I was Born Blue

I was born a “blue baby” in 1960. I had pulmonary valve stenosis, an atrial septal defect, and right ventricle hypertrophy. In those days, many of us born with congenital heart defects were not expected to survive into adulthood. I am now 62 years young and plan to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim next year (if training goes well :/ ). As a child, I did not believe such a hike would be possible for me. 

I was born in Welch, WV. The hospital I was born at is now the Stevens Correctional Facility. I used to joke with my mom and ask her what she was in the slammer for. I was lucky the doctor who delivered me recommended to my parents that I should travel to Baltimore to be under the care of the renowned cardiologist Helen B. Taussig. She founded the field of pediatric cardiology and specialized in caring for blue babies at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I had my first open heart surgery there in 1961. Afterward, my parents took me to Baltimore for checkups every year until I made it to adulthood. It wasn’t all bad. I ended up in an international medical journal and in the newspaper with Dr. Taussig!

David and Judy Pennington at Johns Hopkins Hospital
David and Judy Pennington at Johns Hopkins Hospital
Dr. Helen Taussig chats with a young heart patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital

I’ve always been able to “feel” my heart beat. My wife thinks that is weird. But I can actually feel it. As a child, I wouldn’t talk about my heart because I knew it was different and I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to play all the sports I could and ride my bike. I really loved baseball and, like most kids, dreamed of being a professional player. Well, as you may have guessed, that didn’t exactly happen but I did get to play sports through high school and college. 

Years went by and life happened. I was supposed to continue with an adult cardiologist after my time at Johns Hopkins, but I felt somewhat cured and really didn’t want to be poked and prodded anymore. I saw a cardiologist occasionally because each time I saw a primary care doctor my heart murmur would show up and lead to a referral for a checkup. It wasn’t until 2015, at the tender age of 55, that I started having problems again. Shortness of breath and sharp pains in the middle of my chest sent me back to the cardiologist. Luckily, I was in Raleigh, NC and close to Duke University where I had my second open heart surgery. 

I am now part of the double zipper club. The second open heart surgery was a long one. Over time, I developed a pulmonary artery aneurysm due to my pulmonary valve closing up again. But that’s not all, I developed some other complications as well. When the surgery was finally over, I had my pulmonary artery trunk replaced with a Dacron graft, the valve opened up again, the atrial septal defect closed, and a band was put around my tricuspid valve. The surgery also fixed the sharp pain in my chest which was due to pressure on a coronary artery from the aneurysm. Whew! I wasn’t the best-behaving patient at the hospital when I woke up a little too early with a ventilator down my throat! After receiving some happy meds, I managed to behave. My family and friends helped me recover and I was back home within a week. 

heart patient recovering at Duke University Hospital
Recovering at Duke University Hospital

Since that surgery, I have a renewed appreciation of how short life is. I never expected to make it this long. So I retired early to enjoy traveling and exploring with my wife and our pets Barley and Lola. Although the pets were not my idea, I would miss them if they weren’t with us. So what is next? Stay tuned. 

a photo of David and Robin Pennington at Hanging Rock State Park NC overlook
Hanging Rock State Park NC
a photo of a dog and a cat camping
Barley and Lola
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