As if it were yesterday, I so easily remember my 13-year-old-self helplessly sitting in the waiting room of Children's Hospital in Minneapolis while my younger brother, Nick, underwent open-heart surgery; my eyes swollen and nose chapped from the countless tears that began the night prior and continued to fall throughout the day.
Ten years ago, Nick was braver than I'll ever be.
He was born with aortic stenosis, a congenital heart defect that limits the amount of blood flow through his aortic valve to the rest of the body.
After multiple balloon valvuloplasty procedures, where doctors would attempt to stretch his aortic valve, it was time to completely replace it.
Doctors had made the decision that Nick's pulmonary valve would replace his aortic valve, and then a homograft or swine valve would take the place of his pulmonary valve.
At such a young age, this was my first encounter with agriculture outside of my comfort zone - the food on my table, clothes on my back and my calves in the backyard. I was in awe with how the medical world utilized the resources all around them, to help my brother.
While a swine valve was a viable option, for reasons beyond my knowledge, a homograft valve was used.
Flash-forward to today and Nick is an intelligent, kind 22-year-old, with a wildly free spirit.
It's hard for me to believe that it was only a few days ago on May 15, that my family and I were once again confined to the same hospital waiting room that haunted me nearly a decade ago.
Over time, Nick's homograft accumulated fatty tissue, slowly blocking blood flow to his lungs. He was in need of surgery, again; but this time it was a laparoscopic procedure and Nick was home the following morning.
His doctors inserted a Melody valve and stents within his homograft valve, which will now allow for more blood to flow.
This type of medical procedure is fairly new to the United States, but highly successful. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Melody valve, the first transcatheter heart valve available, for patients who had previously undergone open-heart surgery. Several years prior, this practice was well underway in many parts of Europe.
What makes this procedure interesting, as opposed to other operations, is the Melody valve that was developed by Medtronic. Using a bovine jugular vein, the valve is constructed. The cow's vein contains natural venous valve leaflets that open and close with pressure, ultimately controlling blood flow - the perfect solution for someone with a condition similar to Nick's.
As we continue to see the advancements of technology in every corner of life, I am always left in awe at the important role agriculture plays. Practices and products we use daily are at the mercy of the agricultural industry - the climate, market and availability are all factors. Take for example, the Melody valve, again; the horrific drought in California has made it difficult to obtain many jugular veins used in creating the life-saving product. With many farmers selling their cattle at an earlier age, the valves are smaller and may not be suitable for the construction of a Melody valve.
I think my mother, Julie, said it best as we awaited Nick's arrival into the recovery room. Having little dairy experience, even Mom understood the impact our industry has on the lives of countless others.
"It [dairy] is all around us, when we least expect it," she said.
Whether it is cosmetics, photography film, asphalt - you name it - it all contains some by-product from a dairy cow and other livestock. Some people would be appalled to find that nearly 99 percent of a cow is utilized in creating products for our everyday life. I, on the other hand, am thankful.
On down the road, in the midst of battling a mid-life crisis, Nick will be in need of open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. I get giddy thinking about that moment. Surely, not because my baby brother will experience another life-threatening surgery, but for realizing the possibilities and advancements we may be a part of.
As the agriculture industry continues to progress, I can't wait to see what they think of next.