“Is Stroke A Risk During Valve Surgery?” Asks Debbie

I just received a very, very, very interesting question from Debbie about stroke and heart surgery.

Debbie writes, “Adam – My mom is having open heart surgery next week due to severe regurgitation from a mitral valve prolapse. I have heard that stroke is a risk for patients during cardiac surgery. Is that true?”


Diagram Explaining A Stroke

So you know… Debbie’s question brings back a distinct and touching memory for me as I prepared for my own heart valve surgery.

It was December 20, 2005, the day before my aortic and pulmonary valve replacement surgery. I was at USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. My pre-operative tests were almost complete when it came time to discuss the surgical consent form.

Dr. Lee, the surgical resident, sat me down to explain all the risk factors associated with heart surgery. My palms began to sweat and my heart began to race as Dr. Lee reviewed each risk one-by-one.

My mother, Donna, was with me at the hospital that day. I don’t know how, but she could sense the fear-and-anxiety growing in me as Dr. Lee continued down the list. To comfort me, she put her arms around my shoulders and hugged me lovingly. Needless to say, it was an epic moment for a mother-and-son to share.

Adam Pick And Donna Pick
Me And My Mom (Donna Pick)

Then… Being the optimist that I am… I pushed the fear-and-anxiety aside. I remembered all the research and due diligence which supported a confident selection of my surgical procedure and my surgeon, Doctor Vaughn Starnes. My life, my future, my heart would be in his hands. I signed the consent form knowing that I had found one of the most qualified surgeons for the job. Doctor Starnes would fix me.

Now, back to Debbie’s question… (Sorry for the trip down memory lane.) πŸ™‚

Yes, stroke is one of the risks that Dr. Lee discussed with me. According to MedicineNet, “A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted, causing brain cells to die. When blood flow to the brain is impaired, oxygen and glucose cannot be delivered to the brain.”

Reports suggest, “A major concern with cardiac surgery is the incidence of neurological damage. Stroke occurs in 2-3% of all people undergoing cardiac surgery and is higher in patients at risk for stroke.” So you know, stroke can occur during or after heart surgery.

When I think about that statistical risk, I don’t perceive it as overwhelmingly significant. Yes, stroke does occur for some cardiac surgery patients. But, as we have previously discussed, there is risk in almost everything we do, every day of our lives – driving our cars, walking across the street, even eating peanut butter these days. Come to think of it… Life is, to some extent, a risky situation.

Dr. Vaughn Starnes – My Surgeon

However, risk can be mitigated. That is why I am such an advocate of extensive surgeon research prior to heart surgery. Patients need to be 100% confident in their surgeons and their medical team. I’ll never forget what Dr. Lee, the surgical resident, said to me about stroke. He said, “Stroke is a possibility, but luckily, you found Dr. Starnes. He is one of the best out there. If anyone can prevent a stroke from happening, it’s Dr. Starnes.”

I hope that helps explain a little more about the risks of stroke and cardiac 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.

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