Help Gunnar Brockett Heal His Heart

For: Gunnar Brockett
Charlottesville, VA
Organizer: Tanya Brockett
Help Gunnar Brockett Heal His Heart (Gunnar Brockett)
of $17,000 goal
53% Complete
Raised by 62 donors

The Story

Tanya and Gunnar Brockett thought they were facing the challenge of their lives a year ago when they moved their family of three teenage daughters to take on the care of Gunnar’s elderly mother who has dementia. Little did they know that their greatest challenge, fifty-five years in the making, was yet to come. It is Gunnar who now faces a deadly prognosis: aortic stenosis and an ascending aortic aneurysm. Open-heart surgery for an aortic valve replacement and aortic graft is the proposed solution. Tanya is now bracing her family for impact with this campaign.

The surgery, its risks, and the recovery are scary enough. But Gunnar, who has worked over twenty years with a small land surveying company, has no medical leave from his employer. Add medical/surgical expenses, a child in college, and the care of his mother and you have an impressive mix of obstacles to address. Gunnar is the primary breadwinner and will likely be out of work for two months after surgery. Tanya is launching this YouCaring campaign to keep the family afloat. (It is not yet known if Gunnar will be able to return to his current job after surgery.) Contributions are so deeply appreciated—no matter the level. Every gift helps. Prayers, gift cards, well wishes, sharing on social networks, and prepared meals are also welcome. Other contributions can be mailed to Gunnar Brockett, PO Box 665, Crozet, VA 22932. Anonymous gifting is possible as well.


Five years ago at a routine physical, Gunnar’s doctors discovered he had a heart murmur. He then learned he had been born with a bicuspid aortic valve in his heart (which was stiffening). This means his valve has only two leaflets allowing oxygenated blood to pass from his heart to the rest of his body instead of the normal three. A bicuspid valve must work harder to pump blood through. Gunnar, a distance runner in high school and ever an outdoor enthusiast, doesn’t smoke and can rarely be called sedentary. He works full-time in the field as a land surveyor, hiking the hills and ridges around Charlottesville, often packing as many as fifty pounds of gear. There are no known “dos or don’ts,” dietary or otherwise, that affect the disease’s progression. But when the patient becomes symptomatic, valve replacement becomes necessary. Left unchecked, Gunnar’s heart can become overworked, leading to heart failure, heart attack, and even sudden death. Without valve replacement, his cardiologist says that death is likely within three years.


Dr. Gorav Ailawadi will operate on Gunnar on March 24 at UVA Hospital. Gunnar will be in the hospital for six days. He will recover at home for two months. This YouCaring campaign will help Gunnar’s family to:

  • Cover medical/surgical expenses, copays, supplies, and meds
  • Pay attorneys fees for wills and estate planning (pre-op)
  • Cover lost income for two months
  • Manage food, power, phone, and Internet services during recovery
  • Secure cardiac physical therapy

We are also interested in borrowing a power-lift recliner that Gunnar can use during recovery. If you are local and have one we can borrow for two or so months, it would be awesome!

Again, anything and everything shared with us is greatly appreciated. No gift is too small. Cards, letters, sharing it with your social networks, and words of encouragement are welcome. Find updates on this site (and perhaps on Tanya’s Facebook page at to stay current and cheer Gunnar on as he recovers.

Our deepest gratitude,

Tanya & Family

Fundraiser Updates

Posted on June 1, 2017

Posted on June 1, 2017


Today is exactly 8 weeks since surgery. Theoretically I am fully healed. Today I had another echocardiogram which my Cardiologist will access to see how true that theory is. I feel strong, generally, with the exception of a fast, pounding heart beat. Sounds like a complaint, doesn't it, when the alternative at this point might have been NO heart beat. I am grateful beyond measure to have one!

The issue arose last week when I was to start cardio-pulmonary therapy. During "intake" my pulse especially, and my blood pressure as well, remained too high to actually do the initial stress test. It involves monitoring my vitals while on a treadmill, slowly raising the physical stress, and so my pulse and blood pressure. Unfortunately, I was half way to target elevations just sitting there. Essentially, I'm at a walking stress level 24/7, awake or asleep; definitely not good. Until they can be brought down under control, I'm screwed. Adjustment has been made to meds, but it's too soon yet to see definitive results.


I see I never posted that last entry. Oops! Geez, has it really been over a month since I last posted?! Sorry, but I said I'm not much of a communicator...

The Echo looked good. However, it took three discouraging weeks, and two meds adjustments, before I finally got my BP and pulse down to where they needed to be, barely. Yesterday I called in to reschedule my stress test; they had a cancellation, and I jumped on it!

The test went well; I'm sure my ever-increasing walking regimen helped. Still, though I've now been officially cleared for light household chores, yard work, and desk jobs, I'm not yet cleared for such activities as lawn mowing (oh darn... the yard is showing the neglect, though), let alone anything like survey field work, which is my job. That likely will take another month or more of physical rehab! I really should change careers, but to what? And at my age, and condition? I haven't kept up on current tech, nor am I very office-savvy; I fidget if in an office even two hours...I write pretty well when I write, though, don't you think?

Posted on April 22, 2017


Posted on April 22, 2017


Yay! Dr. Ailawadi, the surgeon who—with a staff of dozens—saved my life (that’s him in the latest photo post with me and Tanya), has signed off on me. He gave me the green light to return to normal activities (in moderation) including driving when I feel ready (I don’t yet) and now lifting up to twenty pounds (still a scary thought). He has reduced or eliminated many of my meds. I’m now set for cardiac rehab starting in May, but in the meantime my walks grow longer and brisker. I have determined that the dye they use for the CT scans, as was used yesterday, affects me worse than I had realized. It set me back a few days, recovery-wise, but I expect to flush it out fairly quickly. Otherwise, everyday is better than the last, and so much more better than before the surgery.  —Gunnar

Posted on April 20, 2017


Posted on April 20, 2017

UPDATE by Gunnar

Friday, the day after tomorrow, will be four weeks since my open heart surgery. It’s hard to believe. I thought a progress report was due you all.

Tomorrow I meet with my surgeon, Dr. Gorav Ailawadi, for the first time since then for my post-op surgical consult. They’ll take more X-rays, and he’ll give me his analysis of my progress. Hopefully he’ll take me off these diuretics, and adjust my other meds. If all has gone well, he’ll release me to drive again, and I will start cardiac rehab. It will still be weeks before I can hope to return to work.

Here’s my own progress analysis thus far. I’m doing surprisingly well!

Coming out of the hospital I looked like I’d gotten into a fight with a particularly vicious  gang. Most obvious was the 7” long scar down the middle of my chest where the Doc cut me open and split my sternum to access my heart. That looked and felt like I’d gotten struck by a dull machete. Beneath that were two “bullet holes” where the chest drain tubes were before being pulled out. To the left of them were two small pricks that looked like I’d been Tasered in the heart; that actually wasn’t far off: two small wire leads had been inserted into my heart through and under my chest for a sort of pace-maker just in case I went into arrhythmia while in the hospital. They also had been simply pulled out. Under and around my belly was a chain of bruises where I’d been repeatedly shot every six hours, day and night for the four+ days I was there, with a blood thinner in case emergency surgery was required. I had had a catheter. There was another hole in my neck that looked like I’d been stabbed with an ice pick where a large IV port had been inserted into my carotid artery, giving the surgeons direct access to my heart for monitors, and to give large doses of meds or blood products, if needed. Two smaller IV ports had been in each arm, one inside my right elbow, and one in my left wrist (that one bruised badly). Throw in innumerable blood draws for tests, and shots for this and that inside my other elbow and wrist, and finger pricks ’til all my finger tips were blue for blood sugar monitoring, I’ve been needled enough for a lifetime, and I hate needles! I could post pictures, but I suspect they’d be found too disturbing for the general Internet; words shall have to suffice.

Since then I’ve been healing. It seems a bit slow to me, but everyday there is noticeable improvement, and both the nurse who visits me once or twice a week to check my vitals, and the physical therapist (PT) who visits once a week assure me I’m doing very well. My pain level remains remarkably low, controlled sufficiently by Tylenol alone, only jumping to near excruciating when coughing, or particularly sneezing (alas, the thick of pollen season is upon us now). I’ve regained full lung capacity, and best of all, no chest pains or severe shortness of breath just walking the length of the house as before surgery. My PT has given me simple exercises to keep limber without stressing my sternum, and get my pulse up without overtaxing the heart. I can feel, even sometimes hear the new valve pounding. Three times a day I go for a walk, ever increasing time and distance. First it was around the driveway, then up to the mailbox, then the length of the front yard, increasing time from three minutes to thirteen now. Our neighborhood is heavily wooded and quite beautiful this time of year, but also hilly, so it is a pleasant walk, but easy to feel the burn. I can now walk up to the next intersection, then down to the cul-de-sac and back home in this time; my pace and gait are improving as well, key to my returning to work. Walking has been emphasized since the day after surgery; they have us heart patients walk from ICU to the “Floor,” no wheel chairs allowed! Now, the bruises have faded away, scabs have fallen, and holes have shrunk. The only noticeable scars remain the incision and the two “bullet holes.” In fact, the hardest evidence to be rid of is the glue from the bandages and heart monitor electrodes!

Something else I’ve only just noticed is my improvement mentally. I was filling out more insurance forms yesterday and realized that my handwriting had improved greatly just in the week since I first started taking notes for those forms. When I first got home, I could barely concentrate on what my various care-givers told me, and relied on my wife Tanya to take notes. I often got light-headed, and tired easily, napping a lot. I still nap a couple times a day (what luxury!), but the episodes of light-headedness are fewer and farther between, and my focus is much better. Look at this long missive, for example. (I figure to still refrain from driving for a couple more weeks, though, even if released. The threat to my sternum from airbags alone is enough to keep me in the back seat.)

I want to take this opportunity to again thank everyone who has sent us their prayers and best wishes, and their generous support financially or through gifts of time, food, and other material aid. It is needed and greatly appreciated. All pay from my job has ceased, though there is a small chance that some disability insurance carried by the company may yet come through. I have recently learned that Social Security Disability benefits don’t kick in unless you will be out of work for a year or more due to disability, and unemployment benefits don’t kick in at all if you are “unable to accept work.” A tax refund will help, but it is you all who make the big difference.

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