Resident Susan Kirby Speaks with Atención about her decision to become the city’s first open-heart surgery patient.
By Jesús Aguado
When Susan Kirby moved to San Miguel de Allende, she had no idea she would become part of the city’s history.
However, that’s just what happened a month ago, when Kirby entered MAC Hospital for the city’s first-ever open-heart surgery. A multidisciplinary team at MAC, headed by Dr Francisco Meléndez Alhambra, performed the surgery to replace Kirby’s mitral valve.
After any kind of surgery, there are risks, and each case is unique, Dr Grace Joanne Lim Baga, in charge of Kirby’s preoperative and postoperative care, told Atención. Kirby was in intensive care and caught pneumonia after her surgery. In addition, her heart did not beat perfectly at first. However, she soon recovered and went home just three days behind her scheduled discharge. She still suffers from pain and discomfort and a lack of enough air. However, said Meléndez Alhambra, those symptoms will soon fade away.
Currently, Kirby is recovering, and doctors are monitoring her status: The wound still has to heal, as do the bones that had to be cracked open to perform the surgery. Kirby also must undergo periodic checkups to control her blood thickness, known as International Normalized Ratio (INR), to avoid clotting in the new valve.
Kirby agreed to an interview with Atención about her surgery and her postoperative experience:
Jesús Aguado: How do you feel after the surgery?
Susan Kirby: Very good, I am recovering day by day. It is a slow process, but it is advancing.
JA: What can you tell us after all this time? You were “disconnected” from this world for several days [after surgery].
SK: I went into cardiogenic shock, then I got pneumonia. It was complicated. I thought I was going to lose my life. All my organs shut down. My family flew in from the USA. My brother-in-law woke me up; I was not waking up. He took one of my paintings and talked to me; that helped a lot. Everyone was around and giving me their energy.
JA: We talked about dreams earlier. What did you dream while sleeping?
SK: They were awful, very dark. I would not want to go there; it was not a nice place. In one of my dreams, there was a Mayan temple by Fábrica Aurora and it was all hand-painted. It was very beautiful, and I crawled into it. There were all these goblins and monsters. I was trying to get to the roots of the trees. I could not move. There were people with masks watching me; they were scary. Then I was flying, and my hair was getting pulled. It was strange.
JA: Given that you knew you might not make it through this surgery, what motivated you to continue with the process?
SK: I had such a good surgeon and lots of confidence in Dr Meléndez that he could perform the operation and give me a new valve and that I would be able to live a normal life if I survived. I took this chance. Now I have a pacemaker so I can live another 20 years with a good life, maybe even less, but I´ll be healthy.
JA: Legally and spiritually, how did you get ready for the surgery?
It was hard. I was anxious. Anticipating the surgery was difficult. Legally I do have Medicare in the States, but if I travelled, I may have had a stroke or a heart attack. I decided to stay here. I met the doctors. I thought they were good, and I liked the hospital. I decided to stay in México and have the surgery here. My family and friends helped me to take care of the bills.
JA: What are your plans for the next 20 years?
SK: Just go back to painting and tango and just have an active life as I had before. I was happy with it. I am a simple person.
JA: What would you say to people with heart problems?
SK: Get a checkup more often. Go to a doctor. Get check-ups, and if you need an operation, have it; it’s worth it.
On Wednesday, June 19, MAC Hospital named one of its intensive care rooms after Susan Kirby, its first open-heart surgery patient. Kirby also donated one of her paintings that now decorate the wall. The painting features an image of the Guadalupana as well as of angels and the Parroquia. “I think more people will relate to it. I am a spiritual person,” she said.