients and...

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Meet Cody Watkins, a beacon of resilience and health, who brushed against mortality when he discovered a congenital heart problem lurking beneath his ripped physique. Unaware of the ticking time bomb in his chest for 30 years, Cody offers a riveting recount of his journey within the world of bodybuilding, his shocking discovery, and how he's courageously navigating life post-heart surgery. 

Cody's story takes an unexpected turn when during a regular training session, his valve ruptures. The wake-up call led him to the emergency room where the reality of his condition hit home. Cody discusses the symptoms leading up to his heart failure, his diagnosis, and the urgent call to action around heart health awareness. 

Brace yourselves as Cody talks about his astonishing recovery - from reversing heart failure to shrinking his heart back to a normal size within a year. We discuss the adjustments to his diet, the role of supplements, and his determination to participate in a bodybuilding show, all while healing. With a fresh lease on life, Cody's journey is a testament to the human spirit's resilience and an unyielding desire to inspire others walking a similar path. Join us as we delve into Cody's extraordinary journey and the valuable lessons he's gathered from his heart condition.

We appreciate it when people support Hearts Unite the Globe podcasts. Thank you to our newest supporters -- Annie Ulchak (Patreon) and Judy Miller (Buzzsprout)!

& so much more
A bi-monthly podcast where we share the stories of our Caregivers, patients and...

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Support the Show.

Anna's Buzzsprout Affiliate Link

Baby Blue Sound Collective

Social Media Pages:

Apple Podcasts
Facebook
Instagram
MeWe
Twitter
YouTube
Website

Speaker 1:

I wanted to paint hope because if you can come back from an event like that and in less than a year of being in top physical condition, top peak condition, that does paint a lot of hope for people going into these surgeries that realistically can't find any information on what is life like after heart surgery. What is it have to offer? Can I still be normal? Can I still go do normal things, play exercise, play sports, all those things?

Speaker 2:

What happens when a bodybuilder needs heart surgery? How does having heart surgery change a bodybuilder's mission in life? How does the medical field handle bodybuilders when they come into the ER with heart problems? Welcome to Heart to Heart with Anna. I am Anna Jaworski and your host. I'm also a heart mom to an adult who was born with a single ventricle heart and who is 28 years old. That's the reason I'm the host of your program. Today's episode is called Hope After Heart Surgery, and our guest is Cody Watkins. Cody Watkins is a bodybuilder and a health coach. He lived most of his life, the first 30 years, unconscious of the fact that he had a congenital heart effect. He looked great, he was a bodybuilder, so he's a big guy. Being in the land of bodybuilding meant a world of confusion, with subtle symptoms being misdiagnosed for other conditions. We'll learn more about how he discovered he actually had a congenital heart effect and what the doctors did about it. Welcome to Heart to Heart with Anna Cody.

Speaker 1:

Thanks, anna, I'm happy to be here.

Speaker 2:

I'm happy to be talking to you, cody. Let's start talking about when you first got into bodybuilding.

Speaker 1:

I originally started in powerlifting and then switched over to bodybuilding. I was basically into strength training and then I really wanted to focus more on looking like I was stronger rather than just being stronger, and that's where I took off that direction. But it was pretty young. I was in high school. I competed powerlessly at like 19 and then started competing in bodybuilding at 21, I believe it was.

Speaker 2:

Wow, so that was really young.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I was a baby when I started it and then I had a 12 year span competing in bodybuilding, obviously without knowing I had much of a heart problem.

Speaker 2:

So when you first discovered bodybuilding, were you working with a coach in high school, or did you have a gym that you went to locally, or were you watching videos? How did you get into it?

Speaker 1:

So I started out skinny fat, I guess you could say I was higher body fat, so I just really wanted to get abs the first time. So back then it was you're scrolled through forums online, let it everything yourself. It wasn't really big with YouTube. I don't even think coaches were really a thing in bodybuilding back then, so very self-taught. So it was a lot of trial and error, application and then assessing results and seeing where to make adjustments and go forward from there.

Speaker 2:

The nice thing about being 19 or 20 or 21 is you usually have a pretty high metabolism and your body is almost primed to take on that kind of challenge, isn't it?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, once I got the basics down, it responded very quick.

Speaker 2:

So when you were in high school, Cody, did you ever have symptoms that looking back now you realized maybe something wasn't quite right?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, because I was in good shape. A lot of them just stayed it off, but what I noticed was cardiovascular stuff. So, for instance, I was very strong, very lean, very muscular, but you get me running the mile and I don't know how many times I would throw up doing that, just from the exertion level of it.

Speaker 2:

Oh wow, it would actually make you throw up.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, if I was running like my fastest mile was maybe a nine minute something, which is not good for what I was. I was a very fast printer, single digit body fat, all that, but when I would try the cardio type stuff I would see, looking back now my heart wasn't keeping up that well but the exertion was just too much. But I get done with it and it was not pretty.

Speaker 2:

Did you play football with the guys, or basketball or anything that required some endurance and cardio workout.

Speaker 1:

No, I avoided it because how challenging cardio was. Maybe in hindsight it was a good thing, but I just I didn't enjoy those things because I wasn't very good at the cardiovascular. I would recreationally play basketball and stuff, but that was about it.

Speaker 2:

So then, even when you were playing with just a pickup game with friends, even then would you notice that you had some symptoms, some subtle symptoms, yeah, it was more.

Speaker 1:

when you're young too, you don't think heart problems. So it was oh, I'm just craning hard, oh, I'm just playing real hard. So that's why, whenever I'm getting sick, or that's why I'm still winded compared to everyone else, and stuff like that.

Speaker 2:

So you went from powerlifting to bodybuilding and maybe not all my listeners know what the difference is. Can you tell me about what those two different domains are?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so powerlifting is basically being strong. To pick up things one time A squat, a bench, a deadlift, one ramp. Bodybuilding is more about looking like you're strong. You don't necessarily have to be strong. Yeah, you're going to lift weights, you're going to get stronger, but not a direct correlation to it, it's a byproduct of it more. So that's where I gravitated. Powerlifting was great. I love bench pressing, being strong, and bodybuilding was. I looked like I was stronger.

Speaker 2:

So could you be a bodybuilder and just do more reps with lower weights?

Speaker 1:

You could. There's a few different ways to train. As far as methodologies going, you really have to see what responds well, but the intensity of it is really what it boils down to, no matter what the rep range. So meaning, if you're going 50 or 20 reps, you could do it, but you would still have to get to a certain level of exertion for those repetitions to get any kind of response out of a grown muscle, churn stuff like that.

Speaker 2:

When people are picking up really heavy weights they're usually bearing down and that often will put pressure on the heart. It makes the heart work harder. Did you ever have any symptoms when you were doing the powerlifting?

Speaker 1:

No, not directly. I didn't get away with it because it was just the one rep. So by the time I was done with it I didn't get a lot of the valo salvo, pressure drops and anything like that. And I think because I was so young, in comparison doing the powerlifting versus the bodybuilding, I think I would have had a lot more repercussions on the flip side of that. So if I was doing the powerlifting later, because of the stress load on my heart, because bodybuilding respectively, you're not lifting as heavy, so you're not doing that valo salvo, that breath-fueling stuff where you really strain the heart, you can breathe through the exercelles.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so when was the first time that you recognized that you had something going on with your heart and maybe you needed to get it checked out?

Speaker 1:

I honestly did not know there was anything going on with my heart until I was 30 and it blew out. So I was just standing there training a client and my valve ruptured. So my resting heart rate had shot up to between 100 and 130, just standing there. So it's not like I was exercising or doing a little like that. So I took the day off and tried to sleep off heart failure, which you can't really do.

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh. So you were actually training a client. You're in the gym. All of a sudden you feel winded nauseous. What kind of symptoms did you have?

Speaker 1:

It was. I felt off just off. And then I looked down and I had one of the fit bits on at the time and it was bouncing between 100 and 105. Now when you're in preps, I watch all my variables. So I knew what my resting heart rate was, I knew what my active heart rate was. I knew all the details. So, to be somewhere, respectively, where my heart rate's usually like seven to 75 and it's 105 standing there, something was really off and it was to the point where I literally chalked it up to bad sleep. So I canceled all the rest of my clients and I went home to try to take it now, because again at 30, you don't think I have a heart problem, you're just thinking, oh, maybe all they got three or four hours of sleep or wasn't good quality. That's why I feel really crummy right now.

Speaker 2:

Wow, so you drove yourself home.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah. And then once I got home, I thought my bodybuilder brain, I thought it was my electrolytes. So then I got in my big old lifted pickup that doesn't fit in the parking garage, drove up to the minimart to buy some coconut water, and then, when I was on my way back home, my resting heart rate driving my truck was 130. So that's where I knew something was a little off then.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, did it make you feel tired when your heart was beating that much faster than what it normally does?

Speaker 1:

More anxious and to find out later like my blood pressure super high at that point because my heart was really struggling but you could physically see my chest throbbing and so if you were watching me you could watch the pulses with it. So I had gone home and my wife works from home and she came out and she had me my insurance card, said okay, I can drive up to urgent care because I was very cool, calm and collected when I got home so it didn't look like I was panicking and fortunately, in the state we were in at the time, the urgent care just happened to be right next to the ER. So on my way to urgent care I started feeling worse and worse, certainly a little spinning. I had my big old lifted pickup, had to park in the back 40 and, you know, skedaddle into the FH and when I got in there for my blood pressure when they checked me in was like 270 over 130.

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh 270? Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Now it's fluked a little. I got some big arms, but yeah, it was really high.

Speaker 2:

Wow, you must have felt nauseous by then.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, I was not feeling super good and it was hard to tell if it was anxiety from that or a bi-particle just feeling bad from that whole event. Thankfully, when your vitals are that high, they do get you in rather quickly, so I didn't have much of a weight in the ER when it came to that.

Speaker 2:

And tonight forever, by the Baby Blue Sound Collective. I think what I love so much about this CD is that some of the songs were inspired by the patients.

Speaker 1:

Many listeners will understand many of the different songs and what they've been inspired by. Your album will be available on iTunes.

Speaker 3:

Amazoncom Spotify.

Speaker 2:

I love the fact that the proceeds from this CD are actually going to help those with congenital heart effects.

Speaker 1:

Enjoy the music.

Speaker 2:

Home tonight forever. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The opinions expressed in the podcast are not those of Hearts Unite the Globe, but of the hosts and guests, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to congenital heart disease or bereavement.

Speaker 4:

You are listening to Heart to Heart with Anna. If you have a question or comment that you would like to address on our show, please send an email to annajewarski at anna at hearttoheartwithannacom. That's Anna at hearttoheartwithannacom. Now back to Heart to Heart with Anna.

Speaker 2:

You made it to the emergency room. I cannot believe you drove yourself. Just oh my gosh. This little heart mom is just saying oh my gosh.

Speaker 1:

Well, the best parking, the parking garage.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you weren't feeling very well and knowing what I do now and knowing what you do now, you would not do that again, would you?

Speaker 1:

No, and the thing is I have a normal size, easy to drive a car. I just was in such a panic I just got in the car. I already had my keys in my pocket. It was just automation at that point.

Speaker 2:

I guess so. So you get in there, you're a big guy. They don't even have a cuff that's going to fit your arm properly. So how were they able to measure your blood pressure and really do the vitals on you like they needed to?

Speaker 1:

So the closest they ever did with the vitals would be they do the cuff on my forearm. I even met my forearms outside of the cuff so they have to use the arm cuff on my forearm excuse. So I've had in my full heart experience, my whole heart journey. In the last it's been almost five years now I've only had two doctors that have got an accurate blood pressure reading on me.

Speaker 1:

Oh, my goodness Everyone else tries to put me on more medication because they put a small cuff on me and it's 30 to 40 point higher than it should be.

Speaker 2:

Okay, but you're in the emergency room. They can see your heart beating out of your chest just about your flush. You're probably sweating. You're experiencing lots of nausea. What did they decide to do with you?

Speaker 1:

It first put me on the EKG, which came out completely normal. So at this point you've got a high heart rate, they're enlightened and they can't. I have no blood pressure pills in the time, but the ER can't give you blood pressure pills because you have to have a primary. I was so young I didn't have a primary. I was healthy, I didn't need a doctor, so it was kind of a fiasco trying to get that into. But the only reason that they looked further into it was because I had a little bit of troponin elevation on my blood work. They were going to chalk it off to anxiety prior to that. So after they see that they brought an echocardiogram and that's when we feel like something was not right.

Speaker 2:

So for those of you listeners who don't know, troponin is a chemical that shows up in your bloodstream when you're having a heart attack. So that's a real big red flag. That is not just anxiety, that. I think. It's an enzyme actually the troponin. And yeah, you definitely need to pay attention when you're seeing that chemical in your blood work. So they realize, okay, it's not just anxiety, this guy is having a major issue. They bring in the echocardiogram, which is non-invasive, and what did it show them?

Speaker 1:

First the attendant who took the initial reading. He made it sound like it wasn't a big deal. I don't know if that was just in his job to make it sound not panic the patient because he can't technically give a diagnosis. But it looked like a swirly cone, like a fair or something. So you're supposed to say I mean you know it, but your listeners probably don't but more of like a red to blue or an orange to blue, so oxygenated blood, not oxygenated blood, and mine was just all swirled together. So what was happening I was having about 50% were agitation, so my blood was going right out of my heart and right back in, so it was just pumping so frantic, trying to seal my big body and just working way harder than it ever needed to.

Speaker 2:

So for those of you who are listening, especially if you're not in the United States and maybe you haven't seen this it's very common in the US for them to do an echocardiogram. It's a non-invasive procedure. It's like an ultrasound of the heart, but they can add Doppler. And when they add the Doppler, that's when you get to see all the cool colors. You can say you don't want certain colors because that does mean you're having regurg. So they look in your heart with the echocardiogram. They see there's definitely a lot of regurgitation. There's a real concern because you could have a stroke when you have lots of blood comingling like that right. So what did they do next?

Speaker 1:

This is where I actually got admitted to the hospital. So prior to I was still just in the room down below and this is where they admitted me. At this point I still don't know what's going on. The nurse made it sound more nonchalant. So when I got in the room it was gray, you could see my color was just. It was not good. They basically were trying to medicate me to get me under 180 blood pressure.

Speaker 1:

They were giving me the nitroglycerin patches to get my blood pressure down, and so again, at this point we really don't know what's going on. Party all just met me, maybe 12 hours later, and he kind of gave me 12 hours. Yeah, they had a room waiting.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they had an initial doctor come in, but because it was so late by the time I got in there, I had the night shift coming in, so they had maybe an assistant or somebody that could read it, but I didn't act to meet with Dr Bailey, the cardiologist, till the next day. I had one of the guys who read it and she was more I don't remember her name, but she was very more grim with it. So I remember her just saying, oh this is really screwed up, and just I think they're staring at me and her doctor's like. But she sat there and stared at me waiting for a reaction and at that point I didn't even know what was going on. I'm trying to process it. Sure, I didn't have any emotions to show at that point. I had no idea what was going on.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, oh, my goodness. So you're sitting there with this doctor you've never met before she comes in and she takes a look at your paperwork or your results from your studies and she's like, okay, this is seriously bad, we need to do something. What was your first thought?

Speaker 1:

Because I came from bodybuilding and this didn't make it seem like that was going to be something. I could continue and it was the only thing that I knew, so it was getting your whole wife rug pulled out from under you.

Speaker 2:

Wow, okay, one of the things that we hear popularly in the media is that bodybuilders and power lifters and lots of people who compete in the Olympics that they use steroids or enhancing drugs to help them to get big like that. Is that something that you used when you were younger?

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, I mean, it's absolutely part of the bodybuilding game, you're not getting away from it. And the cardiologist came in. That was one of his concerns as well, but as he talked it through he was more focused on a. Heroin addicts will get the problems with the valves because they use dirty needles and so he basically was at the point where he's there intramuscular injections, so that's not going to be a prime cause for this. So that's where he just kind of chalked it off, because any side effects associated with what I had going on were obviously from a congenital as a factor. They may have been amplified by that, but they didn't make it a steep go like they were saying hot that down. They actually stuck to the problem.

Speaker 3:

Anna Jaworski has written several books to empower the congenital heart defect, or CHD, community. These books can be found at amazoncom or at her website, wwwbabyheartspresscom. Her best seller is the Heart of a Mother, an anthology of stories written by women for women in the CHD community. Anna's other books my Brother Needs an Operation, the Heart of a Father and Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome a handbook for parents will help you understand that you are not alone. Visit babyheartspresscom to find out more.

Speaker 4:

Heart to Heart with Anna is a presentation of Hearts Unite the Globe and is part of the Hugg Podcast Network. Hearts Unite the Globe is a non-profit organization devoted to providing resources to the congenital heart defect community to uplift, empower and enrich the lives of our community members. If you would like access to free resources pertaining to the CHD community, please visit our website at wwwcongenitalheartdefectscom for information about CHD, the hospitals that treat children with CHD, summer camps for CHD survivors and much, much more.

Speaker 2:

I'm amazed that the doctor really didn't try and use the steroids as a scapegoat and actually really did try to get to the root of the problem. So you're sitting and you're talking with this doctor. He asks you about the steroids. You're honest with him, which how refreshing is that? Because I imagine a lot of people are not and I'm sure you were a little bit concerned. Oh my gosh, is this something I caused? And then he says no, this is something you were born with. Where did you go from there with him?

Speaker 1:

I was so young, wanting to blame your parents as where it starts no, but not seriously, but it was still.

Speaker 1:

It was just such a shocker right, because I still could not comprehend what was going on. So my brain just didn't have the capacity for it. I just knew that life was not the same and they at this point still did not know what we were going to do because they were still running tests. I still got a trachea echocardiogram to look at the valve. They did a CT scan at that point, right See if I had any lead ruptures because my aortic root looked like it was dilated. On the echocardiogram it ended up not be dilated by the time I had the surgery. But at that point everything looked super messed up.

Speaker 2:

Oh, okay. So when did you call your wife to the hospital?

Speaker 1:

Oh, she got called when I was in the waiting room because she's had sent me to urgent care. So as soon as they admitted me, I was like hey, I think you got to come down here because I'm not sure what's going on, but I don't think it's right.

Speaker 2:

How was she reacting to all of this information? It must have been overwhelming.

Speaker 1:

I've been pretty injury prone over the years for quads, for my packs. Surgeries were not something I had eluded, but this was a big one. So to have her come down there and basically in a nutshell, they're saying yeah, we're not sure how well your husband's doing and if he's gonna live, that's all you're hearing when you hear that stuff.

Speaker 2:

Oh my goodness. So there was that concern that this could be fatal.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they said if I would have ruptured this while I was training, I would have been dead. So it was fortunate that it tore while I was standing there, because I was straining legs the day before that.

Speaker 2:

Oh, my gosh Cody.

Speaker 1:

It's real fun.

Speaker 2:

Wow, that really makes you sit back and examine your life, doesn't it? Oh?

Speaker 1:

yeah, and then when you're locked in a room and you have nothing else to do, you get four or five solid days of nothing but examining your life and see what the plan of actions.

Speaker 2:

They mustn't have been too terribly concerned that it was going to take your life imminently, or else they probably would have had you in the operating room, though. Right, if they had you waiting four or five days in the hospital, they felt like they had the luxury of some time to really look deeper, without actually opening you up. Is that right?

Speaker 1:

I do believe that was their thought process on it and not that they were wrong. But the data was skewed. So when I checked in the ER, my ejection fraction was still at 55%. Three days later, when they did the trachea one, I was already down to 40, and then six weeks later, by the time they did the surgery, I was between 15 to 20% ejection fraction, so it was falling very rapidly Now could you walk across the room without feeling winded?

Speaker 1:

Chocked it up to the blood pressure pills they put me on. So for six weeks I was still training my clients. I was driving to work training a couple clients. I just made them move the weight because I wasn't allowed to pick up weights. They said I could walk, but not uphill. So I walked into the gym and trained my clients, but I would go train one or two people. I would come home and nap because I was so tired. I'm like man, these blood pressure pills they're just that, but all my energy some high energy guy yeah. So to be like that was my new variable, right? I still wasn't comprehending the situation in its entirety.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so six weeks? I can't believe they waited six weeks. Your ejection fraction is dropping noticeably.

Speaker 1:

Yep, the main reason they waited was they were trying to see if I was eligible for the Ross procedure, so trying to find a surgeon that can do that, since they're so rare in the US. Then they opted out of that because they thought with my wife's sound lifting heavier type stuff that I would blow out that valve. So that's what took so long is because they had to contact two or three different surgeons. So I already had my surgeon, dr Ravi, lined up but he doesn't do Ross procedure. So they were kind of fiddling through the other surgeons that were capable of doing that to see if they could get both in there to do it.

Speaker 2:

So for those of you listeners who don't know, the Ross procedure is a really amazing procedure that was designed by Dr Ross and he really designed it for children, because the problem with having a child, especially an infant who has a bad aortic valve, is that their aortic valves are teeny tiny, unlike yours, which I imagine was pretty big guy with a baby.

Speaker 2:

They'll have itty bitty, teeny tiny valves, and if you replace it when they're an infant, it's some most no time before it has to be replaced again, and then it'll have to be replaced again. So Dr Ross said why don't we use the child's own native valve? We'll take the pulmonary valve, we'll put that where the aortic valve goes and it will put an artificial valve where the pulmonary valve is, because the pulmonary valve doesn't have to work right as hard, it doesn't have as high a pressure gradient behind it, and so it has saved many babies, young children, from having to have repeated open heart surgeries, because when they need to replace that pulmonary valve they can do that in the cath lab. It's interventional cardiology, so they don't have to open the chest. They do the first time to excise that pulmonary valve and aortic valve and to do that switch and then to add the homeographed in the pulmonary position.

Speaker 2:

But you're a big, big man and I could see where they were a little concerned. That procedure may not be the best option for you. So what kind of valve did they offer you to replace the aortic valve?

Speaker 1:

So they opted for a mechanical, and this is simply due to the age. They didn't want me to have to go through another surgery in 10 or 15 years If we get some longer life out of it. Not going to cut open again, that was ideal. They originally did try a repair, though, because mine was unicuspid, almost bicuspid at one of those prolapse, so they thought they could just get the searchers in there and get it back to functioning. They tried it. It ended up taking. So I basically had two heart surgeries in one.

Speaker 2:

Oh wow, but it was all during that one. You were only anesthetized one time, right yeah?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I was under for eight hours, I believe.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's a long time to be in surgery, your poor wife, I know. My baby's first surgery was an eight hour surgery and it just feels like forever that you're pacing in that waiting room.

Speaker 1:

So it wasn't bad for me.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you're out, but what's bad, according to my heart warrior, is afterwards, when you wake up and your ribs have been spread open so that the surgeon can get in there. It puts a lot of pressure on your back. It puts pressure on your ribs and my heart warrior told me that you know, laying flat on your back for that many hours and, let's face it, the tables that they put you guys on are not very comfortable. They have to be very firm so that they keep your body as rigid as possible, so you're not moving around so much. So how did it feel when you woke up after the surgery?

Speaker 1:

The first thing I noticed when I woke up was Ones the sandpaper in my mouth, like the tubes in there. That long I was so caught in mouth. When I woke up, the painkillers were still working at that point, so I didn't notice the pain at this point. I just noticed cool on a live and it's not. It feels like I've been drinking sand for the last two days so I just wanted fluid. That was the biggest thing.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and they have to restrict you. Did your wife have the little spongy things that they could? Yeah?

Speaker 4:

Your mouth.

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh, alex would just suck on it If you put it on like that. You just suck every little bit of moisture out of that and wanted more. You have to be so careful because the last thing you want to do is have somebody who's just been under anesthesia that long had their chest out open, had somebody working in their chest, vomiting. You do not want to be vomiting after that, so you have to really restrict the fluid intake and that's all you guys want is something to drink. Yeah, that's really, that's really hard. Did they let you suck on ice chips for a while after that?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they did. The ice chips and all that, Once the fancy painkillers are using surgery were off. The main thing I wanted at that point was just something to numb the pain. So I had I believe there's seven plates and 28 screws in my chest, so they didn't just wire me up because I'm a bigger guy. They wanted me to stay together. So I got these little eight shaped brackets. I didn't know these were coming either. It probably explained it at some point, but I was just tying the papers.

Speaker 2:

Wow, I bet you have a really impressive x-ray.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, that's great. I go off through the beepers.

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh, I can imagine going through an airport, oh my goodness Okay.

Speaker 1:

They give you a cool card though. So you know, you just show them that, because they look at you and they think, oh, they're so healthy, you look good, yep.

Speaker 2:

Okay, I know that my son, my hard, healthy son, was a state swimmer when he was in high school and he swam twice a day to stay in really top physical fitness. You had six weeks where you were just waiting for surgery and then you had recovery. After that Was it hard for you to be able to build back, build your muscle strength back up? Because I think it's what 36 hours of not using your muscles the way that you want them to when you're bodybuilding or doing any kind of endurance training that you start to lose that muscle tone.

Speaker 1:

It was. Coming back after the heart surgery was respectively easy. As far as getting back in shape. I was actually a little blown away. It was harder for me to come back off my muscle tearing injuries, as far as training goes, than it was after the heart surgery. Yeah, absolutely. Now the psychological aspect of it is quite a bit different, because you just had a big problem that you didn't know you had. So now you're questioning because of the heart, the audible at this point. Every time you hear like is that a normal B? Am I training too hard? Am I doing so much? Because there's not a lot of information on this route. Most of people getting these valves, these surgeries, are not a top physical shape. They're usually very old by the time they get it done and find out, so they're not pushing the limits. And even getting out of the surgery. I was still 243 pounds and 13% on a DEXA scan and this was not training for four months.

Speaker 2:

Wow, Wow. Okay, so you said you could hear the heart and I've had friends whose children have had mechanical valves and if you're really quiet you can hear the clicking sound that this mechanical valve. Was it hard to sleep with that mechanical valve?

Speaker 1:

It is still hard to sleep. I actually had an easier time with it in the hospital because the amount of painkillers on your permanent state of passing out or waking up, you're not really sleeping. So when you get out of the hospital and you realize that cricket sound is actually you and you can feel it. So it's a think. If I remember the study right, it's something like 30% of people like get it done have an issue with hyper-focusing on it. Some people don't even notice it. I talk to a bunch but I hyper-focus on it. So I have to be exhausted and tired to go to bed. So I pass out about over couch every night, so I basically stumble into bed and fall asleep. That's the only way I can really pull it off.

Speaker 2:

Can you use maybe a white noise machine or something like that to help mask it?

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, we got the fan last night. I cannot sleep in silence, but the problem is it's, I can feel it. So it's not just the audible, it's every time it beats. It's like I can feel it ticking up my neck, right where that aortic root is, and so there's, it's a weird sensation, and it probably is only because I hyper-focus, because everything on it is completely normal. It's just I'm very cognitive of what's going on.

Speaker 2:

Sure. So what was your final diagnosis, because we know you had a congenital heart defect. Was it bicuspid aortic valve?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, bicuspid aortic valve, but it was almost unicuspid, so all three of my cuspids were almost stuck together, so that way it was a big problem. And then it had caused a massive amount of cardiomyopathy. So my heart was like 650 grams, which is normal, it's 280 and under it was very large.

Speaker 2:

Wow, so did you have to go on Lasix or spironodactone I never say that, right Aldactone to try and relieve some of the congestion that was on your heart.

Speaker 1:

The thing about that, what that's unique and I think it was more of my body steps going in A lot of the people that get the water retention are large people at high body fat. When you're very, very lean, you do not hang on to as much water as the not lean counterparts. So even though I had to have some form of edema my entire life, the pitting would be so insignificant. Walking around a single body fat, they really overlooked it for that reason. So I think that was kind of a saving grace in that regards. But I was still such a large person. That's why the heart got so big, because it was trying to keep up with moving my big muscular body around. It was up to almost 270 pounds at my biggest, so it was a lot of body to me.

Speaker 2:

That is a lot of body to me. Were they concerned that if you continue doing the same things that you were doing prior, that you wouldn't have as good an outcome later?

Speaker 1:

They honestly didn't go into that, so they weren't so worried about the issues with the valve limitations. The doctor basically told me, looking at me, he goes, if you work out two or three hours right now you might only be able to work out an hour. And I was just like cool because I only work out 40 minutes a day. So I checked my boxes, what I needed to do. But now that's their assumption off the side and realistically I don't think they knew how messed up it was until they got in there. Because he had came up to my wife after the surgery and he very grimly, was like it's really bad because I was regurgitating 50% down to 15 or 20% ejection fraction and my heart was almost triple the size it should be. So a lot of bad things going on.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so they know that your heart has been working overtime for literally years. You had a unicuspid aortic valve, when the aortic valve is the valve that's responsible for pushing the blood to your entire body. So it's about that gets a big workout anyway, and to not have three leaflets but to only have one instead. That's all fused together. It's a miracle you made it to 30, considering all the things that you were doing, what kind of changes that they recommend you make in your lifestyle.

Speaker 1:

You know, I think this is another problem going in shape. They didn't really recommend any. They tried to put me on the general heart problem. So let's lower your sodium, let's all the things you do with out of shape decrepit individuals. And those weren't unfortunately those weren't any of my problems. So they basically told me hey, you might only be able to work out an hour, but another nap they did. I do not recall any mention of not pushing the thighs. Now they didn't say go out, start bodyboiler or do any of that. They just said your training might be limited but the valve should be able to handle this dilation.

Speaker 2:

Wow, that just amazes me, because it sounds like you were at death's door, cody.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it felt like it towards the end. Getting back again, I thought it was the blood pressure pills going into it. So when you get out and have that diagnosis, you do start to correlate things with what they actually were Now, with what you were thinking they were.

Speaker 2:

How long did it take before you felt more like yourself?

Speaker 1:

Honestly, when I was sitting in the hospital I felt like they had oxygen hooked up to me. I had not taken breaths that good in years. I was already breathing better and I'm not sure if it was the contrast against how bad my heart had got towards the end or if it had been like that for 15 years or so, while basically my weight training career. But all I knew was sitting there. It felt like I could get a deep breath for the first time. You don't realize that you weren't breathing good until you get that good breath in.

Speaker 2:

Because it was probably such a subtle change over years that you weren't realizing you were just doing shallow breathing instead of taking those nice deep breaths.

Speaker 1:

So now, you're able to that was my normal.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so now you're able to take a deep breath. Hopefully you're feeling better. I'm sure you still feel broken because you had even more stuff done to your chest to make sure I did it. You really don't want someone like you tearing those sutures. That would be really bad. That's why they bolted me back together they bolted you back together, frankenstein's you together, didn't they? Yep?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they left a couple of sticking out at the bottom, so I still hit those on things over and out. That does not feel super good. Other than that, it was pretty smooth.

Speaker 2:

No, that would not feel very good, that would not feel very good.

Speaker 2:

What advice would you have to other people who are listening to this show, who maybe just found out that in their 30s, all of a sudden, they have a problem and they never realized they had a problem before. What advice would you give them to help them through this process? That's a huge transition to go from feeling like not only are you a perfectly healthy person, you were a super athlete because you were doing that bodybuilding, you were doing that powerlifting, you were doing way more physically than the average person. It's gotta be devastating to be told all of a sudden no, you're at dust store.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely the biggest thing I can say as far as a takeaway for people is there's hope after. So when you read and studies, you're looking for things on the internet YouTube videos or whatever people that have came out of the same surgery you're gonna find a lot of unfortunately unhealthy or bad situations going in that really don't relate to where you're at, and I've had the pleasure of working with multiple heart people as far as training goes after the surgery, because they were in a very grim spot going into and they did have a lot of hope and so when I got out of it, I set my mind and I said, okay, if I'm able to lift again and everything feels good, I'm gonna do a bodybuilding show within the year just to see if I can do it. Right To check that box.

Speaker 2:

Wow, did you.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I did one 11 months later and then one year later. So I ended up winning one show, or at least my class from the next show I got first or second. So I got down to 5.1% body fat the whole time while reversing my heart failure and shrinking my heart back to normal size. So, in conjunction with the, bodybuilding actually was getting healthier as well.

Speaker 2:

And that was gonna be my next question. So they noticed, when they were actually in your chest and looking at your heart, that it was huge from being overworked for so long. But I'm wondering if maybe that was a shorter term condition, if they were able to, within a year, get it back to a normal size. You would think if it had been overworking and it had been too large for too long, that it wouldn't have shrunk back as quickly as it did.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I got the initial shrinking down like the first echo. But what I was doing was I was having them pull echoes like every three to six months and I was throwing in miscellaneous supplements that I had read actual clinical data on for improving injection fraction, for improving heart type, heart function, electrical enlargement, all these things, and so over that course I threw in a lot of various supplements and I'll attribute quite a bit of those to what Brahman I just went for it. I did not. I felt like they kind of checked me off after I did all this. Yeah, so I had CoQ10 and Picoginol in, but I had a lower dose on it. So if you look, there's actually clinical data on that bringing injection fraction up. I believe it's 10 or 15%. It pulls them up a heart failure cloud. So I was like, okay, cool, so I had that in right after the surgery.

Speaker 1:

But I had a larger bodybuilder friend he's passed away different things but when he had a lower injection fraction he had thrown it in. So he tripled the dose on it and I had his data showing it reverse heart function. So then I said, okay, well, I've nothing to lose here. So I tripled the dose on it and then I threw in one more. I might be pronouncing it all wrong, but epigenin and they have studies on it with tertiary loaded rats and things like that. So I have another friend who's very well versed in this and he told me about that. And when I threw that in with the other two, in two months my injection fraction had a hopped up 20% and my heart was completely normal sized, whereas the eight to 10 months prior it had not moved up a heart failure class at all. And I'll bear in mind I'm prepping for a bodybuilding show at this point. So I'm roughly 10 or 8% body fat. So what would be deemed not healthy is when I actually reversed my heart failure.

Speaker 2:

Wow, that's just amazing to me that you were able to do that. I would think if your heart was in such bad shape that you would be too tired to do the bodybuilding.

Speaker 1:

I was hungry, so you get out, and not physically hungry, I can get that to tripping. But when you have your life almost ripped out yes, absolutely. So you have your life basically ripped out from underneath you and you have something to prove, and that's all it was. I wanted to see if I still had it in me. I didn't want to be washed up or any of that, because it was the only life I had known for the 15 years prior, and so it was a great experience. I pulled it off and I wanted to paint hope, because if you can come back from an event like that and in less than a year of being in top physical condition, top peak condition, that does paint a lot of hope for people going into these surgeries that realistically can't find any information on what is life like after heart surgery. What is it have to offer? Can I still be normal? Can I still go, do normal things, play exercise, play sports, all those things?

Speaker 2:

OK, so let me ask you this you knew as a young kid that endurance sports were not for you, that you couldn't run a mile very quickly. Now that you have this mechanical valve, have you tried to do any of those sports to see if it feels different?

Speaker 1:

I actually do cardio daily now, but it's basically walking in the neighborhood. When you're this large I could run out. I'll be wrong, but my joints disagree. That rate of gravity is. It's rough when you get this big, so I could do it, just to do it, but it wouldn't feel good the next day. I'm not as young as I used to be.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I hear you, I hear you.

Speaker 4:

Never been a bodybuilder.

Speaker 2:

I can't even imagine, I just can't even imagine. Your doctor must be unbelievably impressed to see your ejection fraction improved, to see the size of your heart go back to normal. Did he do a case study on you?

Speaker 1:

No, in fact, all he did was he looked at the report and I already had three echoes done that year prior to that. So this is my fourth echo of the year and all the others were 30 to 40. This one was 55% on the button and he looked at it and he goes oh, the Carvedival must be working the same drug that they had prescribed me for the last 10 months. So either it takes 10 months to kick in and get you 20% ejection fraction, or it was the new variable I had put in between the series of echoes, and I think it's where I fall on that.

Speaker 2:

Did you tell him? Were you honest with him about the supplements you were taking?

Speaker 1:

The irony is, in the state I'm from, I did not feel like they cared about what was going on, so more like assembly line when it comes down to it. So all they did was they looked at it and they go oh, you're not in heart failure Checked and they wrote me off. So that was actually the last echo I had until I moved out to Texas. So it's four years in between. Wow.

Speaker 2:

That's just amazing. So let's leave our listeners with some words of wisdom from you. What do you think was the biggest lesson you've learned through this experience?

Speaker 1:

Watch for subtle symptoms and don't write them off for other things. My custom valves are obviously very common and there's probably more issues with them than we think. So my subtle symptoms work very light water retention like sock lines, pitting lines, edema Very light amount, though not where you would medically think it, and then getting very sick upon five strenuous exercise, and these are things that are very easy to write off on other subjects. So it was easy to say it wasn't that it was because I was big. I was a big bodybuilder, though it's not heart failure, it's because I'm a large human and I did help the cause. But it was correlation not causation. So the main problems they were getting caused by was fact that my heart was not keeping up with my body because of the genetic condition. So pay attention to the little things they can add up.

Speaker 1:

Doctors can give you echocardiograms. They can do that. You have to ask for them, though. It's one of those things they're not going to do on younger people. My sister, fortunately. She went and got her check out after just to see because it's a genetic thing. She was making sure she wouldn't have to get cut open too and get blinds out of my. So she luckily passed and everything was still there. But it's something. If you have heart conditions in your family, I think it's just worth a look. Just take a look at it, have them run a few tests, have an EKG, if you can actually have them get in there and do an echo so you can see what's going on with your heart. Because, again, my EKG was completely normal when everything was going crazy.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, I'm so glad to hear that your sister went for an exam as well. I did not realize how much it was Weighing on my own heart the worry that my firstborn son also had a heart condition. It was undiagnosed but, like I told you, he was an high athlete, he was a state swimmer and when he was 16 there was a clinic while there was a hospital that was in a town 30 miles away from where we lived and they had all this new equipment and they offered the high performance athletes a free echo. Before I never heard of them before yeah, yeah, it was a wake-up.

Speaker 1:

That's amazing, I know right.

Speaker 2:

So because we have had athletes who have just passed out on the field, on the football field or on the basketball court or on the track field, and so they were. It was only for the high performance athletes, it wasn't for just every person. But yeah, because my son was a high performance athlete, I got there. I was the second one in line.

Speaker 2:

I'm surprised I wasn't the first, but other people like they knew people were going to show up early for a free echo cardiogram and as soon as we got in the room I was explaining to them that his little brother had Left-sided heart problems, hypoplasic left heart syndrome, sycophantrical heart, and that his aorta had a coarctation. And I was explaining all the conditions that my other son had and I had seen I don't know how many, probably at least 20 Echos with my son who had a cajoled heart effect. But this was, of course, the very first one to see on my heart Healthy son. Now, mind you, what brand new equipment, brand new facility. His heart looks so beautiful. It was text book perfect. I made it to the parking lot, cody. I made it to the parking lot and then I first yeah.

Speaker 2:

Just because I couldn't believe how perfect his heart looked and it was just such a Huge relief. I realized then, if I had known how much that was weighing on me, I would have paid any amount of money to have it done sooner, just for that reassurance that everything was okay in him.

Speaker 1:

Oh, it's like the first one you get asked through the surgery that you're cognitive of. I remember that going through and your blood pressure is spiking up, your resting heart rates up and they're checking it. You're looking to see if it's swirling together, like the one in the hospital, and you're asking them the whole time but they're not allowed to answer you. Is that normal? Is everything good?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you know a lot more about the heart now than you probably ever thought. You would. Right, cody.

Speaker 1:

I never thought I would know this much about the heart period. I just thought it was something that you didn't have to worry about. It was a like old people problem. That's where that'd get the problem. I was so young, it could never happen to me, and then my wife's blocked me very quickly in the face to give me some humble pie.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's amazing how that can happen to you, right? But I think it did so much more than that For you, cody. It looks to me like it gave you a new benchmark, a new opportunity to stop and reevaluate your life, and maybe a second start in your life. What do you think?

Speaker 1:

Oh, absolutely. It's one of those things that's hard, I guess. Second takeaway to give to people it's hard not to get better when life gives you a situation like that. The first thing you get the diagnosis and why doesn't this person have it? Why me? And what you have to do is you can't get it at mindset, you have to play the cards as you do were dealt, and that was one thing I made a promise to myself when I got the diagnosis I wasn't gonna throw fit. I wasn't, I was just gonna play it Exactly how it was. These were my cards to play. It wasn't my burden to put on anyone else. I didn't have to go out and try to explain to people how terrible I felt and trying to get sympathy from oh and all that. I wanted to be strong Through the process because I figured if you weren't strong going through it, you're probably not gonna come out, because there was a big fear of that going out, because I was side-swipe and so the I take away from that is when I came out, I was not the same person and not in a bad way at all, but I had the bodybuilding.

Speaker 1:

Life feels very robotic, it's very Systemized, it's very structured and, in my opinion, my wife didn't have a husband for almost eight years. I was very robotic get up the same. I would get up at 3 30 every day. I was training 12 clients in person. A break in between the workouts. I was basically gone from 3 30 in the morning to 8 or 9 10 every single night, monday through Sunday for the first eight years. We were married, so she had a robot, not a husband. Now I was cute, the body looked real good, but beyond that it wasn't. It wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair. So when I got done with that changed my perspective a bit, because Life is made to be lived, it's not made to go through these mundane motions and Respectively focusing on things that really didn't matter, helping people get more outreach. So that was a big thing for me.

Speaker 1:

When I got out, I wanted to have more of an impact, because one of the thoughts running through my mind when I got to diagnosis A lot of people are oh, I haven't done this, I haven't went on this vacation, I haven't went here, and my main thing that went through my head was this is all I've done. But yeah, on the resume of life, I was taking my the reaper. That day. My checklist of accomplishments was insignificant to what I wanted to leave on this world and so I felt I had a timeline because I didn't know how long I was going to be around.

Speaker 1:

Because you get out, it's still technically stage one heart flung. So I figured I had at best five years. I crammed everything, I went on hate to drive with everything between getting the life I wanted going on vacations, business, whatever it was because I thought I was working with a much shorter timeline. Obviously I realized it's a little bit more extended, so I tried to ease back a little bit. But it's tendencies that don't really go away. But it was the first time in my life I would actually live like I love it.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for sharing your story with me, cody. I find it very inspiring.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. It was great being on here.

Speaker 2:

What was so much fun for me. Friends, that does conclude this episode of heart to heart With Anna. Thanks for listening today. I hope you found the program helpful. If you have any questions about the show, please send them to me on the hug website. I'll put the link in the show notes. And remember my friends, you are not alone.

Speaker 4:

Thank you again for joining us this week. We hope you have become inspired and empowered to become an advocate for the congenital heart community. Heart to heart with Anna, with your host, anna Jaworski, can be heard at any time, wherever you get your podcasts. A new episode is released every Tuesday from noon eastern time.

Cody Watkins
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