Wow! I just realized it has been nearly six months since I sent out a newsletter. I honestly had no idea it has been that long since I’ve communicated with you. My apologies to those of you who support my writing and expect to hear from me more frequently. I have no excuse to offer other than my priorities have shifted a couple of times during the last half-year.

When I sent out my last newsletter on November 22, 2017 Susan and I had just returned from a trip to Portugal and Spain, followed by a transatlantic cruise to Fort Lauderdale.

My heart had gone out of rhythm (again) on the final part of the cruise because of my atrial fibrillation (a-fib). This time I decided to consult a new cardiologist here in Cuenca. My prior cardiologist had wanted to perform an AV-node ablation and install a pacemaker. That procedure would have permanently eliminated my heart’s ability to regulate itself and replaced it with an electronic device. All of my research indicated that should be the treatment of last resort. So I consulted another cardiologist here, which led me to Dr. Moreira.

Dr. Moreira tried modifying the dosage of my medications, but nothing seemed to help. I stayed out of rhythm until he cardio-verted (shocked) me back into rhythm on December 22nd, followed by starting me on new medications. It was a difficult procedure. He had to shock me four times at the maximum allowable voltage, as well as administer an intravenous anti-arrhythmia medication, to restore normal sinus rhythm.

“Here I am waiting for the procedure. Is purple my color?”

The most frightening part of the experience for me was afterward, when he strongly suggested I do whatever I could to avoid future cardio-versions as he felt they were too risky.

While that was frightening, what he said next was just as disturbing. He said, “No cafe. No cerveza. No vino. No chocolate.” I wondered what my life would be like without coffee, beer, wine and chocolate. So I asked him, “¿Porque vivo?” (Why live?). We both laughed and then I proceeded to comply with his wishes.

The good news in all this is I’m still in normal sinus rhythm. The bad news is my options are more limited should I go out of rhythm again, which will eventually happen unless something else is done. So I went back to the drawing board and conducted extensive online research, paying particular attention to anything that offered a more permanent solution for controlling or eliminating my a-fib.

The most promising option I found was offered by the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute in Austin back in the USA. Dr. Andrea Natale, clinical director for the institute, has developed sophisticated new procedures previously unavailable. Using the most advanced laser-guided technology, Dr. Natale can very precisely ablate areas of the heart that are causing the irregular heartbeats to occur.

I made an appointment for a consultation, and Susan and I flew to Texas in mid-March. After examining me, Dr. Natale said I’m a good candidate for his new procedure, despite being 77 years old, and estimated I have a 90% chance of being completely cured of my a-fib. He also said it might take two procedures for that to happen. So, while we were in the USA, I reinstated my Medicare (parts B & D), and purchased a supplemental policy to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses. All of these will take effect July 1, 2018.

I’m still waiting to hear when my appointment with Dr. Natale will be, but I’ll be returning to Austin sometime after July 1st to have the procedure performed.

Oh, and the other good news I received at Texas was I could add coffee, beer, wine and chocolate back into my diet — I just need to limit myself in quantities consumed. Hooray! I’ll take small successes.

“Life is good again!”

While a-fib is not always life-threatening in and of itself, it can lead to additional heart problems. Even if it doesn’t kill me, it is extremely inconvenient because when I’m out of rhythm I cannot engage in the kind of physical activities I enjoy, like hiking. Even walking around Cuenca is difficult, in part due to the 8,300-foot elevation. It saps my energy and causes me to become depressed. So I’ve become obsessed with finding a way to do something about it.

I know this has been a long-winded explanation of my medical issues. The reason I’m going into such detail is I suspect a number of you may also suffer from a-fib. According to the latest statistics, over 6 million people in the USA have a-fib. It affects 9% of the population over 65 years of age and 2% of those younger. More women than men will develop it because the odds of contracting it increase with age and women live longer than men. Until recently, treatment options for a-fib consisted primarily of managing it and not curing it. That is changing as technology advances. I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you in the hope that if you suffer from a-fib you might want to know about additional treatment options. I’d appreciate hearing any information you may have as well.

As an aside, while I’m extremely pleased with the quality and low cost of the healthcare I receive in Ecuador, I decided to return to the USA for my upcoming procedure. The reason is the newest, high-tech equipment for performing complex ablations is not available here. I’m sure it will get here eventually, but at the present the multi-million dollar price tag to purchase such equipment means it hasn’t made it here yet. At my age, I can’t afford to wait until it arrives.

I’ll keep you posted on how everything turns out. Now let’s get back to writing-related stuff.

Obviously, I haven’t gotten around to completing Judging Jordan, the final book in my Breaking Free series. Don’t give up hope! I’m still working on it. In fact, I’d estimate I’m about two-thirds of the way done. I’m now getting to the action-packed part of the story. And I have the rest of the book laid out in my head. I just need to get it out of there and into Scrivener, my writing software program.

I’m also working with someone who is a lot more technically savvy than me to redo my author website. If you’ve followed my books from the start, you know that my writing has evolved from a simple love story (with some mysticism thrown in) more into the romantic suspense genre. My website did not reflect that transition, which is probably why I haven’t devoted much energy into keeping it updated with new material. So stay tuned for more info on my new look and feel as reflected on my website. Just to keep you interested, here is a sneak preview.

That said, my new, exciting and more relevant website is probably not going to be available until sometime in June or even July, just in time for the revised completion date of Judging JordanSusan has been working on the cover for it and here’s where we are so far.

The primary reason for the delay at this point is I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on planning for the third Cuenca International Writers Conference, a weeklong event that begins on Monday, May 28th. I’m part of the steering committee that is planning and conducting the conference.

If you’re at all interested in writing, and also might have a desire to explore what life is like in Ecuador, I know you would really enjoy a trip here to learn and explore. But you need to hurry. The registration fee is only $199 ($169 if you’re a resident of Ecuador with a cedula), but after May 18th it will go up to $249. If you are interested in learning more about the conference or what I have been up to, click HERE.

Even if you can’t make it to the conference, you might enjoy watching the introductory video on the conference website. It will help you understand why Susan and I are so happy living here.

Other than all the above, life remains interesting in Cuenca and we love all of our new experiences. I do have to admit, though, that things move at a slower pace here than they did in the USA. When we moved here almost 3½ years ago they were expecting the Tranvia (rapid transit), started in 2013, to be completed within a year. Well, here it is 2½ years after promised and we are finally seeing progress. They have taken it out for a “test drive” several times and have promised it will be operational the first quarter of 2019. Yeah, sure! And I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Despite what I was told in my high school Spanish class, we have learned that mañana doesn’t really mean tomorrow. It means at some point in the future. Here are two pictures of the test drive taken from the terrace of our apartment.

Until next time. And I’ll do my best not to make it so long in between newsletters.

One last thing. I’d also like to wish all the mothers out there a Very Happy Mother’s Day! 

J. Michael Herron

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