"...I learned that you never truly know how deeply you love someone until you are faced with the reality of possibly losing them..." -Erika Velez

"I came across your blog doing research before my dad's surgery.  Not only was it informative, it was inspiring....I shared your story with my Dad before his surgery and I know he found it inspiring.  I know because one of the very first days he felt barely "human" again, he said, and I quote..."I may be ready to run the NYC marathon." :)  He uses that line here and there when speaking to people and doctors and while he is so very far from it, every time he says it, it makes my heart smile because I know something I shared with him inspired him and gave him hope.  Thanks to you. Thank you Benjamin.  May God bless you always."

On Monday evening November 21st  2011 I learned that my Father had something called an Aortic Aneurism most likely caused by a murmur.  A murmur is a leaky valve that caused his heart to pump almost twice the volume of blood it was supposed to.  This caused the Aorta, the heart’s main artery, to dilate or stretch out to the point where it was in danger of tearing.  Had this happened, my Father would have died.  I learned that this is what the late John Ritter died of.  As did my dear friend Tony, may he rest in peace.  I learned that this condition is usually without symptom and by the time symptoms present themselves, it is too late.  I learned that we were Very Lucky to find this, had we not, my Dad would have been gone within the next 1-2 years.

What I learned next was the following-

I learned that six hours can feel like six hundred years
I learned what it feels like to have Nothing else to hold onto other than faith, prayer, more prayers, and everybody else’s prayers
I learned that the heart and the lungs can be stopped and a body kept alive
I learned that the human body’s temperature can be brought down to 90 degrees
I learned that the entire body’s blood content can be put on bypass and filtered through a man-made machine
I learned what very critical condition is
I learned that Life is so very fragile
I learned that a machine could beat your heart and breathe for you
I learned what that actually looks like, unfortunately
I learned that I do have the ability to not pass out when I convince myself to accept a reality - and that I do not have the ability not to pass out when the reality is too much for me to bare
I learned what a CSICU looks like
I learned what a person looks like with tubes coming out of everywhere
I learned what it is to truly Love someone
I learned that I am not the reason my mother lives and breathes, her husband is
I learned that my father can not exist without my mother and vice a versa
I learned that love is not romance.  Love is cleaning, wiping, bathing, flossing, brushing and feeding someone when they can not do it for themselves
I learned that being able to do all of the above is a blessing and not something to be taken for granted
I learned that it is a privilege and an honor to watch the two people who gave me life, love each other in this way
I learned that God works through people – Surgeons, Doctors, Nurses, Scientists, medical Engineers
I learned that a stroke is a risk of open heart surgery
I learned that my daughters are Special little people not just because they are mine
I learned that Isabella is an incredibly brave and compassionate little girl and that she loves her Abuelo endlessly
I learned that Ariana is more patient than I ever thought possible spending entire days in a hospital lounge
I learned despair
I learned what if feels like to cry so hard that it brings you to your knees
I learned what a woman looks like moments after losing her husband of 42 years
I learned what it is to feel destroyed on the inside and blessed at the same time because my mother did not lose her husband 
I learned that you never truly know how deeply you love someone until you are faced with the reality of possibly losing them
I learned how blessed I am for that fact that whenever my Father’s or my time is up on this Earth I will have already said all the things I ever wanted to say to him – many of us never have that opportunity
I learned that people’s imperfections do not make them imperfect
I learned that I am capable of forgiveness
I learned how terrifying and depleting it is to travel to Hell and back
I learned what it feels like to have a nightmare while you are Not sleeping
I learned that people mean as they Do, and not as they say
I learned that if you really want to help, you just do it, you don’t ask if or how you should
I learned what an integral part of my husband and I, my parents are
I learned what it feels like for us to be lonely
I learned what it’s like to not have a Christmas or New Year’s
I learned how heart breaking it feels for my children not to have a merry Christmas or a happy New Year’s at a time when in fact, they deserved it the Most
I learned what it’s like to have a birthday and not a Happy Birthday
I learned that the ICU, hospital, and rehabilitation center are no place to be on any of the above occasions
I learned what it is to meet a real life Angel in the form of an ICU Nurse
I learned that nine days in the ICU is an eternity
I learned that there are so many people in this world that love and care about my dad and they crawled out of the woodwork to show it
I learned that some bonds between people are forever no matter how much life gets in the way
I learned that the grandest expression of thoughtfulness can come in the form of  “buñelos and natilla” in a paper bag, on Christmas Eve, in a hospital room
I learned that another person’s prayer for someone you love is a Gift
I learned that the man I married loves my father like his own
I learned this same man loves me more than I thought possible
I learned what circulatory arrest is
I learned what a gas embolism is
I learned what my father looks like when he can’t see, or move, or talk
I learned how difficult and exhausting it is to learn to move, and start to see and talk again
I learned what post operative psychosis is
I learned what my dad looks like when he is scared and lost
I learned that taking care of your body and getting regular check ups is important

I learned so many valuable things, and so many things that I never wanted to learn

But the most important thing of all, that I learned - is that you never know how truly strong you are until it is absolutely the Only choice you have.
I learned that I’m pretty f'ing Strong and that because of this, I am forever changed.

As you can imagine, my scars from this experience are still very raw and in the early stages of healing.  Writing this, was therapeutic and for that I am grateful.  A lot of the “things I learned” are incredibly intimate and personal.  But sharing these thoughts is important to me because I believe there are many important lessons to be learned from this experience.  I feel comforted by that fact that if just one lesson is learned, what my family has gone through is not in vain.

Erika M. Velez
My dad is 68yrs Old
Dr. Jock Nash McCullough saved him


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