Jim’s Heart Surgery Adventure… Bicuspid Valve Replacement, Tamponade And Heart Failure

Talk about twists and turns during the early recovery from bicuspid aortic valve replacement surgery. Jim from Alabama has quite the tale to tell… Here is what he writes:

Hey Adam,

First, I’d like to say how much I appreciate you and your heart surgery book. You provided my family and I with great information and gave us some peace of mind prior to my surgery and even now as I recover.

My story really started about 5 years ago when I, and some medical folks, thought I had a heart attack. When the smoke cleared, I was diagnosed with bicuspid aortic valve stenosis. I guess the alleged heart attack (or “episode” as the cardiologist called it) was a warning shot that something was wrong with my heart. I was perplexed as to how I could have a congenital heart problem after serving 21 years in the Air Force and never being told I had an issue or even a murmur. Of course, now I understand. (To learn more about bicuspid valves, click here.)

Jim Cummings - Bicuspid Aortic Valve Replacement Patient
Jim – Bicuspid Aortic Valve Replacement Patient

Fast forward to June 2008…

After having my annual check-up, the cardiologist contacted me and said it was time to seriously persue a consult with a surgeon. The valve opening had deteriorated to .85 from the previous years 1.1 reading. Obviously, this was a rude awakening, as I wasn’t having any symptoms – no shortness of breath or chest pain. I though I would be 65 or so before it needed to be replaced. For information purposes, I’m 48.

Fortunately, I came across your book in researching the procedure. Armed with a notebook of information and questions, I met with the surgeon in July and decided on the St. Jude Mechanical Valve.

St. Jude Mechanical Aortic Valve Regent
St. Jude Medical Mechanical Heart Valve Replacement

My cardiac catheterization procedure was scheduled for 11 August (no blockages) with the surgery being on the 12th. The procedure only lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes with the only issue being that I bled more than normal when the surgeon opened me up. I was in the ICU for about 24 hours and then moved to a private room. The rest of my hospital stay was the normal activities of walking, breathing treatments and being poked and proded every couple of hours. I was released on Saturday the 16th and was ready to get some well deserved and needed rest.

On Wednesday, following my release from the hospital, I started feeling nauseous which progressed as the week went on. I was having hot flashes that were immediately followed by cold spells. My heart felt like it was fluttering. My food intake decreased due to the nausea and by Saturday, I was vomiting everything I did try to eat. My blood pressure was also extremely low and breathing became laborious. I had never felt this badly and wished it would stop or that it would stop me (if you know what I mean).

I wound up in the emergency room Monday morning the 25th and was admitted AGAIN. I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My kidneys weren’t functioning properly and my INR was classified as “extremely high” at 8 . I was dehydrated. They did an echo which revealed tamponade, and I was prepped for emergency surgery.

I underwent a pericardial window and they drained a whole liter of bloody fluid from around my heart. This time I was in the ICU until Thursday.

The nurses were rather reluctant to encourage my recovery considering all that I had been through. I felt like I was being treated with kid gloves, which kinda concerned me.

I decided to take it upon myself to get moving, so I started to walk around, which surprised but pleased the nursing staff. I noticed that I did not have the stamina to walk as much as I did before but I kept forcing myself to keep trying. My appetite started to return (even though some things just didn’t taste right) and I gained more strength and walked more and more.

By Saturday the 30th, the doctor said I was well enough to be released. I was very apprehensive about going home. What if something happened? At least in the hospital they could take care of me. I reluctantly left the hospital to start my second attempt at recovery. The first couple of days at home I was very nervous, but as time passed I gained confidence and started thinking and acting more positively.

I read your book again to help me realize I wasn’t alone and I even feel better just sharing my experience.

Now… Five weeks after the second surgery – I am driving, eating well, and getting compliments about good I’m getting around and how much better I look. I still find it hard to believe that I’ve had open heart surgery but as each day passes, I get stronger and stronger and am acting like my old self again. I anxiously work toward the day that I can take up the activities I enjoy and refuse to let myself get whipped by this experience.

Stephen Kwan - Heart Surgeon Montgomery Alabama
Dr. Stephen Kwan – Jim’s Heart Surgeon

Thank you and everyone else in your blog for sharing their experiences! I also wish to thank my surgeon, Dr. Stephen K. Kwan and the nursing staff at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama.

Jim Cummings

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.

  • Cousin Butchie

    glad to so you are doing so well. We prayed for you.

  • immad

    that’s crazy. Thanks for the article. Learned a lot.

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