Remembering the Christmas when technology saved my life, and my family

how tech saved me on christmas heart valve kp
Kevin Parrish/Digital Trends

Gadgets give us an easier way to find recipes, joke with friends, and kill time on the subway, but they can also have a much grander impact on our lives. This holiday season, we’re stepping back to appreciate those moments. In our ongoing series, Tech That Changed Us, DT writers will share personal tales of how tech has truly reshaped their lives for the better. We hope it has for you, too.

I’m thankful for technology because it saved my life.

The year was 2001. I was a single father of two children. We were living with my girlfriend and her daughter at the time (who eventually became my wife and step-daughter) when life suddenly began to get really slow for me. Not in a time sense, but daily movement became a difficult task. After a number of sluggish days, I visited the doctor who directed me to a cardiologist. It was nearly Christmas when they told me I had a year to live. My only shot was a dangerous new high-tech procedure.

As they wheeled me into the delivery room, my kids were writing letters to Santa. “I want you to let my Dad come home on Christmas Day,” one letter to Santa reads. “My last and special wish is that I want you to let Kevin (who is in the hospital) come home for Christmas,” another said. My only son at the time merely said “I love you Santa!” written by The Boy. Too funny.

Where this all began

See, I was born with Aortic Stenosis. It’s a defect in the aortic heart valve that prevents it from opening correctly. When I was five years old, it was fixed at the Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, North Carolina so that I could survive until I was older. Despite the fix, I still had problems when it came to physical stress and how it manifested in the heart, so things like sports and Physical Education classes were off limits. Socially, that was hard because kids at school can be insensitive to those with physical problems.

I went under the knife December 17, and then half a day later, I was in recovery with the new “kit” installed. That’s when I went into cardiac arrest.

When I turned 12, surgeons in Chapel Hill replaced my native, defective valve with a metal one. That was a life-changing event, as I had to grow accustomed to a clock-like “tick” inside my chest and within my head. But thanks to technology, I was somewhat “fixed” to where I could live until I was at least 18. I still couldn’t do anything stressful given that metal was sewn into my flesh. I also had to start taking a blood thinner to keep my blood from clotting around the metal.

Half a decade later I was 17 and a senior in high school when I suddenly hit the floor in pain during after-school band practice. I was taken to the emergency room and then shipped back off to Chapel Hill to verify the cause of the pain. The final diagnosis was that I was suffering from pleurisy, but the cardiac catheterization confirmed nothing valve-related was wrong. It did uncover a new problem, though: I had a small aneurism in the aorta that connected with the metal valve.

One last chance

I didn’t hear anything else about that aneurism until I was told in 2001 that it would kill me in a year. On top of that, my slowness stemmed from my heart being unable to pump blood properly because it outgrew the valve implant. To fix the entire problem, the doctors would need to install a “kit” comprised of a larger metal valve and a new portion to replace the defective aorta artery. This would be my third open-heart surgery in 33 years, and I was terrified.

fda cybersecurity guidance medical devices pacemaker 123rf

I headed to the hospital not long after that. The surgeons warned me of the potential death percentage as they always do with major surgeries, and I checked into the hospital, frightened to no end that I would leave my two children without a father. In a best-case scenario, I would spend Christmas in recovery, so my then-girlfriend would need to handle Christmas with the three children. I went under the knife on December 17, and then half a day later, I was in recovery with the new “kit” installed. That’s when I went into cardiac arrest.

The kids didn’t get their exact wish, but thanks to technology, we had a small celebration on Christmas Day in the hospital. I was alive.

Given that I’m typing this, you know I survived. The surgeons zapped me back to life and then cut me back open to see if blood clots caused the issue. Eventually, they determined that after cleaning off all the heavy scar tissue from the surface of my heart to install the kit, my heart’s electrical system was damaged. That led the doctors to install a pacemaker to keep my heart beating if the electrical system failed again.

Ultimately, the kids didn’t get their exact wish, but thanks to technology, we had a small celebration on Christmas Day in the hospital. I was alive, and I went home just days later. Looking back, I am endlessly thankful for the technology that saved me, and it’s technology that keeps me going this holiday season. And that’s before I look at the kids we’ve had since then, and realize that it was technology (and biology) allowed them to enter the world and enrich our lives, too.


Fisker failed. But now the EV pioneer is ready for an epic redo

Henrik Fisker has already had a career most executives can only dream about. He designed the BMZ Z8, a couple of Aston Martins, and his own Fisker Karma. But he’s got a plan to disrupt the auto industry, forged by lessons learned over the…

Use multiple phone numbers on one device with Verizon’s ‘My Numbers’ app

For those who have separate phone numbers and devices for your work and personal lives, Verizon wants to help you get more organized. With its new "My Numbers" app, you can use up to four additional phone numbers on a single smartphone.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Walmart kicks off Black Friday with a home gym discount

As the holidays inch nearer and nearer, some of the biggest retailers are unveiling their best Black Friday offers. If your objective is to start living a healthier life, Walmart has the best deal right now on a home gym.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.

Fitbit Charge 3 vs. Fitbit Versa: Which one should you choose?

Fitbit's latest fitness tracker -- the Charge 3 -- comes with smartwatch capabilities similar to the Fitbit Versa. With only a $50 difference between them, we pit the two wearables against each other to find out which one is worth the…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Fitbit's latest update brings 'Quick Replies' feature to the Charge 3

Back in August, Fitbit confirmed its new wearable -- the Fitbit Charge 3. The new fitness tracker features a touchscreen OLED display, smartwatch capabilities, enhanced fitness features and more. Here's everything you need to know about it.

These bike lights use the magic of magnetism to generate power

Magnetic Microlights are a new option for cyclists that use nothing more than magnets to generate power to illuminate a bike light that is bright, eco-friendly, and increases the safety of riders.
Smart Home

Row your way to a healthy bod with the CityRow Go connected rowing machine

Want the connected experience of a Peloton but dislike biking? You can now feel the burn of a cardio-busting rowing session from the comfort of your living room with the new CityRow Go connected home rowing machine.

Here's a look at what's inside Fossil's Pop-up Shop in New York

Fossil has released its first-ever smartwatch featuring Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100. The Fossil Sport comes packed with a heart rate monitor, built-in GPS, NFC, and Google's latest version of Wear OS. Here's everything you need to know.

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…

Check out 25 of the best Wear OS apps for your smartwatch

Looking for some ways to spruce up that new Android smartwatch of yours? Here are the best Wear OS apps to download and use with any Android smartwatch, including a few specially enhanced for Wear OS 2.0.
Health & Fitness

Withings new Pulse HR is a customizable, connected fitness tracker

Inspired by Withings first ever fitness tracker the Pulse, the new Pulse HR is updated with the latest in fitness tracker technology including smart notifications, 24/7 heart rate tracking, and more.