When Markus was born back in 1987 he, according to his mother, came out with blue skin. This was due to oxygen deprivation from a serious congenital heart defect. A syndrome called Tetralogy of Fallot.

He had his first surgery at only a couple of months old when they took a large vein from his right arm to make new tubing for his heart. This was only a temporary solution though, and at 3 he had the “real” surgery when they patched his heart up for good.

The operation was successful and he went on to live a fairly normal life – until he was 18 when he had a serious episode of Ventricular Tachycardia. It’s like a heart attack (closest example I could think of) except it’s caused by the heart freaking out and starting to beat incredibly fast, to the point it’s not really beating as much as cramping, preventing the blood from passing through. That is as serious as a heart attack and yes, he could very well have died that day.

After that, they put an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) in his chest. It’s sort of like a pacemaker except it only activates in case of emergency. Like if he has another VT, then it will send an electric shock (defibrillate) to his heart to neutralize it. In the meantime it just lies there, registering his heart rate.

In the 7 years he’s had it it has never activated or registered anything abnormal, which is awesome! 😊

But machines don’t last forever and every once in awhile the ICD will need replacing. Wednesday last week it was time for his first-ever “service”. It was only minor surgery since they didn’t need to replace the cables going into his heart, they just needed to change the actual machine.

The surgery went fine. He just needed local anesthesia and light sedatives and the actual cutting and sewing only took 45 min. The new machine is a bit smaller than the older but more advanced.

It can be connected to a printer at home and print out reports about his heart rhythm. And it can be connected to the Internet and send the reports directly to the hospital.

Another cool thing about ICDs is that the hospital can actually control his heart. He can be laying on a bed all relaxed and the nurse turns a button and suddenly his heart will start beating faster and he will start sweating and getting short of breath as if he’s been running. Apparently it feels super weird.

It’s amazing how far technology has come. We can remote control hearts!

While we were at the hospital we asked if there were any other functions, like could I get a remote to force him to do the dishes or turn him off when I need him to be quiet? The nurse thought it was a great idea and promised she would look into it. 😉

Markus says he’s a real-life Terminator/RoboCop and will probably live forever considering he always has an extra life on him. 😛

Imaginary Karin - Markus post-op at the hospital
Markus post-op at the hospital

I don’t really think about him as “sick”, so it’s a little weird that he needed surgery. I was like “What? Why? Oh, right. That.”

Despite having a literally broken heart he lives a normal life and if you met him you’d never be able to guess it. He plays sports and have a job and hang out with friends. Just a regular guy with a regular life.

Only thing restricting him is that he can’t go through metal detectors or be near powerful magnetic fields. For example, when we’re flying he needs to show his ICD patient card at the airport so they can take him aside and do a physical body search instead of sending him through the metal detectors.

He also takes 1 pill a day that helps lowering his heart rhythm, but taking daily medicine is hardly unusual. It does give the strange side effect of making his nose cold though. Like, it’s always cool to the touch. Bodies can be so weird sometimes…

Also, I am so glad we live in a country with universal healthcare!

We spent about 6 hours at the hospital that Wednesday. Most of it was waiting, but it was also various drugs, heart monitors and other machines, the actual operation, x-rays afterwards to make sure everything looked good, and of course the ICD itself. And I don’t even want to know what an ICD costs.

And for this whole party we paid a sum total of 300 SEK, the standard fee for a doctors appointment. That’s about 45 USD.

Markus is almost 26 years old and has had his heart defect since birth, imagine how much money he must’ve cost in his lifetime. But it has never been an issue. No insurance bullshit or talk about the cost of treatments or if they can afford it or not. He gets whatever help he needs and only has to pay a teeny tiny fraction of the total sum upfront. I for one will gladly pay our high taxes to have a system like this.

TL;DR: heart defects suck but modern technology/medicine is really cool and public healthcare rocks!