Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aortic Dissection and Raynauds Phenomena, Creative Problem Solving and Non-Fat Diets for AVR Induced Hemolytic Influenced Gallstones (lol)

First, let me apologize for the absurdly long title to this post.

Second, seems like so many of my aortic support group friends end up in the ER during the winter months.
Non-fat diet update, baked malanga and soy sauce.  Hard to describe.
Cold is not a friend to me so I can understand.  I've always dreaded January and February and the fast moving weather fronts that drastically change barometric pressure and urge my mechanical heart valve to go boom, boom, boom twenty four hours a day.

In fact, I ended up in the ER last year with a horrible case of bigeminy once ((bigeminy is not being married to two Gemini) rather bigeminy is where the heart starts beating out of rhythm - more specifically two beats for each normal one beat) and then another ER trip for a serious bleeding hematoma the second time.

I was exceedingly happy to move to southwest Florida this past summer with the grand anticipation of fewer winter cold weather challenges for my body.  I like warm.  I was raised in hot Miami.

But this afternoon I want to blog about a couple of issues, including Raynauds Syndrome, Creative Challenge Solving, this low fat diet I am on and something else which I have now forgotten what the topic concerned.  Thank you Pumphead Syndrome forgetfulness.

My cardiologist knew what Raynauds was when I told him several years ago about my suspicions and he prescribed Amlodipine (5 mg) daily to help with the symptoms.

If you develop cold hands, fingers or feet when the temperature drops ( below 60 F for me) a certain level then you may ask your M.D. about Raynauds.  In severe cases Raynauds manifests as white or blue extremities with painfully numb physical symptoms.

Like aortic dissections and aneurysms I had no idea what Raynauds was about until the aftermath of my two open heart surgeries.

Raynauds, in my opinion, is responsible for many winter and cold weather season cases of sky high blood pressure and erratic, speedy heart beats.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, Raynauds can be caused by beta-blocker use as well as from cold weather.

When I experience a Raynauds attack, my peripheral blood vessels constrict, causing my heart to pump harder and harder in a futile attempt to circulate blood through my hands and feet.  Raynauds induced periphery vessel constriction raises my blood pressure to scary levels and my valve booming booms even louder than normal booming.

All this invokes a stress response in my body compounding the already intense circulatory irregularities, feeding the Raynauds.

What causes Raynauds?  For me an attack is brought on with exposure to cold air.  I can't walk into a Costco open veggie freezer without fear of my fingers turning blue, heart racing and blood pressure skyrocketing.

Staying warm helps prevent Raynauds for me.  Amlodipine too is supposed to dilate my peripheral vessels and does help somewhat but with a cost.  Amlodipine tends to encourage arrhythmias and heart palpations in my chest as well as water retention.

And so I wonder how many of my aortic dissection survivor friends out there are experiencing Raynauds symptoms without knowing what to call the syndrome.

Practicing biofeedback techniques, avoiding stress, knowing when to pull on gloves, wearing warm socks and the silk long sleeve tee my Mom sent me, or seeking out the sun on cold days helps me avoid the ER.  I'd encourage others to ask their primary care physicians or cardiologists about Raynauds also, especially those whose fingers and feet get really cold during to early months of the new year.  It might assign a name to an issue and hopefully provide some insight into cold weather heart complications.

Enough said about Raynauds and winter month ER visits.  My next bit of rambling involves the low fat diet I am on.

OK, up front I know I am doing a good thing by cutting out all processed foods.  I will be so much healthier for doing so.

But eliminating processed foods from my diet is so depressing!

Yes I feel better physically and have quiet a bit more energy now.  Yes, I have lost over twenty pounds since before thanksgiving and my last really bad gallbladder episode.  Yes, I am avoiding gallbladder surgery for the immediate future.

But all the comfort foods I used to run to are now off limits.  No more salt and cracked pepper kettle cooked chips when I am feeling down in the dumps about health issues or any other issues.   No more deliciously distracting Publix sub sandwiches or crispy breaded chicken tenders to banish the blues.

Now I turn to sliced apples or peel a tangerine.

O.K. I know this is a good move.  But I am having a really hard time with giving up processed foods!  I want a non-nitrite organic hotdog.  I want a slab of brie cheese on a crunchy cracker!  I want something salty and oily and crunchy and satiating!  I don't want a raw carrot.

But I am eating mostly veggies and non-fat foods.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I now introduce myself with "Hi, I am Kevin and I am a vegan".

But today I almost had a breakdown in Publix and complained to Judy afterwards that I was so disappointed in life.  I think I may have hurt her feelings and should have been more specific about my otherwise global complaint.

Walking into Publix to buy a package of chicken thighs for her and Ruairi's Sunday dinner, I realized that in my present state of dysfunctional gallbladder health I could not eat ninety nine percent of the beautiful packaged processed food items lining the grocery store shelves.  Probably never again either.

This is a first world problem I told her.  I know I am so much better off sticking with non-processed foods and long term I will be happy with my hopefully soon to be six pack abs (there better be a pay off for the non-fat diet).  I know I should be happy and grateful with the abundance here of fresh veggies and more fresh veggies.

But those colorful bags and bottles and cans and packages of machine compiled food substances with all the long scientifically named additive and flavor compounds were all calling my name.  Actually they were screaming. "Kevin, why aren't you buying us anymore!"  The screaming peaked when I walked by the hummus cooler.

After much thought and a little discussion this afternoon I realize I am addicted to processed foods.  I've been treating those salty, oily, crispy, yummy processed foods as self medication to  mask the symptoms of PTSD from two open heart surgeries, depression, physical pain and chronic fatigue.  When I felt bad I'd head for a brie or hand full of macadamia nut pick me ups.

No I won't ever eat them again.  I may dream about a juicy Hebrew National dog but none shall pass my lips.  I know too well the pain gallbladders can cause.  And since my artificial valve chops up my red blood cells causing a chain reaction with my liver and more gallstones, I will always be stuck with the problem.

Until I have my gallbladder removed.

But therein lies the real problem.  My surgeon says I will be in the hospital for a week minimum because I am on warfarin and then there is the chance of a nicked liver and bleeding and ICU and you get the picture.

Perhaps sticking with a non-fat, non-gallbladder contracting causation diet is best.

This morning in church Rev. Allison spoke about creative problem solving, how we can create the patchwork quilt of our lives in any pattern we choose given the circumstances we are dealt with.

I do fully understand I can take the dissected aorta I am living with and the stoned gallbladder I am stuck with and either make the best of it all or just "roll" over.

Darn it, rolls, especially buttered rolls would be so good right now.  Better yet if I stuck a Hebrew National dog in one and made pigs in a blanket.

Dissection life is a trip!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cypress Dome Collection Giclée on Canvas by Kevin Songer

The Florida Primitive Cypress Dome collection represents approximately a year of work.  First let me say cypress domes are one of my favorite Florida habitats.

These domes are a collection of bald and/or pond cypress trees growing in a damp or wetland area, each competing for sunlight, reaching higher and higher above the next tree, creating an amazing dome shape.

Cypress domes provide habitat for a variety of migratory and wading birds, orchids, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and a host of vines, shrubs and trees.  Biologically speaking cypress domes are extremely diverse.

The three cypress domes included in the collection include; Dark Night Gator Pond (7.5" x 22"), Cypress Pond Fire (7.5" x 22") and Cypress Pond Splendor (7.5 x 25").  Each is Giclée on professional grade canvas.

The Florida Primitive Cypress Dome Splendor is a collection of Florida native wildflowers and plants.  Included in the art are; Roseate Spoonbills, several grass pinks (Calapogon app.), climbing aster, bacopa, wax myrtle, saw palmetto, muscadine, muhly grass, shiny blueberry, spotted bee balm, bracken fern, st. john wort, sabatia, joe pie weed, pulchea, Catesby lily, xyris, cattails, gallberry, scarlet hibiscus,  lizard's tail, sabal palm, sawgrass and much more.
The Florida Primitive Collection Cypress Dome Splendor brings memories of the magnificence of late spring-summer Florida wildlife and wilderness.

Florida Primitive Cypress Dome Splendor, Giclee on Canvas

The Florida Primitive Collection Dark Night Gator Pond focuses on American alligators and alligator snapping turtles swimming in the moonlight filled Florida cypress pond, full of calling tree frogs.

Florida Primitive Dark Night Gator Pond

The Florida Primitive Collection Cypress Pond Fire highlights late spring fire season where thunderstorms not only bring afternoon rains but lighting strikes and regenerative fire.
Florida Primitive Cypress Pond Fire
Each of these Florida nature art pieces are part of a limited production run and are individually numbered and signed by Kevin Songer.  Production is limited to fifty glicée on canvas per title, sized per the above specifications.  Custom sizing may be available on special request.

Florida Cypress Domes are an amazing part of the disappearing Florida wilderness landscape.  Bring this beautiful natural Florida habitat wonder into your home or office with these Florida Primitive Collection Cypress Dome giclée on canvas works of art.

Monday, January 4, 2016


I've been running and hiding from the dissection issue.  Fear has driven me away from this blog.

Marinated mushrooms are chewy and filling like meat, but contain zero fat and keep me satisfied for about two minutes.
Over the past two years I've reasoned if I don't talk about living with dissection then I won't be affected by it any more.  I have told myself that if I talk about aortic dissection and aneurysms then I am giving the issue more energy and problems may be more likely to manifest.

However I see more and more people who are joining Facebook support groups with many questions about dissection life.

So I am going to come back with pen in hand and journal my challenges.

Hopefully someone will be helped by the ramblings.

2016 is starting off just a little over 4 years beyond my second open heart surgery.  I am still alive.

My latest challenge seems to be gallbladder issues, caused directly or indirectly by a number of factors possibly including my aortic valve.

During extensive testing last month my GI doctor diagnosed me with red blood cell (RBC) hemolysis due to my St. Jude aortic valve.  The valve is chopping up RBCs.

I've known this since January 2012 and even had transfusions just after my second open heart event.

The damaged RBCs are filtered out by my liver, scavenged by haptoglobin.  In fact, most of my haptoglobin produced by my liver is constantly being used up scavenging RBCs.  That is why my haptoglobin levels are low.

My bilirubin is conversely high.  Seems there is a correlation between too many damaged RBCs and bile production - bilirubin levels.  This imbalance may also affect bile stone production in my gallbladder, hence the presence of my gallstones.

Gallstones hurt.  When I eat fatty foods my gallbladder constricts.  Ouch from the gallstones.  Big time ouch.

So for the past two months, since well before Thanksgiving 2015, I have become a vegan.

Yes, that's right, a vegan.  I swore I never would or could become a vegan.  I am a meat person and always have been a meat person.  But thanks to my aortic valve, I am a vegan now.
Typically it seems, when I meet a vegan the very first thing they say after telling me their name is 'I am a vegan'.  This seemed very silly to me in the past.

However after two months of being a 'non-fat' (including no EVOO or other oils) vegan I am finding the first thing I want to blurt out when talking to someone I haven't seen in a while is, "I AM A VEGAN!"

Believe me, the vegan thing is not intentional.

But I do feel very different after having just eaten non-processed mostly raw foods for the past two months.

I feel much lighter (as in twenty pounds) and full of much more energy.  Really the vegan trip is a little exciting, like discovering something new in life long after I thought I'd seen everything.  In that sense I feel a little like a life loving twenty something year old.

To prevent the excruciating gallbladder pain I am avoiding most all fats.  Natural fats, like avocado I seem to be able to handle OK though I haven't added nuts back into my diet as of yet.  If the label indicates any total fat content above '0' grams I avoid.

There really are so many good foods that are high in protein and good carbs without fat.  I didn't know this when I started the vegan diet but am learning fast.  Blackeye peas for instance do not have fat yet are full of protein and carbs.  Black rice is another food I've come to enjoy.  I can make some really good California rolls.  Dates and figs are like candy to me, an easy replacement for chocolate.

Watch those labels though as some foods you'd think would be free of fat actually have quite a bit of fat.  Nori seaweed for instance.  Some brands contain zero fat while others are full of hidden vegetable oils (like the ones I recently saw at Costco).

How long will the vegan diet last?  Probably until I have my gallbladder removed ( a week long hospital stay with higher risks since I am a Coumadin patient) or until I find the vegan diet heals all my ills.

Check back often for more updates.

And have a most blessed New Year and 2016!  I AM A VEGAN!  Kevin