Our Journey from Coronary Heart Disease to Quad Bypass Open Heart Surgery


My husband Erik was scheduled for an Angiogram of his heart on December 10th, 2012. He’s had 2 stents in his heart since his first heart attack only weeks before his 38th Birthday. In 2011 he had a second smaller heart attack when he was 43. The first heart attack was a 100% blockage of the lower artery. We made it to the hospital just in time. Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento took him straight in, no wait, they noted the signs. That saved his life that day! We all know there are times we wait hours upon hours in the Emergency room. I did myself when I was having a severe Gall Bladder attack at another local Emergency room, only to find nearly 10 hours later I need emergency Gall Bladder removal surgery. These things happen. If it had happened the day of my husbands first heart attack, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.

After his first heart attack he was diagnosed with Coronary Heart Disease. This first heart attack caused damage to the lower part of the heart. I prayed and prayed that they could make him a new man. I hoped that after healing he would feel so much better again. He’s had 2 stents in his heart since the first heart attack. After the second heart attack he was taken back into surgery where it was found 1 of the stents was faulty and the other was put in wrong. 1 was fully replaced and the other repaired. He still has those stents inside his heart to this day.

As I wait in the Cath Lab waiting area while he was in surgery for the Angiogram, the wait seemed like forever. When he came out, he was beyond emotional, he just learned he needed the bypass which also meant the job he was just hired for at $27 an hour for 8 weeks he would no longer be able to take.


Dr. Ochoa came out to speak with me as they continued to roll my husband to recovery and told me about the vessels being constricted, showed me photos of his arteries and how very thin they were causing lack of blood flow to the heart. At that time we thought it would be a double bypass.

We met with the surgeon, Dr. Dein explained the pros and cons of the surgery, laid it all on the line, possibility of infection, death etc.

He then showed us the actual video of my husbands heart. The doctor said it would be at least a triple bypass but that he would not know for certain until he got inside.

On December 19th we spend the day doing Pre OP tests, tons of blood tests, he was shaved, arms, legs, chest, matching his blood to a blood bank it he needed blood during surgery, etc.  They fed us both a meal since we were there at dinner time.

Surgery was scheduled the next morning. We were to arrive at 5:00 a.m

We arrived. He was prepped, IV’d, gave him 2 Ativan to relax him, we talked, told each other how much we loved each other and he went into surgery approx 6:30 a.m.

Hated waiting, the unknown, just me, myself and my thoughts. Thinking positive, chanting positive phrases, over and over again.

Waiting, resting, dozing, alert, I finally went down to the van to rest again, our niece Renata was on her way, showed up for support, with food, water, fruit, so that we would have something to eat. She had only been there just a bit, I came back up about 8:10 a.m and then I received a call on my cell phone. It was a nurse, my heart thumped, I learned an emergency with another patient had come up and they had just wheeled my husband back to the Cardiac Support Unit. Surgery Cancelled.

We would have to start all over the next A.M.

Our son Kurtis drove us home. He had just got his drivers permit only days before. The night seemed to go by slow, everyone was exhausted. My husband had to re fast again at 10:00 p.m.

I didn’t get but a wink of sleep. At 2:00 a.m. I showered, braided my hair, put my wrap around it (like a head band, tied to the side) and laid back down. Fell asleep for a few minutes or so and woke up and dressed at 4:00 a.m.

We were off again. My husband was going into Open Heart Surgery 6 days after turning 45 years old.

We went through the process again, IV’ing him, Ativan again, there was a bit of a delay do his patient number changing the prior day, ugh, finally it was all figured out.  Resigned authorizations etc.

And off we were as they wheeled him into the OR for the second time.

January 21st, the day the world was suppose to end. As he was being wheeled in, the sky lit up orange and a rainbow appeared. I missed it since I was walking behind him. Our daughter Kharisma who couldn’t get the day off work to be with her dad because her boss didn’t have anyone to cover her captured the image on her cell phone as she was walking to work. It was like God and the Heavens above saying… It will be alright! I still hadn’t seen it until hours had passed in the waiting room.


Renata, our niece, my husbands sister’s daughter arrived once again. Renata’s mom passed away years ago. She had also had bypass, survived but passed away later. She was only in her 40’s. My husbands sister Tanya, her husband Chris and their daughter Katrina also came. Renata’s husband Tom arrived also.

Our daughter Erykah and son Kurtis were also there both days.

At noontime Kurtis asked one of the nurses how much longer for husbands surgery and we were told at least 2 more hours. It seemed like forever already. At about 2:50 p.m. the nurse came out to say it was going well. A bit later the surgeon came out to speak to us. He came out of the OR and into the first recovery at exactly 3:40 p.m.

I was so relieved. The day seemed so long.
I would get to see him soon!

They said in a half hour I could see him. I waited 40 minutes and tried but had to go back out and wait another 15 minutes. More waiting….

I waited another very long 30 minutes to be sure I could see him. I picked up the phone outside the ICU and asked to come back in. I was allowed but only for a few minutes. I went back and seen him. I had prepared myself for what I had been told by the surgeon and this is that the first time I would see him after surgery that he may look deceased. (deep breath) this is because of the heart being stopped and the lungs being collapsed and well technically he was dead during the time the bypass machine and so forth kept him alive while they operated. Oh how nervous I was.

I went back alone. (exhale) he did not look deceased thank God. He did not look well of course but he wasn’t as white and cold as was described to me. Probably because they had already began the warming process of slowly bringing his body temperature back.

The nurse asked if there was other family there, I said yes. She asked if they would all like to come in for a few minutes to hear an update on him. I went to get them. At that point I had only spent but a moment with him.

I left to get the family.

We returned. It was myself, our daughter Erykah, our son Kurtis, his sister Tanya and her husband Chris.

While the nurse was updating us, I asked if I could touch him. She said that I could. I gently brushed my finger tips across his cheek and then forehead. He was cool, but not cold. We weren’t allowed to stay but a few moments but I could return at 10:00 p.m. It was approx 4:00-4:15 pm at that time. I gave my husband a finger kiss…

Kissed my own fingers and placed the kiss to his cheek.

Everyone left to go home after seeing him except for Kurtis and I. We left to go down to the van to get some rest and wait to see Erik again at 10:00 pm.

Fell asleep and woke to go see him, he was still in the original ICU on the 3rd floor. He was still intibated with tubes breathing for him. He had 4 large tubes draining blood from his lungs and main incision to the heart.

When we went back up to see him I was told he would likely not know of my presence. I talked to him and rubbed his head and told him he did good and how much I loved him. He moved his leg. Our son and the nurse said that was probably just a twitch so I continued to talk to him, I told him again how good he did and that he made it, he lifted his chin and then the nurse realized he was acknowledging me. I stopped talking to him as not to excite him in any way…  just an I Love You until the next morning when I would be back to see him.

Erik VanFleet Removal of artery from left arm for Quad Bypass Open Heart Surgery Dec 21, 2012

Erik VanFleet Removal of artery from left arm for Quad Bypass Open Heart Surgery Dec 21, 2012

They had taken an artery from his left arm. 12 inch scar. And a vein from his right leg, 8 inch scar. The leg is still stapled together as is the 12 inch heart incision as I write this. Staples come out in bit less than 2 weeks now. They stay in for a month post surgery. The arm is stitched on the inside.

He was taken off intibation first thing the next morning of December 22nd.


Kharisma came up the next day, as did my husbands brother Jim and wife Susanne. Each arrived from different parts  of town at about the same town. Jim and Susanne live in Sunol CA toward the Bay Area and came through a hard storm. Our daughter Kharisma came from West Sacramento.

The third day his heart rate was so high there was cause to worry, but it came down by that night. His Diabetes played a factor in recovery also and will continue to do so. Sugar and Sodium are the biggest No No’s now.

Lifestyle maintenance is a must. For all of us.

We spent Christmas Day in the hospital too. By this time it was 4 days after surgery and I was finally able to stay with him in his room.


He spent time in recover, 2 separate ICU units and then another recovery unit.

The day before we came home, he was moved to yet another room down the hall on the 4th floor due to smoke smells of fireplaces coming in through the air vents. We’re hyper sensitive to the smell of smoke, especially Erik, ever since the fire that destroyed the home we were living in back in 2000. We lost absolutely everything. Even the walls and roof burned down. Erik saved our baby boy’s life by tossing him out the bedroom window the only room in the house that hadn’t fully burned at the time. They were both sleeping in it.

We didn’t have renters insurance. Hard lesson learned. Erik was burned pretty bad, smoke inhalation, but our son after being checked out was okay enough to come home with me. Erik spent the night in the hospital. 2 days before Thanksgiving, spent the holidays in a motel, went to a friends for Thanksgiving and spent Christmas of that year together and alone.

We’ve been there for one another through so much. January 26th will be the 12 year anniversary of the work injury that caused my CRPS. Tearing the tendons and ligiments off the bones of my right foot led to one thing after another after another.

I’m taking care of him now, as he’s taken care of me. A man takes care of his women and the woman takes care of her man. I don’t consider it an equal partnership, I am subservient. I always have been. I also have a good man to care for me, who’s never abused me, who encourages me to fulfill my goals while I encourage and support him.  Heading on 27 years together. We renewed our 25th wedding vows over the summer time.


I brought him home on December 28, 2012. He’s been home a week yesterday.

We spent a quiet New Year at home together. Just us.

I (We) were given the best Christmas gift ever…

… The Gift of Life.

There could never be a better or more valuable gift than that!

He has a long road to recovery ahead and I have a long road to travel with him..

My heart keeps telling me …

… This too shall come to pass….

The world didn’t end that day after all…

Instead, a brand new beginning began!

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