Derek Ray Owens | Heart Warrior of the Week
Our Heart Warrior of the Week is Derek Ray Owens! Derek was born on March 12th, 1991 with a bicuspid aortic valve, he also developed an aortic aneurysm later in life along with endocarditis (vegetation-like growth on the heart. He currently has a bovine valve and a pacemaker. Derek is unaware if he was diagnosed in utero, but his condition was discovered before or shortly after his birth.
In his 26 years of life, Derek has undergone two open-heart surgeries and a pacemaker implantation surgery, spending over 100 days in the hospital throughout his journey. To treat his condition, he has to take daily medications, one is Metroprolol (a beta-blocker) and the other is Cefdinir (an antibiotic), which he will take leading up to his next surgery to treat his endocarditis. He will also have to have his aortic valve replaced again at some point in the future. Doctors recommend that Derek avoids heavy weightlifting due to his condition, but he says he doesn’t like to be limited by his CHD and does anything and everything despite what they tell him. Derek describes himself as adventurous, introverted and kind. When asked if there are any worries or challenges he faces being a CHD Warrior, he said the following:
I worry all the time. The trauma from all the days spent in the hospital, the pain, the uncertainty, it directly impacts how I think and how I live. I worry about living a life without purpose, not spending enough time with my parents, not being understood. I worry that I can never escape the stranglehold that heart disease has on my mind. Sometimes I feel like I am running from it all, trying to live a “normal” life, until reality strikes again in the form of another heart surgery. I have never let heart disease impact my physical life so much, I always recover and return to good health and physical shape. I think the real battle for us Heart Warriors is the mental battle, the life between our ears, the chronic illness that people cannot see.
In his own words:
About Derek’s Heart Conditions
The aortic valve is a one-way valve between the heart and the aorta, the main artery from the heart that distributes oxygen-rich blood to the body. Normally, the aortic valve has three small flaps or leaflets that open widely and close securely to regulate blood flow. With bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD), the valve has only two leaflets. With this deformity, the valve doesn’t function perfectly, but it may function adequately for months or years without causing symptoms or obvious signs of a problem. About 2% of those with CHD have BAVD, it is twice as common in males as in females.
Bicuspid Aortic Valve
An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the aorta. Because the section with the aneurysm is overstretched and weak, it can burst. Most aortic aneurysms don't cause symptoms. Sometimes a doctor finds them during exams or tests done for other reasons. Those who do have symptoms complain of belly, chest, or back pain and discomfort. The symptoms may come and go or stay constant. About 4 in 100 men and about 1 in 100 women over the age of 65 have an aortic aneurysm. They are uncommon in children and young adults but those with CHD are more at risk.
Endocarditis is an infection caused by bacteria that enters the bloodstream and settles in the heart lining, a heart valve or a blood vessel in the form of a vegetation-like growth. It is twice as common in men of any age and eight times more common in elderly men than in elderly women. It is uncommon, but people with existing heart conditions have a greater risk of developing it. In children and young adults, about 75% of cases occur in those with CHD.