Depression Often Follows Heart Surgery, As Political Strategist Ted Trimpa Learned

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Photo: Ted Trimpa headshot

Ted Trimpa should have been on top of the world last summer: At just 48, the political strategist learned he'd be given a lifetime achievement award for his work to legalize gay marriage. But at the time, Trimpa was sliding into an emotional black hole that he says he's just now emerging from.

Trimpa experienced depression brought on by surgery he had to repair a valve in his heart one year ago tomorrow. Only after being on the brink of suicide did he learn that depression is common among people who get open heart surgery, though a top cardiologist in Colorado, Dr. John Rumsfeld of the CU School of Medicine, says the connection is not discussed enough or thoroughly understood.

Trimpa and Rumsfeld spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.

Trimpa on what the past year has been like for him:

"When I was first diagnosed and they kind of walked me through a timeline of what I was going to experience, what was described was... you'll have a few months of physical recovery, because it's tough, because you're cutting open your chest, and then they said you may have some feelings of feeling down... And what I didn't realize at the time is that I guess when they say 'feeling down' what they really mean is you could slide into an absolute black hole, in a place that I never truly believed existed."

Dr. Rumsfeld on how common depression is after heart surgery or heart disease:

"The sad truth about depression and heart disease is that it's incredibly common. Ted's story is unfortunately very common... One in three to one in five people who undergo heart surgery like Ted will not just get a down mood for a little while... but we're talking here about weeks, you know two or more weeks of feeling down, depressed or hopeless, or losing interest in your normal activities, and unfortunately sometimes having thoughts of suicide."

Dr. Rumsfeld on why this is largely overlooked by medical professionals:

"First of all, it's the way we're trained in medicine. There are highly skilled psychiatrists and psychologists in Colorado and in the United States of course, but they go through a different pathway of training right out of medical school than do surgeons and cardiologists and primary care physicians. And if you don't specifically train in that area, you aren't necessarily seeing it under your purview of what you do in medicine, and you don't necessarily go look for it."

Dr. Rumsfeld on misunderstandings about depression:

"It's a really devastating disease, and I think we should treat it as such, and not talk about it as a state of mind, it is not. It is something that needs to be treated like a medical condition."