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Reflections: The Heart Chamber Podcast Celebrates One Year! & Life with a Rebuilt Heart -35
Episode 3530th January 2024 • The Heart Chamber • Boots Knighton
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Embark on an unforgettable episode of The Heart Chamber Podcast as Boots Knighton shares her remarkable journey of overcoming adversity and finding resilience amidst life’s unexpected challenges. From her powerful recollection of breaking her leg in a skiing accident to her thought-provoking reflections on the impact of trauma on heart health, Boots delves into the depths of her personal experiences. Gain exclusive insights into the importance of mental health therapy post-surgery, the call for insurance coverage of alternative healing treatments, and the necessity for improved referrals for women in cardiac rehab. Join Boots on a poignant exploration of the vulnerabilities and triumphs woven throughout her recovery journey. As she looks towards the future, she invites you to join her for upcoming special episodes and encourages your support in keeping the podcast thriving. Tune in for an episode filled with gratitude, love, and a captivating invitation to join the vibrant and supportive Heart Chamber community.

Watch Boots' TEDx Talk, Practicing Dying for Living at https://youtu.be/Rs0PSmzM3hc?si=pRJ-DyGXFg5oB9ee

Boots Knighton has been an educator since the late 1990s in all facets of education including high school science, middle school mathematics, elementary reading, college level ecology, ski instruction, backpacking, and experiential education. Her greatest teacher has been her heart thanks to a surprise diagnosis in 2020 (during the pandemic) of three different congenital heart defects. She is now thriving after her open-heart surgery on January 15, 2021 and is on a mission to raise awareness through her podcast, The Heart Chamber: patient stories of open-heart surgery and recovery, that heart surgery can be an incredible opportunity to begin again in life and live life wide open.

How to connect with Boots

The Heart Chamber - A podcast for heart patients (theheartchamberpodcast.com)

Email: Boots@theheartchamberpodcast.com

Instagram: @theheartchamberpodcast or @boots.knighton

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/boots-knighton

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The Heart Chamber - A podcast for heart patients (theheartchamberpodcast.com)

Transcripts

We feel it is important to make our podcast transcripts available for accessibility. We use quality artificial intelligence tools to make it possible for us to provide this resource to our audience. We do have human eyes reviewing this, but they will rarely be 100% accurate. We appreciate your patience with the occasional errors you will find in our transcriptions. If you find an error in our transcription, or if you would like to use a quote, or verify what was said, please feel free to reach out to us at connect@37by27.com.

Boots Knighton [:

Hey, y'all. Boots Knighton here. I am so excited because today's episode marks 1 year since I launched this podcast. You're going to want to stick around for this entire episode because I have quite the story to share of my last few months. My heart has been on yet another journey. As we all heart patients can attest to, we don't get a day off from our hearts. And boy, oh, boy, do I have a story from the last few months. I'm also going to be talking a little bit about some of my past episodes and also ways that you can support this podcast this coming year. I do plan on coming back every Tuesday to bring you hope, inspiration, and healing, so make sure you stick around.

Boots Knighton [:

Welcome to The Heart Chamber. Hope, inspiration and healing. Conversations on open heart surgery. I am your host, Boots Knighton. If you are a heart patient, a caregiver, a health care provider, a healer, or are just looking for open hearted living, this podcast is for you. To make sure you are in rhythm with The Heart Chamber, be sure to subscribe or follow wherever you are listening to this episode. While you're listening today, think of someone who may appreciate this information. The number one-way people learn about a podcast is through a friend. Don't you want to be the reason someone you know gained this heartfelt information? And if you haven't already, follow me on Instagram, 2 different places, at boots.knighton or at The Heart Chamber podcast. You can also find me on LinkedIn as well as Facebook. But enough with the directions. Without further delay, let's get to this week's episode.

Boots Knighton [:

So, thanks for joining me today. This is the 1-year anniversary mark of starting The Heart Chamber podcast, and I got the idea. I remember exactly what time of day it was, where I was sitting, which was right here at this desk. It was November 9th 2022. I was actually in the middle of writing a book, and I was in a writing group.

Boots Knighton [:

It was the start of our writing group meeting that we met every Wednesday for an hour. And I was sitting in this chair, and it was like I received a download from, like, the universe. You hear pastors say they got the call or whatever, and I'm not religious. I've always wondered about getting the call. And darn if I didn't get the call to start a podcast. It was so crystal clear that I heard a voice say, start this podcast. It still kind of gives me the chills. So, I did. So that was on November 9th. I had just recently been interviewed on a local podcast, and I knew the sound editor. He was an acquaintance of mine. And I called him up and asked him to help me get started and be my sound guy, and off we went. And the next thing I know, we were releasing 3 episodes to start with on January 31, 2023. And then from there, it was amazing what unfolded. And I'm thinking back to all the incredible guests that came on who were willing to spend time talking to me to share with you either their heart stories or if they were a health care practitioner, ways of healing. And one of the purposes of starting this podcast, there were many, but one of them was to bring hope, inspiration, and healing to fellow heart patients, your caregivers, and medical teams.

Boots Knighton [:

And I really wanted to start to shift the conversations around how can we not only survive heart surgery, but ultimately, thrive. And I feel like I have been given such a gift of thriving after my open-heart surgery. Even though I've had quite a few bumps, I'm still absolutely thriving, and I feel like it is what I'm meant to do is to bring all the tips and tricks and different ways of healing to my listeners. And I have found that the things that have helped me heal, most of them, minus, like, the actual heart surgery, have not been covered by insurance.

Boots Knighton [:

And it is time, it is past time for that whole thing to not be a thing anymore. Like, we need acupuncture covered all the time. We need to have dietitians covered by insurance. We need to be open to massage and that everyone gets referred to cardiac rehab post open-heart surgery. I was not, and I should have been referred to cardiac rehab. It didn't happen. I didn't even know about it. I didn't know I needed to go. And I'm finding through this organization that I joined since my heart surgery called Women Heart. It's a female led, patient run organization in the United States that is raising awareness about how women are not adequately referred for cardiac rehab after surgery or after any kind of cardiac event, and that women aren't adequately represented in trials for medications.

Boots Knighton [:

Like, it is 2024, and we are still having these conversations. And then if you look back into December of 2023, I interviewed a gentleman named Josh Dech, and he is on a mission to raise awareness of the importance of our guts. He was episode 28, Gut Health's Crucial Role in Surgery Recovery. I wish I had talked to him. I wish I had met him during my whole heart journey. And so, he is someone I chose to bring on to educate all of us on the importance of the gut, especially with detoxing before and then after surgery. And I'm not meaning detoxing from, like, drugs and alcohol, although that should be considered if that's part of your life. But no matter what you have going on in your life because we live in the 21st century with industrial chemicals everywhere, we need to be detoxing, and you're going to have a much better recovery period before, during, and after open heart surgery or any type of surgery of any kind if you're thinking about taking care of your gut.

Boots Knighton [:

Of course, none of this is covered. None of this is talked about in a cardiologist's office. And with episode 34 that I released just the week before this one, I spoke with Michelle Routhenstein, who also talks about nutrition, finding the right dietitian. She actually is a cardiac dietitian, and she just blew the lid off for me as far as, like, understanding how the medical industry, and it is an industry, is so siloed that it really prevents the dissemination of knowledge, of understanding, of wisdom, of how really the body can heal, how it should heal and that we don't have to do it alone and that we actually need a whole team. And so, through this past year, I've brought you a lot of my team. I brought you Erin Borbet. She is my acupuncturist. She was back last winter, winter of 23.

Boots Knighton [:

I brought you my friend Kari Swenson Potter, who is a yoga instructor, but also incredibly gifted in Reiki. And I saw her before and after my surgeries for Reiki, and it was amazing what it did for my body. And then we also had physical therapy. You absolutely need a physical therapist. You need a cardiac therapist, and then most importantly, my actual mental health therapist. Now, obviously, I'm not going to bring her on because that's more personal to me. She's actually not allowed to do something like that, as far as come on to the show, but and I want to keep that part very private for me.

Boots Knighton [:

But what I'm very public about is, it is so important to have a therapist helping you walk through such a life altering journey as learning about your heart, finding the right care team, facing surgery, going through the surgery, and then the recovery afterwards. I cannot stress enough how impactful open-heart surgery is. And you would think, well, duh, that's, like, captain obvious. But it wasn't that obvious to me before I went through it. Something about the physical act of another human actually really touching your heart and being that open and exposed. My heart was stopped for an hour and a half, and so no telling how long I was actually open for my actual chest. It is such an act of vulnerability, and we are energetic beings. And there's just no way we cannot be shifted and changed by being that open and vulnerable for that long and having someone else touching our hearts.

Boots Knighton [:

So, having a mental health therapist who has the skills, particularly in EMDR, it's a type of therapy as well as dialectic behavior therapy, is so incredibly useful because here's the thing. So, I'm recording this on January 21, 2024. My heart anniversary is January 15th 2021. Okay? That's when it happened. So, but every year, January 15th. It actually went by this year, so it was just 6 days ago, I didn't even notice. A friend reminded me the next day congratulating me on, you know, another year, and I was like, oh my gosh. I didn't even notice. It didn't even register for me. And I was really struck by that. If you think about it, you know, people in recovery programs will post, like, their next year's chip, hey. I've got x number of years. People often honor the anniversaries of hitting their head. I know I did that for a few years after my concussion. I definitely made a big deal at the 2-year mark of my heart last year. And I did that because I still needed external validation.

Boots Knighton [:

I needed people cheering me on because it was such an epic journey for me. But then this year, when it went by without me even noticing, I had to go unpack that with my therapist. The cool thing was the only thing to unpack was the celebration of I'm done with the story. It doesn't move the needle at all for me anymore. It doesn't register on my nervous system. I don't lose sleep over it. It is what it is, and it's in the past. It's part of what's made me today, and that's it.

Boots Knighton [:

And that's what I hope for everyone listening today. Whatever traumatic events happen to you in your life, if you are aware and awake and noticing your life go by on a daily basis, something is going to happen to you in your life that is going to be hard. It's important to mine for meaning. It's important to dig and to let it push you and grow your growth edges. Like, if you're really hacking life in a helpful way, you're going to approach each traumatic situation or hard situation, hopefully, with a little bit an ounce of curiosity or more and be like, what can I learn from this? How can I grow? Thankfully, I was able to do that with my heart surgery. And then I was also able to fully process it, get my nervous system completely quiet about the whole thing so that it wouldn't even register anymore. And now I've gone on with my life.

Boots Knighton [:

And I can think of other stories in my life that I have just kept open for way too long and retold for way too long, and it provided absolutely no benefit to me or anyone around me, we've all been there. We've all done it. And it's just time to, like, close the book on the heart story and move forward. And that's what I'm doing. And I really think that also starting this podcast and meeting other heart patients and just talking about the day in, day out, the processing with others has also helped me. And so, my hope for this whole next year of my podcast, which I plan on continuing it every Tuesday through 2024 and then maybe even beyond, is to continue to provide all the tools, the tricks, the hope, the stories, the little innuendos that help us get to the other side of a really hard event.

Boots Knighton [:

So, speaking of hard events, I had an incredible opportunity come into my life in October of 2023. I was invited to speak in Grand Junction, Colorado on the TEDx stage, which, if anyone is familiar with TED and TEDx, it is quite an opportunity and an honor to be invited. And it's to some, TEDx is the 2nd largest stage in the world, and then TED would be the largest stage. And so, I was invited to TEDx, and I was only given 19 days to prepare. Normally, you're given many, many months, even up to a year. But all of us speakers were only given 3 weeks. And I just had to go for it. I wanted to do it. It had been a dream of mine. And the whole purpose of me doing TEDx was to give away what I had been given, the 5 minutes before heart surgery.

Boots Knighton [:

And I would love it if you'd go watch it. You can search on their YouTube channel. The title of the talk is Practicing Dying for Living by Boots Knighton. I wanted to give away the incredible perspective I'd been given 5 minutes before open heart surgery as I waited for the operating room to be prepared. And I don't want to give it all away here. I would really love it if you'd go watch it and then share it with others. The conversation that's coming from this talk has been really incredible. I've just wanted to change the conversation around how are we living our lives, how are we approaching our lives, can we live with more purpose and meaning and joy? So, here's the thing.

Boots Knighton [:

Like I said, I was only given 19 days, and I hadn't written my talk. I had applied to speak, not only on that stage, but a few others. And so that they chose me out of over 150 applications. I was just so incredibly moved that they thought that my idea worth sharing, which was practicing dying for living, was worthy of their stage. I was, you know, not going to do this half assed, and so I cleared my entire calendar. I wrote the talk in 2 days, and then I practiced it 20 times a day until the day of. And what I did not foresee was the incredible toll it took on my heart. So, as I was saying at the beginning of this, you know, none of us heart patients get a day off from our diagnosis. Even if we are several years out from surgery, we still don't get a day off because, as I like to refer to my heart, it's been remodeled. And so, I gave the talk. It went really well. Thankfully, my husband was able to drive me down because there was no way I could have driven back. I don't drink. I don't do drugs. And it's been a really long time since I partook, and so I'd forgotten what a hangover feels like. And the day after the talk, I was so hungover from just the physical, mental, emotional act of vulnerability I went through to stand on stage and share my idea worth sharing on the TEDx stage. That's the whole phrase that they use. Your idea worth sharing.

Boots Knighton [:

And I could barely function for the next month. I was literally beat down for a month, and I proceeded to be in and out of the hospital with cardiac issues. Luckily, all the testing didn't find anything, but I was having just profound chest pain. Things were just not okay. And what my cardiologist and I decided was that TEDx was just such a tremendous stress on my heart. My heart as just a unique organ that I just can't continue to experience that kind of stress. And that was really a unique form of stress, but it was still a stress. And even though it was, like, this incredible honor, my heart didn't know that. It just knew that it was stress.

Boots Knighton [:

I started to kind of come around after Thanksgiving, and then it was time to start thinking about ski season. And you've heard I've been a ski instructor in the past, and I really wanted to try to give it another go this winter. And so, I moved everything back into my locker at the ski hill. I skied. It didn't go so great. I couldn't breathe. And then the next day, this is just how my brain works, and I think a lot of other cardiac patients who are also athletes would agree and or resonate. I decided, well, I must just be really out of shape because I had just been so focusing on TEDx and a few other things that have been going on in my life. And so, I was like, I'm going to go climb up a mountain off of a mountain pass near my house. And I'm really familiar with it. And that will be me just getting some cardio, and then I'll ski back down to the car, and that will be it. And to any probably normal person, that probably sounds like crazy talk. But to me, it was really no big deal.

Boots Knighton [:

I had climbed this mountain several times since heart surgery. It was always slow, but I did it. I was able to climb it. But on this day, my heart was hurting. And so, I got to a certain point, which was almost the summit, and decided I needed to turn around. And 2 turns in to my run back down to the road where I'd hiked up from, I hit a rock, and I broke my leg. I broke my tibia and fibula of my right leg. And I was by myself, and this is considered the backcountry.

Boots Knighton [:

And I immediately call my husband. It was amazing. I wasn't in pain yet, but I felt both of my bones breaking. And I call him, and I let him know he had actually been skiing nearby on a separate mountain. And then he hangs up, and he starts making his way towards me. We knew friends of ours were right in the area, so he called them. They start making their way towards me, and I call 911, which puts us through to search and rescue. And they get the process rolling.

Boots Knighton [:

Long, long story short, an hour and a half later, I have 8 different men helping me. 2 are friends. One’s, my husband. The other 5 have now become people in my life that I will always admire and be so appreciative too for helping me because there was no way I was going to get down. The pain was by far way worse than anything I've ever experienced, well over heart surgery. So, I was flown off the mountain via helicopter. I had surgery that night. They put a rod and screws in.

Boots Knighton [:

But the first thing I had to do when search and rescue got to me is I had to tell them about my heart. And a doctor on search and rescue called to first assess me before they sent the helicopter, and I had to tell him about my heart because it's just always in the background. Like I said, we don't get a day off. And once I got to the ER, which was just an epic journey in and of itself, and they had to give me ketamine in order to get my ski boot off. If you have to break your leg, break it in the Tetons where I live. Because the souls here that work in search and rescue and the health care industry, no one in the United States probably can even come close to the compassion and the skills that we have in our local health care providers and search and rescue team.

Boots Knighton [:

So, I was in the best of hands. But, you know, of course, in the ER, they have a long history of my heart in there. And the surgeon had to talk to my cardiologist to make sure I could go through surgery. Of course, I was okay to do that. And I went through surgery just fine. I spent 2 nights in the hospital just fine, and then my husband brings me home. Everything's okay until the middle of the night when I stop peeing. And I'm telling you the story because I didn't know that this could be a thing, and then I didn't know how catastrophic it could be. So, I stopped peeing. I waited till morning to call the doctor to find out what to do. And, of course, they say immediately go to the ER. So, we are both still so traumatized from the experience of me breaking my leg, the helicopter, the surgery, and all that. And now we're going back to the ER, and I am just so exhausted and in pain. I just had surgery 48 hours prior. And we roll in, and they immediately have to do an emergency, like Foley catheter on me. And they get 2.2 liters of pee out of my bladder, which apparently is, like, rock star status. It was an amazing amount of fluid, but, unfortunately, it was too late.

Boots Knighton [:

What I had noticed when we were on our way to the ER is I couldn't breathe. And they were actually about to send me home with the Foley in me, and then I was just going to go to the urologist a couple of days later and hope that my body had figured out how to pee again. But as I'm lying there on the table with my broken leg, no. I have a Foley dangling out of me. I say to the team, like, they're about to send me home, and I say I cannot breathe. Something is not right. I'm dizzy, and I noticed my oxygen hadn't really been getting above 90 very often since I've been laying on the table. So, they start digging a little bit more with blood work.

Boots Knighton [:

And the next thing I know, this lady's running in doing an EKG on me. And then all of a sudden, I'm getting wheeled off to do an emergency CT of my chest, and the ER doc comes in afterwards with this just terrified look on his face. And he said, I'm really worried you're in heart failure. Your blood work looks terrible. I have to fly you now to a bigger hospital that has a heart cath lab. And by then, my husband had left because he assumed I was going to spend the night in the hospital. So, he had gone home to get things for me, and other girlfriends of mine had come in to the ER to sit with me and my therapist, which was just amazing.

Boots Knighton [:

I did not know at the time, but I had 20 pounds extra on me, and it was all fluid. And what had happened was the fluid had backed up, was mostly surrounding my right lung, and was starting to take over my left lung. And it was making my heart work hard. And so, the EKG showed, in STEMI heart attack, which is just when the T-waves are affected. My troponin was elevated. But what was even scarier was my BNP was elevated above 5,000, and it really shouldn't be even above 100. And mine was over 5,000. And that's a heart failure marker. But as my cardiologist just explained it to me the other day, it shows how much your vascular system is being stressed and strained. And so, over 5,000, it was yelling. It was absolutely yelling at me. And as my husband describes the whole situation, I was basically drowning in my own fluid.

Boots Knighton [:

So, the next thing I know, I am flying in yet another helicopter to a larger regional hospital. And this would be my 2nd helicopter ride in 4 days, and I hope the last helicopter I ever have to take unless it is for heli-skiing. So, I arrived to this really large regional hospital that has a heart cath lab. I stayed there for 2 nights, and I got out of basically, I got out of the bubble that is Jackson Hole Wyoming's really wonderful health care and got into some really eye-opening levels of care or lack thereof that I didn't know was actually happening. And it only made my mission and purpose and focus of this podcast even more clear. And I saw what a lot of people I've been interviewing and talking to. I saw with my own two eyes of a stressed and strained health care system that really isn't about health and healing. It's about putting a Band Aid on, keeping you alive, and getting you out the door.

Boots Knighton [:

When I arrived in this larger hospital, I was told I'd be just put right through the ER, right to the cardiac team, and they would handle it. I actually ended up laying in this gray room with no windows, with the air blowing directly on me, no offer of water, food, nothing for 2 and a half hours. And that by the time I got put into an actual a room, it was 8:30 at night. Now I had been on an ER bed, which is more of a gurney, since 10 in the morning. Even when I was flying in a helicopter, I was on a bed. So, from 10 in the morning till 8:30 at night, I did not get off the gurney, and I had not eaten. And so, when I get to the room 8:30 at night, they offer me soda. That is not health care. And in that time since I had arrived at that hospital, I'd had 4 different medical providers ask me to retell my story. And on the 5th one, I said, no.

Boots Knighton [:

It's traumatizing me. And she's like, well, we have to. And I was like, no. You don't. You have all the notes. You go talk to all the people I have talked to. I have been on a gurney since 10 in the morning. I had my lady parts tackled by 2 women trying to get a Foley in. Then I have a broken leg that I just had surgery on, and I've flown on 2 helicopters in 4 days. And you people are asking me to tell my story over and over again, and you're going to only offer me soda. No.

Boots Knighton [:

Thankfully, my husband had driven to meet me in our camper van that has a kitchen, and he had to go down to the van and make me dinner so I could have something to eat and not drink soda. I don't necessarily fault those nurses. I fault the medical system. There was nothing about that day that helped my nervous system, which directly can regulate our hearts. Right? And then to offer me a sugary processed drink at the end of the day was so concerning to me. And then the food I was served over the next 2 days was so concerning to me. Nothing about it was healing, tasted right, felt good when you ate it. Like, it was not health care. We have to do better. Now the doctors that I saw while I was in this larger regional hospital were actually excellent. I truly believe that everyone was doing the best they could. I do not believe anyone was meaning any malice by what they were doing. But I also have to wonder if people are really thinking through their jobs on a daily basis in these larger hospitals.

Boots Knighton [:

I hope I'm wrong. I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But I saw just a lot of automation and just absolutely no soul or no actual heart into what they were doing with their jobs. It was really hard, and it was a really traumatic experience for me. But I want you to know I'm doing a lot better. I'm just now starting to walk. My heart is A okay. It ended up being that because I was drowning in my own fluid, it just stressed the system. But we got it all working again, and I'm going to be fine.

Boots Knighton [:

But I only tell this tale because we heart patients don't get a day off and other things happen. It just happens that we have this constant background noise that we have to manage on top of other things that just happen when you choose to participate in life. And this is just a story of, I chose to participate in life and go hike up a mountain and tried to be a normal human with a really special heart and just really crummy luck just happened to find me. But all the right people initially helped me, and then I just had a reaction to the pain medications, and it caused my body to just stop peeing. It's called urine retention, but it's all fixed now. But I share all this again just as a cautionary tale. Heaven, forbid you have a trauma or, you know, more than likely, you're listening because you have had a trauma. And just be on the lookout for urine retention.

Boots Knighton [:

Lastly, I just want to say I have big plans for the rest of 2024. I want to keep building on meaning, connection, joy, cultivating wisdom, building empathy and hopefully providing some peace for all the listeners and knowing that we are all in this together and that we all can do really hard things and that we can come out the other side a much more beautiful version of ourselves. For heart month, I'm going to be recording shorter episodes each week of all the different ways I have learned to love my heart through all previous guests as well as some extra tidbits just of my own. I'd love to hear from you. Send me an email, boots@theheartchamberpodcast.com, and tell me, how are you showing up for your heart? How are you healing? How are you maintaining joy, peace, any semblance of normalcy in your life? Whether you are the heart patient or the caregiver or if you're on a medical team. I want to hear from you because this podcast is for all of you.

Boots Knighton [:

In 2024, I want you to get more involved with The Heart Chamber podcast. One of the ways is by becoming an affinity sponsor. Meaning, you give money to support the show, and I will provide opportunities to engage with me and others in the community. You can go to the bottom of my website where you can find several different ways to offer your financial support. I do incur costs every week, and my commitment to you is bringing you this show every Tuesday, every week of this year, where I will have more stories of hope, inspiration, and healing. Please send my right lower leg all the love you can. I hope to be really back and at it by March. And until next week, I love you. Thank you for listening. Take care.

Boots Knighton [:

Thank you for sharing a few heartbeats of your day with me today. Please be sure to follow or subscribe to this podcast wherever you are listening. Share with a friend who will value what we discussed. Go to either Apple Podcasts and write us a review or mark those stars on Spotify. I read these, and your feedback is so encouraging, and it also helps others find this podcast. Also, please feel free to drop me a note at boots@theheartchamberpodcast.com. I truly want to know how you're doing, and if this podcast has been a source of hope, inspiration, and healing for you. Again, I am your host, Boots Knighton, and thanks for listening. Be sure to tune in next Tuesday for another episode of The Heart Chamber.