Russ and Karen Attwater have been married for 27 years. They live in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with their “children,” two Irish wolfhounds, Jillian and Logan, and two cats, 'Garage Kitty,' and Christopher. Their life together is marked by caring ever-sharpened by banter, but always quietly tender.
“My wife...she's a tiger,” says Russ, 72, of Karen, 62. He refers not only to Karen's persistent character, but credits her strength in combatting the struggles in her life.
Eight years ago Karen Attwater was diagnosed with hypogammaglobulinemia, a genetic disorder. Once a month, she drives to the Midland Cancer Services Center to get necessary immune bodies dripped through an IV into her body. This ordeal is crucial to her life.
“I take a three-hour IV every month to, well, keep me alive [...] My life is rather like that of [the character in the movie] Bubble Boy,” Karen explains. “There are times when I just...don't want to do it. I don't want to drive all the way there. I don't want to have them stick that thing in my chest. I just don't want to do it. But then I look over [at Russ] and I think, who's going to take care of him? So I do it. I go.”
Karen's condition is the least of the Attwaters' worries. Four years ago Russ had an emergency open heart surgery, and his body now demands another procedure to avoid ongoing chest pain, or a heart attack. Russ and Karen, after extensive discussion, have decided a second surgery is the best course of action, for better or worse. Russ also dealt with a MRSA staph infection that makes such medical procedures even more hazardous.
The Attwaters traveled two hours to the Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids on September 21, 2009. They consulted with Dr. Robert Hooker, a surgeon for Spectrum Health, and set a date for a second bypass the following Tuesday, September 29.
The week between check-up and surgery was not an easy one for Russ and Karen. Russ insisted on working at his job as per normal routine until that Friday, while Karen mapped out housing arrangements, a dog-sitter, and medical details for the day of the surgery.
“D-Day” as the Attwaters referred to it, began before dawn with a 5:30 AM check-in at the Meijer Heart Center, and surgery scheduled for 7:15. The two hours between check-in and procedure were filled with preparation, including a swab test for remaining MRSA infection and an extensive body-shave.
Russ was rolled into surgery at 7:29 AM Tuesday morning. At about noon, Karen and her daughter-in-law, Hope, were informed that Russ' procedure went successfully, with the removal of two hernias from his chest and a rewiring of his heart. Karen could expect Russ to be home within 5 or 6 days.
The next day Russ had a tube removed from his left lung, and half of it collapsed. Russ was then forced to remain at Meijer Heart Center longer than expected, but has since returned home and recovered fully.
Within six weeks of leaving the Center, Russ was back on schedule and feeling better than ever. His second heart surgery proved worth the risk, and he enjoys a healthier living with Karen.
Photography, audio, editing, and copy by Libby March
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