At 7, Conkie (nee Christakos, real name Constance) joined a swim club in Dewitt, NY. She was required to undergo a physical by the club doctor. He noticed a problem with her heart. Her family doc had diagnosed a relatively harmless murmur. The swim doc suspected otherwise. Catherization showed Conkie had 3 holes in her heart, a birth defect called an atrial septal defect. (This occurs in over 200,000 cases per year. If not diagnosed early, it can cause permanent heart and lung damage.)
2 years later, Conkie was scheduled for surgery. The day before, her surgeon in Buffalo, NY, decided to send her to someone more experienced with ASD. Her mom later described Conkie’s surgeon, Dr. James Malm, as “a beautiful 30 something doctor” and “a sweet piece of Jesus.”
Conkie’s heart was repaired at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. At the time, there was no Ronald McDonald House. Her parents came to the city for the operation. After, her dad traveled to Japan on business. Her mom couldn’t afford an apartment or hotel room during Conkie’s 5 week hospital stay. She visited her daughter during limited visiting hours and slept in a high rise office building “on the couch of a friend of a friend.”
Conkie says, “We all survived.”
Fast forward almost 50 years. Conkie, now 58, and Jim live in a golf course community in Venice, FL. They have a son and daughter and 2 grandkids. Conkie plays tennis and works out. She also stays busy sewing curtains, painting and rearranging furniture “and any other great idea I read about on my daily decorating blogs.”
Recently, visiting Cazenovia, NY, her hometown, Conkie was talking to an older woman about her husband’s heart surgery. Conkie mentioned her own. The woman said her son knew Dr. Malm. Learning her surgeon was still living, Conkie tracked him down on the Internet. He’d retired to Hilton Head. She wrote him a thank you note.
“I told him I appreciated what he did for me. I said I was living a great life with my husband and that we had 2 healthy and happy children. I mentioned how scary it was being in the hospital back then.” (At the time, her mother could only visit 2 hours in the afternoon and 2 at night.)
Within 2 weeks, Conkie received a hand-written response, “which was wonderful.” Her doctor said he was “always happy to hear from old patients. He said he didn’t miss the hours of cardiac surgery but he did miss the children.”
Conkie visits her cardiologist in Syracuse, NY, annually. “This year after my stress test my doctor was delighted to tell me he did not need to see me for 2 years. He told me I was ‘great advertising’ for my trainer, Mike Laneve.”
Conkie adds, “Patients today are fortunate to have great doctors and new procedures to heal defects. Heart surgery these days is almost routine.”
Amen to that. You go, girl. Thanks for bringing encouragement to others with health challenges.
(And thanks, Burton, for sharing Conkie’s story with me.)