The operation last week on our granddaughter, Samantha, a high-school senior, set me to appreciating the whole long chain of events that led to that amazing moment – well not just a moment but an amazing four hours. She had been experiencing episodes in which her heart would stop and others in which it would race to as much as 150 beats a minute. The treatment was simply to run something up an artery, from her leg to her heart, and another one down through her neck and burn some nerves that were causing the problem. “Simply.” Right. Hardly. Just to read that sentence is to describe something that is akin to science fiction. How was such a feat possible? Who first had the idea when confronted by symptoms such as Sami’s that some physical thing about the heart itself could be involved? And how many people studied hearts before it was discovered that there were sometimes misshapen nerves that could be related to the problem? And when and how was it discovered that the problem with these misshapen nerves was that they conducted electrical impulses at a different speed than normally shaped nerves? And who first thought, well, lets see what happens if we take those nerves out of the picture? But how? Who hit on the idea of doing so by burning them? But how to do that? They are so small and rather hard to get to and so close to things that should not be damaged. And who after probably many experiences at doing so via open heart surgery, first thought, hey, we could run something really long and thin up to the heart through an artery! And once in the general vicinity, we could find what we are looking for if only there were some kind of imaging device that would enable us to see inside, where the end of our little burning device is, and where the misshapen nerves are! And who, wonder of wonders, actually designed, engineered, fabricated, and tested prototype burning and imaging devices and brought them to such a stage of perfection and reliability that they became production equipment in hospitals all over the world? That we didn’t have to go to London or Switzerland or some other far-away place for this treatment is in itself amazing. We had to go no further than Fairfax Inova Hospital in Virginia. Sami had become adept at restarting her heart by taking sudden deep breaths, but we worried that someday that might not work or that it might happen in her sleep. We think those days are behind us; the next few weeks will tell. Thanks be to God for everyone in the whole chain of researchers, inventors, manufacturers, medical schools, doctors, nurses and technicians, and hospital administrators – who at some point in allocating funds said, yes, we need to be able to do this too – who brought about this amazing result!
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC.