A STEMᐧE Valentine's Day Tribute to the Heart
— Millstone, NJ
The splendor of the heart: the ever-beating engine of human life that single-handedly (or better-yet, adult-size "fisted-ly") circulates the fluid of vitality, warranting the undivided appreciation of all whom house a heart between the inner depths of their left-chest. Less sonnet-like, life cannot exist without the heart. Here at STEMᐧE, we would like to take the time to encourage our medically conscientious readers to take a heartfelt moment to appreciate the mechanism that powers their very being.
Just like the chambers of a harmonious orchestra, the heart consists of 4 chambers with the left and right side working harmoniously to produce the symphony of the heartbeat. The left and right atria are the upper chambers that receive blood from the lower chambers of the ventricles, which supply blood. Valves separate the atria from the ventricles.
The right side of the heart is responsible for receiving deoxygenated blood and re-routing it to the lungs via the pulmonary artery. The left side of the heart circulates newly oxygenated blood and pumps it to the rest of the body. The heart is walled by thin tissue levels: the endocardium, which forms the surface of the valves, the myocardium, a thick middle layer that allows the heart to contract and pump blood throughout the body, and the pericardium, which protects and surrounds the heart.
The “lub-dub” sound of the heartbeat is caused by the closing of the valves between the atria and the ventricles to prevent backflow, and the later contraction of ventricles as the blood flows away from the heart. Signals from the body’s nervous system, as well as hormones, cause the heart rate to increase as more oxygenated blood is needed. Such times occur during workouts, stress, or when you gaze at your beloved Valentine.
Now graced with the heart’s physiological greatness, let us humor our chordae tendineae (heartstrings) with some anecdotes of its greatest feats and tragic mishaps.
Love on the Heart
When struck with cupid's arrow, your heart bursts with attraction (figuratively, of course, not a myocardial rupture). The attraction stems from the brain where the love chemicals of dopamine, phenethylamine, and oxytocin are released and circulated by the heart. These chemicals awaken your senses and increase your desire to bind with your sweet Valentine. Oxytocin, coined the “hugging hormone”, is also responsible for a decrease in blood pressure. It is a great reason to find a Valentine today, for deprivation of this hormone is linked to cardiovascular problems. These include hardening of the arteries and plaque formation, increasing one’s chance of stroke or disease. Falling in love also triggers the body’s fight or flight response. The response unconsciously diverts blood flow to essential organs, including the heart.
The First Open-Heart Surgery
The heart is only as good as those to whom it belongs. One man with an extraordinary heart was Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first African American physician admitted to the American College of Surgeons, and the first physician to successfully perform open-heart surgery, a procedure that today saves 500,000 lives annually.
His patient, James Cornish, was brutally stabbed and rushed to the hospital in Chicago where Dr. Williams worked. With no x-rays, poor anesthesia, and rudimentary sterilization, Dr. Williams sutured the gash in Mr. Cornish's pericardium while his heart was still beating. James Cornish survived and was able to return home from the hospital after 51 days. Dr. Williams was a champion of the civil rights movement and was given the highest of national honors in a time of great racial contention.
Broken Heart Syndrome
Broken hearts are real. Brought on by an extreme physical or emotional event, takotsubo cardiomyopathy involves the temporary disruption of the heart’s normal pumping function. Symptoms mirror a heart attack. People affected by broken heart syndrome experience severe chest pain and shortness of breath. Broken heart syndrome differs from a heart attack in that heart attacks are formed due to a blockage in the arteries. Broken heart syndrome, on the other hand, is not caused by blocked arteries. Rather, blood flow in the arteries may be reduced.
Whenever someone experiences chest pain, always call 911. Women over 50 with a history of neurologic or psychiatric disorders are most at-risk for developing broken heart syndrome. However, broken heart syndrome can happen to anyone. Recognizing and managing stress in your life is one of the best means of preventing broken heart syndrome.
Here at STEMᐧE, we hope your Valentine’s Day is full of love and laughter. We’d like to remind you to pursue your interests heartfully, and there will never be a limit to your success. And remember, always have some heart for the good of the scientific & medical community.
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