In Fiji, I Go Scuba Diving After Heart Surgery

As most heart valve surgery patients will share with you, there is a certain amount of fear that appears during the recovery from open heart surgery. As an heart valve surgery patient, your sternum has been cracked and your heart has been stitched….. OUCH!!!

That said, most patients typically require a recovery period following heart valve surgery which is used to restore (i) mental confidence and (ii) physical capability of the upper chest. As a former cardiac surgery patient, I can personally relate and attest to this.

From stretching at cardiac rehab to running along the beach, it takes a significant amount of time to heal and get back in the physical swing of things. The saying, “No pain. No gain.” actually applies somewhat to heart valve surgery recovery.

SCUBA Diving After Heart Valve Surgery
Robyn and I Scuba Dive In Fiji On Our Honeymoon

I’ll never forget when my surgeon told me to “Play through it Adam!” Dr. Vaughn Starnes, my cardiothoracic surgeon, was referring to the soreness and pain I complained about in my chest. “Your heart is doing great,” he said, “Better than before! Now you just need to play through it. Your discomfort is muscular-skeletal.”

I took those words of wisdom to heart (pun intended).

Soon enough, I found myself lifting light weights, swimming laps in the pool, riding my bike and even running. Once I graduated from cardiac rehab, I took on another challenge… Returning to my surfboard!!! (See my “Surf’s Up!” blog to read about my return to surfing.)

Recently, I broke through another physical barrier that I will share with you:

In 1999, I became a certified SCUBA diver. Shortly thereafter, I became a SCUBA diving nut. During the following five years, I logged over 100 dives across the United States, Mexico, the Carribean, Bali and Thailand. SCUBA diving is an amazing sport. It’s probably the closest I will ever get to being an astronaut.

Considering my valves were replaced using the via the Ross Procedure in 2005, I figured that my days of SCUBA were over! However, just to be sure, I emailed Dr. Starnes and asked him whether or not I could SCUBA dive following my cardiac surgery. His response was clear. The email read, “You are fine to go scuba diving after heart surgery.”

I have to admit I was happy and concerned at the same time. On one hand, I desperately wanted to get back in the water, submerge 50 feet and swim with all types of fish, eels, sharks, coral and anemones. On the other hand, I was a little frightened that Scuba diving after heart surgery could be disastrous. “What if something wrong happens?” I thought to myself. “What if the pressure under water compromises my valves?” A million different “What if’s” drifted through my brain.

Well… Fear, as you probably know, can be a dangerous mind-game. Someone once told me that fear is really nothing more than a foolish acronym, F.E.A.R.

  • False
  • Experiences
  • Appearing
  • Real

Life is too short to be controlled by F.E.A.R., right?

Needless to say, during my recent honeymoon to Fiji… I slipped into a wetsuit, popped on my buoyancy control device, and.. BLEW SOME BUBBLES!!! (That’s diver slang for going SCUBA diving.)

Guess what? I’m still alive!!!!

Guess what? Robyn, my new bride, also dived with me. It was her first dive. She did great!!!

Now… What else can I do? Maybe… Go to Tibet and climb Mount Everest like Veronika Meyer?

We’ll see!

I hope this helped you learn more about Scuba diving after heart surgery.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Marcus

    Hi

    Great site.

    In October 05 I was admitted to hospital feeling as though I had really bad indigestion. That night I underwent over 8 hours of surgery to repair a dissected aorta – and whilst they were “in there” they found that I had a bicuspid aortic valve, something that I was not aware of at the age of 38.

    They replaced the valve and I am now enjoying every minute of my new life. I will go diving again soon I hope and I did indeed get depressed during the 6 – 8 months after the procedure.

    Happy now, got married in 06 and hoping to get another 40+ years in!

  • Lloyd Sandbulte

    I’m 58. I had my aortic valve replaced in 2000. I’m quite physically active, working out regularly, bicycling, water skiing, swimming, hiking to the tops of 4 Colorado fourteeners the last two years. Now I want to learn scuba diving, but a dive instructor in Hawaii said I’d need a doctor’s permission. My family doctor said he will not give it. I’m hoping my cardiologist will give me one. I wonder if he’ll also play it safe – I can see why they might not want to risk signing a statement saying it’s okay. Any suggestions? Will most dive instructors require a doctor’s okay?

  • Lloyd,

    This is a great question. As you read above, I Scuba dived one and a half years after my heart valve replacement surgery. Before I went diving, I did call my surgeon to obtain his thoughts, counsel, and…. blessing. 🙂

    In the end, he said to me, “You have no limitations. Scuba diving is okay.” Dr, Starnes never gave me a form or written approval.

    As I write above, my first-and-only time Scuba diving after surgery was on Fiji. The Scuba shop was certified PADI-gold. However, they never asked me for written approval once I disclosed the information about my heart surgery.

    I hope that helps. Let me know what you find out!

    Keep on tickin,

    Adam

  • Lloyd Sandbulte

    Thank you but I’m feeling confused. Here you speak of a first and only time scuba diving and above you speak of logging over 100 dives. What am I not understanding?

  • Hey Lloyd,

    In the comment above, I am referring to my first-and-only time AFTER my surgery. 🙂 Sorry about the confusion there.

    Before my surgery, I logged dives across the U.S., Mexico, the Carribbean, Bali and Thailand. Does that make sense?

    Adam

  • Paul

    Thanks for this article its made me much more comfortable about my post surgery activities. I am 33 and had aortic valve and root replacement surgery in oct 2007 since then and my return to work I have resumed activities such as lifting weights, cycling and intend to get back into running and have really wanted to get back in the water and continue with my passion for scuba diving. Although the surgeons here are great and I cannot thank them enough for ‘saving my life’ they are always very vague about what I can and cant do and what constitutes ‘overdoing it’
    I had kind of decided that I would pursue these activities anyway but its really great to hear that its actually safe as well! oh and its amusing to gather from your comments that you probably tick as loudly as I do!! Many thanks. Paul.

  • Trevor

    Happy to see everyone still enjoying life after surgery. I had the ross proceedure in 1996 when I was 17, my second of 3 surgeries. I’m headed to Honduras at the end of april to learn to scuba dive. My G.P. told me I wasn’t to go below 20 feet. Just woundering the depth you went to diving in Fiji? Hope everyone keeps living life. My motto is, I might as well be dead if I can’t love life.

  • Lawrence Danyluk

    Well, i had open heart surgery 8yrs ago, had two of my heart valves replaced with titanium and I still want to get certified and get back into the water. When ever I see my family doctor, he always tells me that I will not be able to dive cause of my heart valves and I might get the bends.

    Can you maybe give me some hope and maybe see the light so I can go and maybe tell my doctor that it is ok to scuba even with two titanium heart valves.Thanks

  • Gary Barnes

    Hi tickers alike…… in 2002 (50 years young) I had my Aortic Valve replaced with a prosthetic valve, not a pig valve. And now on warfarin.
    I’ve been a professional photographer all my life at the high end of the industry and currently have a Gallery and Cafe in Kiama, Australia.
    I decided to semi retire an do some scuba dive photography on the Barrier Reef……. and just spent a heap on dive gear and camera’s housing’s and lighting gear.
    Didn’t give it a thought of the possibility of my Docter knocking back my dive medical application……….What NOW!……… any suggestions.
    His reasons were the combination of the prosthetic valve and the Warfarin.
    HELP……… anyone.
    This was today 29th April 2009, so I’ve booked in to see my cardiologist and that won’t be for a couple of weeks, I’m to say the least……… I’m STRESSED.

  • Mia Morison

    Hi,
    Your story is so inspirational!! My son who is turning 16 had open heart surgery to repair a complete coarctation of the aorta(completely sealed) January 2006.
    He is very well and participating in sports like water polo and horse riding(much to doc’s disgust). He is taking no medication and despite thirteen years of VERY bad hypertension is registering a normal BP.
    Now he wants to Scuba Dive. Our dive doctor is hessitant and has forward his case to DAN for review. The wait to find out seems endless.
    Reading about you and your dive has given me hope for a positive outcome.
    Hold thumbs for us that Daniel can fulfull his dream of swimming with the sharks! We live just off the Aliwal Shoal in KZN South Africa – plenty of sharks around.

  • Robin

    Dive certifying thru Padi requires completion of a medical form. If you honestly or dishonestly answer all the medical questions with a “no” you will not require any doctors “permission slip” to proceed with training. That said, it would be foolish to risk your life with a dishonest answer, if in fact your condition truly prohibits diving. It is interesting to note that one doctor may sign off while another may have a differing opinion.
    I had my aortic valve replaced on 6/3/11 (7 weeks ago as I write) I am 52 and had a bicuspid valve, and opted for a tissue valve. I am recovering well despite some minor issues (A-fib and mild pericardial effusion)
    I am an advanced Padi diver, and my doctor sees no reason I should not return to diving.
    Diving is an incredible experience, I would be devastated to learn those days were over. It reminds me of a scene in “the worlds fastest Indian” “Burt it looks like your motorcycling days are over” his response “like hell they are”

  • Trevor Smith

    Hi I had open heart surgery in 2006,mechanical valve implant Titanium,I’m on warafin
    I used to scuba dive with my late father ,want to go again ,
    so some of you have gone diving with a mechanical heart valve ?
    and where ok ? I have asked my doctor ( family ) he said no, I’m still pissed at my cardioligist as I had endocarditis and had an echo he missed the diseased valve ,
    as a result I had a stroke ,so now I am leary as to who to believe ?
    any advice ,I feel great do lots of physical activity and want to dive again
    when on vacation,I have thought odf sueing my cardioligist for missing the heart desease
    any thoght on this ?
    Trevor … ucanrock 2@ bell.net
    :~)

  • Great post, Adam…there is life after OHS after all. I plan to resume diving after I recover fully as long as there are no contraindications.

  • Trevor Cox

    What a great thread Adam! You’ve lifted my spirits 400%! I’m a 65 year old who’s just had aortic root surgery which has been, I think, very successful! I’m returning quickly to fitness and will soon be cycling, jogging and doing all the stuff I enjoyed doing last year!
    But I was told yesterday by s Cardiac Rehabilitation nurse that I’d never be able to dive again ! This shocked me to the core and I was aghast. I’ve dived for years and am a PADI Divemaster! I want to teach my grandson to dive in 2 years. I certainly don’t want to be binned as a ‘has been’ diver! I loved your article! Thanks so much!!

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