Herald: Artificial heart valves and sleep loss
Herald News

Artificial heart valves and sleep loss

12 Jun 2017 05:18am IST
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12 Jun 2017 05:18am IST

Compared to five decades ago, nowadays, a lot can be done for those who suffer from a deranged heart valve. When my loving mother died in 1957 (I was only 15) from “Rheumatic Mitral Stenosis” (choking of the mitral valve) there was only medical treatment. Unfortunate sufferers like her relentlessly progressed to die of terminal cardiac failure.

Oh, how I remember my mother! What an inspiring soul she was! To all those who came with their troubles she had kind words and wise counsel. Our home was open to everyone and her hospitality made everyone feel important. She was the most loving, humble, compassionate, understanding, family-oriented woman. Truly, the most beautiful soul one could ever meet. “Branca” was her name. She was pretty, with lovely greenish-blue eyes, a snowy-white complexion. She was probably harbouring her “heart ailment” since childhood. Yet, she grew up to become a rare beauty. My father Luis, who was head over heels in love with her, was bent on marrying her no matter what. It is a miracle that she uneventfully went through four pregnancies and delivered four children. My eldest sister Lília is a reputed librarian, my elder brother Elínio, endowed with great business acumen runs a large pharmaceutical empire. My younger brother Alberto, a passionate lover of football, did for the beautiful game in India like no one else.

My mother had groomed me to become a priest – how happy she was to give one of her sons to God! As she herself stitched my paraphernalia of clothes required from a seminarian, she made me sit on her lap and told me inspiring stories about martyrs and saints. “Mom, I want to be a priest and die a martyr!” I would exclaim as an 11-year-old. She would laugh in amazement with a tinge of joy and pride. When I was 10, I knew the whole Mass in Latin by heart. To be a priest, at that young age, it meant to me, I would soon be like the well-groomed priests of those days wearing polished shoes, with shining hair, donning the most fascinating robes, with a high standing in the society. But once I got into the Saligão Seminary, the atmosphere was far from congenial. From the first day I began to cry incessantly. On the 12th day, my parents realising it was not possible to keep me in the Seminary any longer came to take me back home. What a relief! Would I have been a good priest? Or have I done more as a doctor? God will judge!

Until we grew up as teenagers we never had a clue about our mother’s sickness. As my father made frequent trips to Mumbai upon the advice of our family physician, Dr António Colaço (a genial clinician and a fine human being) to see reputed cardiologists, we began to suspect something was grossly amiss with my mother. My father was so desperate that he had collected enough finance to take her to London for surgery (still in embryonic stage) but most of his friends discouraged him. She went on deteriorating. Towards the fag end she was admitted to Hospicio where Dr Fernando Peres and Dr Escolástica, provided unrequited love, a clean, hygienic room, decent food, and excellent nursing services. They allowed us all to camp in the Hospital and at night we would sleep on mattresses on the floor. Every night an “angel of God” came to keep us company: our unforgettable “Primo Prazeres Pinto”, a great friend of the family. A saint he was!  Even after a tiring day’s work, he watched over my mother through sleepless nights and gave us enormous comfort. God bless his soul! 

Modern medicine works miracles for patients like my mother and with the treatment now available she would have lived much longer. Mitral Stenosis (MS) is an obstruction of the mitral valve, which reduces the flow of blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle. Being a mechanical problem, drugs are of little help. Working as I do now with Live Real Time 3D/4D Echocardiography, I am able to do a detailed assessment of the mitral valve to guide the “interventionist”. MS can be treated “percutaneously” with an inflatable balloon. When severely deranged, surgery and an artificial valve are required. There are “mechanical” and “tissue heart valves”. The former are made of strong durable materials and are long-lasting. 

However, a recent study from Norway brings disturbing news. Researchers find that one in four patients with an artificial “mechanical” heart valve are facing disturbance in their sleep, owing to the “ticking sound” produced by the valve apparatus. Chronic sleeplessness in turn leads to serious health problems. Fortunately, few patients here report problems with “valve noise”. Possibly, our patients are more stoic with higher threshold to “noisy clicks” but a survey by oHeraldo could inform us better.

My mother departed too soon. How I wish she were here today so that I could “cure” her with the knowledge I have. How I would die to pay her back with the care and love she deserved. Alas, God had planned differently. I miss you dearest mother of mine! 

Mother, you taught me much more than words can say, to never give up on my dreams, to persevere no matter how hard the storms may be! Thanks mother, sweet mother of mine.

(Dr Francisco Colaço is a seniormost consulting physician, pioneer of Echocardiography in Goa)

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