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“When Were You 100% Recovered From Open Heart Surgery?” Asks Holly

Posted by Adam Pick on June 2nd, 2009

On the topic of heart valve surgery recovery, I just received a very important question from Holly.

Her note reads, “Hi Adam – I’m nervous, anxious, concerned, afraid, excited and, most importantly, hopeful regarding my mitral valve replacement surgery next week. I have severe regurgitation from mitral valve prolapse. Beyond the surgery, I want to know how long will it take to be 100% recovered. I am an active 66-year old that loves to chase my grandchildren around the park. Thank you, Holly”

As noted above, I believe Holly raises one of the most relevant questions for patients evaluating the entire heart valve surgery process, “How long does it take to feel 100% again?”

While this is a great question… I do not have a great, explicit answer which details a specific day or exact time in which patients consider themselves “fully recovered”.

Instead, I offer patients and caregivers an honest, two-word response to this inquiry.

That response is… “It depends!”

“Why such a vague response?” you may be wondering.

Well… I use the “It depends!” response because I have learned through my experience and the experience of others that heart surgery recovery is a very personal, patient process.

Yes, the type of surgery (open heart or minimally invasive) will impact recovery times given the different levels of trauma to the body. However, more importantly, I have found that patients simply heal at different rates – both physically and mentally.

As for me, I was told that I would “be back to normal” eight weeks after my double valve replacement.

Guess what?

That was grossly incorrect. So you know, at eight weeks, I was facing the challenges of chest pain (from my broken sternum) and cardiac depression. Needless to say, that was not a fun time for me or my family.

Over time, however, I did get better. After attending a fantastic cardiac rehab program at Torrance Memorial Hospital, my brain and body began the path to recovery.

However, please note… It would not be for another year until I considered myself “recovered”. To be precise, I designate the 435th day after surgery as the day my recovery ended. On that incredible day, I returned to the Pacific Ocean with my surfboard to engage in one of my favorite hobbies… surfing.

435 Days After Surgery… I Surf Again!

ANOTHER KEY POINT FOR PATIENTS AND CAREGIVERS: You may have noticed that I did not use the term “100% Recovered” in my little story above. Instead, what I tell people is that I am 98%-to-99% recovered today.

I don’t say I’m 100% recovered because every once in-a-while I still get a pain in my chest or a soreness when I breathe. It’s not often, but I do notice it. When I feel those pains, I don’t dwell on them. Rather, I use them as inspirational tools to remind me of how far I have come since my aortic and pulmonary valve replacements.

Please, please, please remember that the story above is my story… Others, including you, may have a completely different heart surgery recovery story. I know some patients that were back on the golf course in 6 weeks after heart valve surgery. I also know other patients that, like me, had delayed recoveries.

Now, for all the former valve repair and valve replacement patients reading this… Can you help answer this question for Holly? Are you 100% recovered? If so, how long did your heart surgery recovery take? If so, please leave a comment below.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick A dad, a husband and a patient, Adam Pick founded this website in 2006 to educate you about heart valve surgery from diagnosis to recovery.
You can get the latest updates about heart valve surgery from Adam at his Facebook, and Twitter pages. Click here to email him.

 


Shelby Hudgens says on June 2nd, 2009 at 11:41 am

I was fully recovered about six months after surgery. The first three months showed the greatest improvement, with the next three a more gradual return to normality.

 


George Householder says on June 2nd, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I agree with Shelby, for me it was about 6 to 8 months. I could tell I was completely healed (at least 99%) when it finally got warm enough, and I wasn’t that much of a chicken that I went to the Driving Range and hit a bucket of balls. I swung slow at first because I was afraid – I guess I was afraid of scar tissue tearing. Within 10 balls I was back to swinging for the fences! It felt great! I felt great! My surgery was on 08/08/08 – and many many days go by and I don’t even think about my operation.

 


Stephen Waxman says on June 2nd, 2009 at 1:24 pm

I have had 2 aortic valve replacements. The first one when I was 30 years old and the second one when I was 37.I am now 58 years old and my mechanical valve is 21 years old and still funtioning relatively well. My recovery time for both operations was the same. I was back to normal in 6-8 weeks after surgery. But there is truth in the statement that every person is different.The issue of depression is one which can increase the time necessary to fully recover.

 


Kathy Mccain says on June 2nd, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Hi Holly,

At 16 mos I am just beginning to really feel like myself. I had complications, with my AVR. I had a pericardial window done 8 days after the surgery, for the effusion. It took several months for me to recover from that. In the meantime I developed pericarditis. I am still taking 5mg of prednisone for this. It can take approximately 2 yrs to completely recover from this, my cardio tells me. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with me. Other than that my energy is back, I am exercising, and the valve is working great! I still get an ache or pain in my chest at times, The doctor says I am doing fine though, and is not concerned.

Good luck! You will do fine!

Like Adam says, everyone’s recovery rate is different. There is a lot of different factors involved. Some people, for whatever reason, I believe, are just more resilient than others.

 


Pat Childs says on June 2nd, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Hi Holly

I think it may depend on the type of surgery. Like Stephen above I had an aortic Valve replaced with a tissue valve. Full Sternotomy. I am 62 yrs old. I was in good health and physcial condition before surgery. I felt good at 4 weeks but was being careful. Gradually worked up to my usual activities. At 8 weeks I played my first 18 hole round of golf using a cart. If you press on my sternum it will hurt but during general activities I feel no hurt. I’m up to 5 mile woods hikes. I still find I tire more easily than before but feel that will improve with time also. I found I had more pain around my shoulders, lower rib cage and collar bone than my sternum from being stretched open so long. I found sleeping in a recliner to be the most comfortable and was able to wean off pain meds quicker. Sleeping in a regular bed was painful either on my back or on my side. At 10 weeks I have just returned to the regular bed. Now I occasionally wake up with a hurt and need to change positions so I know it will be awhile before the sternlum is back to normal.
Good luck
pat

 


Anita Devine says on June 2nd, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Hi there Holly, Your question is so poignant, and speaks to the very feelings that I had prior to Mitral Valve Surgery. I was plain scared, and being very active, outdoorswoman, mountain hiker, and landscape artist, I forever wondered if I could accomplish my same level of activity again. Holly, I had minimally invasive mitral valve repair, just 9 weeks ago, and I have accomplished all of that activity once again…. the mountains are smaller, and will need to be tackled gradually, but I am hiking, spending time in my garden, landscaping, and have returned to work full-time. One of the secrets was taught to me by one of my best friends, who is 4 years old. He said to me: Nita, just see it in your mind first, and then you will do it. I really did focus on visualizing my recovery, every day, once sometimes twice a day for about 20 minutes. I used a guided visualization that helped a lot. There is a lot of research being done on this approach. In fact the Cleveland Clinic where I had surgery, provides a guided meditation for each of their heart surgery patients.
In addition, I exercised, with my doctor’s guidance, at least 30 minutes of walking each day. I also used diet as my ally, eating meals that were low in fat, whole grains, vegetables, fish, plant-based protein.
The staff at Cleveland Clinic were amazed at my speedy recovery. In July this year I will be speaking on a recovery panel at a national holistic health conference, with an audience of about 600 people.
You can do it!
Nita

 


Todd Yarnell says on June 2nd, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I am 43, had the Mitral valve replace 4/2/09. Now it’s 6/2/09 I feel about 80-85%. DO YOUR REHAB! You will recover farther and faster.

 


Patrick Lenon says on June 2nd, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Dear Holly,
It is 10 weeks since my operation and being a type A personality and a type 8 on the enneagram (the boss) I want to be recovered now. I had prepared myself for pre, during and post operation, but in the end most of it was information that remained in my head. When I came home I thought I would be able to do a little light gardening after 3 weeks. At the end of three weeks I was walking about 12-15 minutes at a snail’s pace, watching movies and really pissed off. I realized that I need to make a hugh change (transformation) in my attitude. Patience, present moment and gratitude became my key practices. I am clinically depressed and am on medication so the added depression during this recovery time is quite difficult. Whilst I am able to now do some light gardening, my energy level remains low, so when I run out of “gas” I need to stop and not slip into a pattern of ragging myself. I have gone back to work part time as a mentor and coach and with one particular person we broke open the statement: “Learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” As we shared with each other I realized that this is my present work on myself. How to continue to learn to be comfortable with depression; that the healing is not going as fast as I want it to go; and learning to set hope aside and live in the present moment. Hope is tricky, because it can raise false expectations. So I am learning how to live with the present moment; and the present moment is how life is supposed to be; not with an expectation that if I try harder or do something, everything will be better than what it is in the present moment. This is probably long winded for you, particularly at the front end of your operation. Print my response out and read it a few weeks after the operation. The time of recovery is your time and only your body and spirit knows what that recovery time is for you. A final note. After the operation the surgeon told me that he did not think I would get up from the table. There was difficulty in starting my heart. Everyday I give thanksgiving for my life, my family, my dear, dear friends. Gratitude is helping me to learn how to become a friend with time.

Peace,
Pat

 


Christine says on June 3rd, 2009 at 6:36 am

I wish you the very best with your surgery. I too had a longer recovery than the surgeons projection. He said 3 months. I have a very active job and I returned to work at 3 months but did not work full time for 6 months. I must say that the recovery is a process and initially it is up and down. I as Adam remember the day that I said I really feel like myself..one year following my surgury. There are many factors that determine recovery time. My best advice is to not try to project this at this time. Take one day at a time and know that you will heal at the pace that is right for you.
Now 18months later I feel great and am swimming faster than ever and hiking with ease! The best to you. Christine

 


Kerrigan says on June 3rd, 2009 at 11:31 am

At about 12 weeks after surgery I was begnning to get a little down because I didn’t feel I was healing “fast enough” to achieve “normal.”
After a visit with the cardio folks I was told, for me, to figure “about a year” more or less to reach the “I feel normal again” stage.
Since that meeting I don’t worry about it as much and am continuing my 3-times a week cardio rehab workout at a local gym with an eye to feeling a little better each week.
And for me, that is working well.
I’m up to a 7 MET workout, treadmill and ellipical machine and light weights and feeling better every day.
Whatever your rehab program STICK WITH IT! It’s worth the effort.

 


Midge says on June 3rd, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Holly, I had an aortic valve replaced 2/13/09 so almost to four months. I feel probably 60% by now and sometimes I feel like I make big leaps in recovery, other times it seems I’m marching time. From about the 3rd to 5th week, felt I took giant steps in recovery; but then it slowed down and I actually had to cut back some on my walking because I was so tired by the end of the day. That helped and I’ve decided not to push it too hard. Have no place anywhere near me to do cardiac rehab so am relying on myself, but walking outside is definitely great for you. Not only does it exercise your body, but it really gives your spirit and soul a lift to be out under the blue sky, sunshine, etc. It’s hard not to be thankful for the surgery that has just lengthened your life so you can enjoy our big, beautiful world and it’s hard to be disturbed because you don’t feel you’re recovering fast enough…it all comes in time. Take care of yourself because you’re the only YOU that you have!
Midge

 


tom lamont says on June 3rd, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I am now 6 full months from mitral valve repair and single by pass and feel I am at 90%. The problem has been the recovery for my split sternum. I am however back playing golf again and walking 18 holes. My surgery was well done, with no need to take a vein from my leg, and a conversion of triple to single by pass. I am 75 years old.

 


Allyson Meacham says on June 4th, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I had my surgery (aortic replacement with a mechanical valve) March 6, 2006 and, like the others, I would say it was 9-12 months before I felt back to normal. And, I too am a firm believer in the cardiac rehab program! The hospital where my surgery was performed, Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, had an excellent cardiac rehab and I feel that helped more than anything. My problem now is that if I overexert, especially getting overheated, I will feel sick a few days later. Don’t know if that’s related to the heart valve or just me! (I was born with a defective valve, so it may be related overall as this has happened all during my life). So, at age 52, I’m having to learn to excercise easily and not overdue–but excercise and eating the right things is very important. Good luck–valve surgery is a miracle!!

 


Adrian Bishop says on June 6th, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Hi Holly:

Almost a year ago, when I was in recovery Jim Lehrer was on the tube crowing about how much he was getting done while recovering from his aortic replacement. That was depressing! At that juncture I knew I had a lot of work to do, I was getting plaudits from the hospital staff for my day after surgery walking, but Lehrer was being impossible. 359 days later I feel I am about 96-98% ‘recovered’. I have better energy than I had going in, but I still tire more quickly than I would like, and I get occasional twinges in the sternal area. If I find myself leaming on my elbows, I knoew pain will follow so I sit up striaght. A nap or quiet time in the afternoon definitely helps. I did not do prof rehabm but walked 30-40 minutes twice a day for the first month, and more in the second month. When I got home to my mountainaous island home I walked less but resumed ocean swimming sooner than suggested. I use fins and was able to gradually get the arms working. Today i swam 2 hours!
This seems consistent with many of the other respondants. You’ll resume a lot of activities sooner but I think 12-15 months is a reasonable expectation for ‘full recovery’.
Best advice: find the best team possible, tell all your friends and ask their support, relax and go with the flow. I was stunned by the love I received during the procedure and following weeks.
best wishes,
Adrian B

 


Cindy McGinn says on June 8th, 2009 at 10:49 am

Hi Holly,

I am 52 years old and had my aortic valve replaced along with a single bypass on January 29, 2009. I’ve had some health issues in the past but I’m not the type that likes to sit around and will try to push myself. I was bound and determine that I would breeze through. The first few weeks were rough and by week five I was beginning to give in to some despair. But after 8 weeks things started to turn around; now at 18 weeks I’d say I’m at 80% and gaining. This weekend I worked in my yard, cleaned part of my house, chased my 22 month old grand-daughter through the yard and played in the pool with her. I run out of gas a little sooner at the end of the day but when I look back at where I was in February and where I am now it’s amazing. I’ve been going to cardiac rehab for 8 weeks and I agree with everyone it is the best thing you can do for yourself. There are still days when I have a good bit of discomfort (wouldn’t really call it pain) around my incision area, but only after a lot of activity (such as toting my grand-daughter around). But I’m confident that that will improve and I’ll close the gap on that 100% mark soon! I wish you the best of luck.

 


Diane says on June 12th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

I had open heart surgery – it’ll be one year on 6/25. I had a mitral valve repair.

I have the best advice – my husband said this to me. During my recovery, I felt I wasn’t bouncing back fast enough, but I was viewing my recovery as a day by day process. My husband suggested, every week, sit down and think about where you were this time last week. What a difference I saw when I thought about it that way.

I’ve been through Cardiac Rehab, and am now going to the gym three times a week. I cardio kickboxed prior to my surgery, and my goal is to go back. I’m hoping by summer’s end. I feel really good now. Ther is life after heart surgery. Keep your chin up and work hard. You’ll get there!

 


Jon Paola says on August 2nd, 2009 at 12:38 am

Jon, 49, 6 weeks out of open heart by dr. west at cottage hospital in santa barbara for severe mitral valve regurgitation. An anloplasty and leaflet repair and rebuild, Hearts working great. Cardio rehab going great, Upper body, muscoskelatel, still clicking and sore, slow healing and needing some tylenol for the pain and to keep up the exercise. probably just trying to do more than I should and paying for it with pain. Working on a better management system for all that. Not quite thinking I can go back to work as a heavy construction electrician in three more weeks. I hope the DR. will continue my disability and cardio rehab. There is no light duty in my field of work. You must be able to install in the cieling over your head 100 lb. of conduit, gear, wire, or fixture. Unless the improvement is great in the next three weeks I seriously wonder how this will be possible. Well God has guided the surgeons hand and all the other caregivers in recovery

 


Lindsy L. says on November 30th, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I am currenty at 2 days shy of 4 weeks since I had a pulmonic valve replacement. I am still in quite a bit of pain from my sternum, but not enough to be taking pain meds on a regular basis. I went to Target today and walked I didn’t even use the little electric cart. And at rehab today I am exercised for a full 37 minutes. I sometimes feel as though it is not going fast enough but at the same time the doctors say I am doing well and it has only been 4 weeks. I do feel a little of the post surgery blues, but I think that is because I live alone and now that I don’t have constant supervision anymore I have a lot of time to think about how serious this was. I am 33 and this was my second surgery. I was born with an atrial septal defect and had to have that repaired when I was 3. Going through this now, I have no idea how my parents managed me after that. But I am confidant that if you do what the doctors say, and follow through with your rehab that recovery will work out when your own body is ready. Don’t get down on yourself, and relax and try to enjoy being doted on. Your body will know how long to take.

 


Don says on July 3rd, 2011 at 11:29 am

I am 118 days removed from aortic valve replacement and double bypass surgery. Life is about 75% back to normal. I follow a daily cardio rehab regime to physically regain the use of my muscles. It consists of an hour of gym station exercises of 10 minute duration in which the levels are gradually increased. Included with the stationary bike, air bike, treadmill, and stairmaster is a small dumb bell 5-7lb routine. This is done in the late morning in a small exercise room. I am an avid 66 year old tennis player anxious to rejoin my 3.0-4.0 level players. Progress on the clay court surface has been gradual and somewhat frustrating. I have built up to about 30-40 minutes of 3.0 level play. Here in Naples Fl the waeather is both very warm and humid in July so I have been cautious about pushing too hard too fast. I need to lie down and rest and/or nap each afternoon for at least 30 minutes to an hour. My appetite has diminished and food still does not taste as good to me as it did before my surgery. I try to avoid high sodium foods and drink water at a constant rate. I am on Lipitor and Atenolol with decent blood pressure readings between 120-135/62-76 on average. Mentally I am okay and about the same as before though more anxious wondering if my recovery has plateaued or if I can still feel better with time. For every hour of anesthesia you require a month to recover so I have about another month to go.

 


Daryn says on September 4th, 2011 at 12:33 am

I have had 2 Aortic valve replacements. The first 8/31/1988, the second 10/20/10. Both were homograph valves. The first surgury was followed by 8 weeks of IV antibiotics, following baterial endocartis. After the 8 weeks in hospital I was ready for the real world. I took up walking and within 6 monbths of surgury I was climbing mountains, managing to climb 6 of the 8 tallest peaks in the North Island of New Zealand. I returned to work after 4 months of rehab at home. The first Human tissue valve lasted 22 years. The second valve replacement, had some extra circumstances, in that at the end of july ’10 I had a stroke, while in the hospital the nurses took blood cultures and informed me that I once again that I once again had Bacterial Endocarditis. I was once again on antibiotics, this time the resulting antiotic cover for the infection destroyed my vestibular system destroyed. this made my recovery from this surgury rather slow. With my destroyed vestibular system I have lost the sensation of falling, so it has made any rehab rather slow. I spent a while in bed, mainly because it was the safest place to be, in the last 6 months however I have been working out on various weight equipment as well as a tread mill where I can hang onto a rail to stop me falling. It is rapidly coming upto a year since surgury, and I guess I am at about 80%, with the vestibular system making up the other 20%. I was told that the damage was permanent however my eyes and brain will learn to compensate, recognising balance related problems and creating solutions…I have got my fingers crossed.

 


Loyd Howle says on January 22nd, 2013 at 9:12 am

am having mv regurg. surgery 02/06/2013. all these comments are helpful for me to read,[others having the same procedures & the recovery process] ,also live alone after wife passed 14 mos. ago, & guess that’s disconcerting to some extent.

 

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