My good news is that I may not need the oxygen permanently. The low oxygen saturations that I've been experiencing are most likely caused by a cardiac defect that can be repaired. Definitely the lesser of two evils: irreversible lung damage vs. small hole between 2 of the heart chambers. Did I mention that it can be repaired?
Patent foramen ovale, or PFO for short, is the medical term. Everyone has one before they are born, since babies in utero aren't breathing and receive oxygenated blood from the mother. The body, efficient mechanism that it is, shunts the blood from one side of the heart to the other, bypassing the lungs. Why use something that isn't working? After birth the foramen ovale closes up and the infant's lungs start doing the work. Rarely one won't close up and will need to be repaired, or in my case it has re-opened due to higher pressure in the lungs from the chronic disease.
I had an echocardiogram (echo for short, an ultrasound of the heart) on Monday and got the call from the nurse yesterday afternoon: I have a PFO. I was ecstatic! I doubt she expected my reaction. A heart defect requiring surgery? Sounds bad, right? Maybe, but it can be repaired and I may not need to deal with the oxygen issue just yet. Someday, but at least not right now.
When I exercise or lie flat my blood is shunting from one atria to the other through the PFO and neither getting rid of CO2 nor picking up new O2 in my lungs. Hence, the low O2 sat levels and shortness of breath. Once the PFO is repaired all should return back to normal. It almost feels like a miracle to me, since I was preparing for a new phase in my life, needing oxygen for activity and sleep. Not the end of the world but something that would be limiting and add complications to daily activities, to be sure.
I'm waiting to hear back from the nurse who will be setting up an appointment for me with a cardiac surgeon. I'm anxious to have this over with and get on with my life, hopefully less short of breath and with a bit more energy. I can't even express my gratitude to my doctor who decided to check this out, when it could have easily been written off as CF progression. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. Good news, indeed.