After Aortic Valve Replacement, Mavis Shares Four Heart Surgery Lessons

Here’s an interesting email I just received from Mavis. Nine weeks after heart valve replacement, Mavis has created four, key “heart valve surgery lessons” to share with our community. Here is what she writes:

Hello Adam,

My aortic valve replacement is 9 weeks behind me!  My follow up visit to the cardiologist and surgeon have reassured me that my tissue valve will probably last longer than I will (I am 67), that my chest is healing normally, that I’m not going to die, and life will eventually be better than before.


Mavis – Nine Weeks After Heart Valve Replacement

There were a couple of things that, prior to my surgery, would have fallen into the category of “things I really don’t want to know” but with hindsight, I wish now I had.  I hope they will be useful for your readers who are anticipating open heart surgery.

Things I wish I had known:

Lesson  #1 –  Take it very easy on yourself!

You will need help for virtually everything at first!  You will need help for those first few showers (get a shower stool) and don’t bother doing your hair.  Who cares!  Have comfortable clothing that is easy to put on and take off.  Heaven forbid you should sit around in your comfortable pajamas and robe. Don’t do anything your body tells you not to do! Listen to yourself and don’t be bullied. Stay in bed and read. Rest when ever you need to. Let someone else make your meals. This is no time to be a hero.

When I got home, I was not at all ready to jump out of bed every morning, shower, wash hair, dress, trot to the kitchen for breakfast and do the 20-minute brisk walk the physio has insisted on. I was told I must walk three  times a day, stay active and take “just a little rest” during the  day. Maybe a 40-year old could do that, but at 67, the first few weeks were truly brutal.  Of course, I did everything I was told…being of that generation that does not question authority, but believe me, there were times I seriously thought I was going to die in the process.

Lesson #2 – Eat  well and keep your body fueled.  It has been assaulted – it’s not your fault that you feel weak.

I was sure I would start to feel better in a week or two but I found I was continuing to feel weak, useless and pathetic. This feeling did not go away for a very, very long time in spite of what my doctors were reassuring me was a normal healing process. I found it extremely distressing, having been a very active, independent person all my life. My surgeon, at  my 6 week check explained – and this falls into the “too much information category” – that your body becomes “cannibalistic” in order to heal itself. Your wounds take what ever they need from your bodies’ resources leaving you without much left over. This is not the time to try and maintain the weight loss you incurred prior to and during your hospitalization.

Lesson #3 –  Don’t suffer in silence. The anxiety makes the discomfort much worse.

My incision was healing very well but I had excruciating pain in my back that kept we awake at night sitting on the edge of the bed wondering what was going on. After a week, I went to my family doctor who gave me a muscle relaxant for the muscle spasms, which apparently are very common.  I wish I had known and prepared for that. The medication worked pretty well and understanding what was happening reduced my anxiety. Even at 9 weeks, I still have considerable pain in my chest and around  the area of the incision. How come? The surgeon explained, and this is certainly something else I thought I didn’t want to know prior to surgery. If you are small (I am 5’2 and 120 lbs) or very obese, in order to get a clear shot at your heart, the rib cage has to be lifted up and pushed open to get access. This can and does cause dislocation of the ribs where they articulate with the spine and breast bone as well as, sometimes, cracking or even breaking of the ribs. Knowing this would have made the discomfort manageable and would have reduced the fear that I was injuring myself every time I activated a hot spot.

Lesson #4  –  Get ALL the information you need to feel comfortable about your choices.

I chose to have a tissue valve so that I would not have to take anti-coagulants for the rest of my life (Coumadin). It was the right choice at my age, but following my surgery I became almost obsessed with the idea that if this valve was only going to last 10 years, and my resting heart rate was about 90, that meant I had about 1/3 less time before I had to go through all this again. I could see no possible reason to go out for the fast walks that had been ordered and reduce that time even more and,  I can tell you without hesitation, that I don’t want to ever go through this again.  My cardiologist and surgeon both assured me my valve would probably still be working just fine when I die of something else 20 years from now. The 10-year thing is just a statistic based on averages. I choose to believe this and I firmly envision myself at the top end of the bell curve. And anyway, in 10 years from now a new valve could probably be shot up your arm!

I hope everyone who has this procedure done has as wonderful a team of doctors, nurses and helpers as I did.  My medical team at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria were absolute angels and I am so fortunate to live in British  Columbia where this specialized care is available and totally without cost. Oh Canada!

Sincerely,

Mavis McClintock
Duncan, British Columbia, Canada

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.

  • Nendie

    thanks Mavis. Mum is having valve replacement in three weeks and is 66 and 5’0!, I find your advice really comforting and helpful

    best wishes for the rest of your recovery

  • Marion “DoBee” Robinson

    Mavis,

    Thank you for the thorough and ‘timely’ lessons learned! I will have mitral valve surgery on April 2, so I am taking all of what you’ve shared ‘to heart’! I’ll make sure to inquire about muscle relaxers before leaving the hospital.
    You comments regarding moving our body parts to access the heart is right on target. As this will be a second heart surgery for me (after an atrial septic defect procedure in 1974), my current surgeon had mentioned ‘things were moved around before’. I did not know what he meant until I read your comments! I can’t remember too much about my prior experience (I was 14 then), but I will heed all of your advice as I go through the recovery ‘process’.

    God’s Best to You!

  • Ann Crouch

    Wonderful to hear your thoughts and feelings. I say “ditto”. I am nine weeks out from a double valve replacement, also with tissue valves. Saw my cardiologist this week and he gave me a glowing report. There were several weeks that I felt anything but glowing. I knew that I had reached a humiliating point when I let my precious mother-in-law help me with my shower and see me stripped naked. I am thankful for all my caregivers, but am most grateful for feeling more like myself.

  • nancy mallinger

    You are so right, Mavis! I had aortic valve replacement 4 months ago and am still having severe pain in my chest wall and ribs. I also had excrutiating pain post op in my back and neck. Nobody told me that this was common, so my anxiety level was very high. I also let me husband and adult son bully me into not taking much pain or sleep meds, and I regret being so passive. It would have made the whole experience easier had I known that a lot of my post op problems were normal.

  • Leslie

    Hi Mavis
    What great comments! Thanks for sharing them. I am now 14 months post mitral valve repair surgery and I agree with everything you say. I thought I should be up and running around within a few weeks because I had robotic surgery but it isn’t just about the incision. (and believe me, your incision from the robot can also hurt as it heals and it also has scar tissue) I was tired, I was depressed, I had all kinds of bizarre eye problems, I had no idea what was the matter since everything I read and heard assured me that I was clearly a hypochondriac. ?? Well guess what! It took me nearly a FULL YEAR to feel up to myself again. This year I am a different person but everyone heals at his or her own pace, so be good to yourself, take your time, there is no race, you don’t get a big medal for leaping out of bed and forcing yourself back to work or out into the world too soon.
    Cheers Mavis and all valve surgery survivors!
    Lily

  • mercyturan

    Dear Mavis, As the mother and caretaker of a 37 year old (now 38) who underwent a similar procedure (JohnTuran, Ross Procedure March 5,2008); I have to thank you profusely for a well done review of the lessons learned! I am 65 y/o and appreciate how you have taken your time to do someone else a favor–pretty much the way Adam has done with his book and blog, though he is much younger than you. I feel younger patients have a different view and they just want to “get over this and go on with life” and forget how much they were helped by those who came before them in this journey.

    God bless you, you look great, and yes, there’s already something in the works kind of like “shooting a new valve up your arm”. Look it up, Adam has an article about it. So, enjoy life, give thanks and carry on.

    Oh,! thanks for mentioning that you are from Canada and are thankful that this procedure was available to you and under your healthcare system. I am sick and tired of people telling me “it doesn’t work”, when I see it to the contrary. Thank you. Mercy Turan, Summerfield, Fl

  • Annette Sophocles

    Hi Mavis,
    Thank you for your thoughtful words. I will having my aortic valve replace Wed April 1st in Venice Florida. I am a re-do as I have had quadruple by-pass in 1996. I am now 64 and will have a tissue valve and am looking forward to keeping it the rest of my life. Your words were very encouraging and helpful. I have a lot of family/friends support and I know that I will do well. I have a herniated cervical disk that must be repaired as soon as I am ready so I must keep my spirits up. It is amazing what we can do when we must. Thank you again.
    Annette

  • Alex Lang

    Hi Mavis,
    You have a truly inspirational outlook on life, and I have nothing but admiration for you. Being 9 months into a AVR & CABG, I identify with your initial problems, pain and questions, having trod the path. Even after this time the odd doubt does arise, but as you so cleary identify, life is the bonus. So, it can be tough at times. but what was the alternative?
    I agree totally with your 4 lessons – well done.
    And, Mavis, this is no chat up line, but you look great. Was your age not misprinted?
    Best wishes, and here’s to the next 20 years.

  • Kenneth Kahn

    Dear Adam: In response to Mavis’ paean to Canadian health care, I’d like you to watch (if you haven’t already seen it) the video posted by a Canadian couple.

    http://WWW.freemarketcure.Com/brainsurgery.php

    I’d like to add that my procedure (4/25/2008) was performed by one of the 3 top surgeons in Las Vegas, was performed ONE WEEK after my angiogram, was covered by Medicare and so far has cost about $600 out of pocket. I could have had it done by the V.A. but would have had to wait 6 months for the angiogram, then who knows how long for the surgery.

  • Maureen Spielman

    Hi Mavis,
    Thank you for your lessons posted on Adam’s website. I am facing Arotic Valve Replacement in the next couple of weeks and I am not looking forward to the pain. It’s good to know about the ribs etc even though I don’t want to think about such things. I like to be up and doing things so I appreciate your insigt as to resting and letting others do for you. Adam’s book has been great and I feel reassured by so many testamonials. Maureen Spielman – Simi Valley, California

  • Micki Novak

    Hi Mavis!!
    I am having surgery on May21st. I will be having by bicuspid valve replaced as well a graft for my aorta, as I have a 5.5cm aneurysm. I chose the cow tissue, at the advice of my surgeon. I so appreciate your comments. I think I am even more prepared. I had two other types of surgery some 20 years ago, one being a Kidney surgery. The first surgeon I spoke with told me that my valve replacement surgery would be a piece of cake and I’d only need 4 weeks recovery period, maybe less before I went back to work. I have since decided to go to another hospital and chose the best in Chicago, along with one of the 8 best heart/valve surgeons in the state. He told me 6-8 wks, recovery and also about the rehab. I am glad I know more now, thanks to him and to you. If I had gone to the first doctor, I might have really been depressed with my recovery. I so intend to print out your words of wisdom. I am having my pre-op appointment this Wednesday, and will now be able to ask more questions. The hosptial I chose, also has an education departement, which I will visit that day. Not only will I be able to get more information and answers, but I get to see a video (if I so desire). I expect to learn a great deal. Thanks again I now know some of what I REALLY need to know.

  • Marion

    Hi Mavis, I read your story with interest and I hope you are still making good progress. I live in Victoria, am 66 years old and have to have surgery soon at the Jubilee for an Aortic replacement and repair to a bicuspid valve. My question is what you thought of your treatment at the Jubillee and who was your surgeon. My cardiologist said that all the surgeons at the Jubilee are excellent but I guess he is bias. I have to see Dr. Ofeish on Tuesday as he is the choice for me. I am aprehensive of course but am not panicking at this stage. But I would love to hear your comments please. Thanks Marion

  • Sharlene von BERG

    Hi Mavis

    I am 9 weeks post mitral valve repair and Maze Procedure. i currently live in the Middle East but opted to go back to Durban,South Africa to have the surgery….I have just read your posting and felt very encouraged by it…thank you. I have also just received Adams book which in my mind is FANTASTIC and certainly helped me tremendously. Unfortunately I found the surgery to have been a very difficult time of my life and really felt that I didnt get much in the way of preparing oneself for the surgery and then the expectations thereafter. really feel that the hospital staff and doctors didnt tell me enough of the dos and donts after discharge….a little distressing when we have had to pay so much money for the surgery. I flew back home to the Middle East on 23 Dec-5 weeks after the surgery-9 hour fight as I was desperate to get home to be with my husband,my son who came home from college in the USA and celebrate Christmas. I can honestly say that I have started to feel only half human again in the last week or so.I am also so excited to have come upon your posting and to read how others are doing.

    Take care.
    SHARLENE

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