“Any Physical Limitations After Open Heart Surgery?” Asks Aaron

Aaron just emailed me an interesting question about physical limitations following open heart surgery.

He writes, “Adam – I was just given the news that my aortic valve is at the end of its rope. I knew it would happen someday as I was diagnosed years ago with stenosis. However, I wish that someday wasn’t now. I’m a very active father and husband that enjoys playing football, soccer, tennis and golf with my boys. I want to know the truth about the recovery. Will I be physically limited after this is all over? If so, how? Thanks, Aaron”

Aaron’s email just brought back several, distinct memories following my own diagnosis. Mostly, I remember the fear, uncertainty and doubt that rattled through my brain in overwhelming, unanswered questions like, “Will I ever be the same again?”

So you know, it has been over three years since my surgery.

I can tell you that I am not the same.

I am much, much, much better.

“How can Adam say that?” you might be wondering.

Well… Let me start with the physical nature of my recovery. Although my recovery was challenging, I am pretty much back at full strength. As I have documented in prior blogs, I now participate in all of the physical activities I enjoyed prior to my Ross Procedure which include swimming, gardening, hiking, SCUBA diving, golf, surfing, lifting weights, etc.

Therefore, I do not see open heart surgery as “physically limiting”.

In fact, heart surgery actually helped me eliminate certain non-physical limitations.

“Huh? What is Adam talking about?” you might be thinking.

Well… Consider that most patients aggressively pursue their “second chance at life” after surgery. Now, I am keenly aware of just how short life can be. That said, I’ve actually moved past other limitations that existed prior to surgery.

One of the greatest examples of this was my fear of commitment and marriage. This may sound strange but, as a result of my surgery, I gained a new perspective on life and love that I never understood before. That said, Robyn (my wife) and I just celebrated our 2nd anniversary and we just welcomed our first child, Ethan, into the world. Needless to say, I have never been happier.

Adam Holding Ethan Pick
Me and Ethan (My 4-Month Old Son)

While there are risks to all things in life, we need to remember that heart surgery is not a curse. Instead, when you evaluate those risks and dispel the fear, heart surgery actually transforms into a medical miracle.

Sorry for getting so personal. I just want Aaron – and all of you preparing for surgery – to know that anything is possible. However, please take the time, to really do your research – on your diagnosis, on your options, on your surgeon and on your recovery – to realize those possibilities without complication.

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.

  • Dawn

    I had my surgery last November and am certainly not fully recovered but getting there. I had Moderate stenosis for years and had gotten to the point where climbing a flight of stairs required that I rest on the way up. I now get so much less out of breath and can participate in physical exercise more now than pre-surgery. My cardiologists tells me that this will only get better as I condition my body.

  • robert witt

    I am 6 weeks out from aortic replacement, mitral repair and a MAZE. My surgeon, Dr. Vincent Gaudiani says I am doing great. I am 69 and feel great. My problem is holding back. I start an organized cardio rehab. program next week that should satisfy my workout desires. I suspect that before long I will be doing more than I did before the surgery (I should add that pre-surgery I was very apprehensive about the whole process, but did my homwork, including your book and web site).

  • David Ott

    I am appoaching the 1 year mark (August 5th) and am as close to 100% as I am probably going to get. I just returned from the gym and after 45 minutes of cardio and 30 minute of weights, I feel better than I did at 30. I am 47 and have been aware of my Aortic stenosis for over 20 years. But just as Aaron, the need for surgery crept up quickly, with very little time to adjust to the concept. I ultimately had my Aortic Valve replaced with a Edwards Life Sciences – Bovine Tissue Valve plus they repaired a “ballooning” Aortic artery next to the valve. Please research your decision closely toward Tissue or Mechanical. More pro’s than con’s today toward tissue valves. Dr. Patrick McCarthy at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago replaced mine with an oversized 25 mm valve. The thought process was that by the time it would need to be replaced in 20 years, it could be done intraveneously and inserted inside of the old valve. No cracked open chest – pretty cool! I can’t speak for everyone, but not only did this save my life, it gave it back to me. You really never realize how bad you feel until you starting feeling great again. Best wishes for a quick recovery, Aaron.

  • Joan Parkinson

    Hi Aaron and Adam
    My aortic valve was closed to .7 cm. While meeting with the surgeon we discussed symptoms. Of course I didn’t feel that I had any, just blaming getting out of breath climbing stairs or walking long distances to ‘getting old’ I’m 67. He told me to let him figure out the difference between symptoms and old age.
    I lead a very busy, active life – gardening, traveling and I also ride a Harley so I had the same apprehension that you do. I had my surgery on Jan 28th, 2009.
    Right now my husband says he can’t keep up to me walking and I am back to gardening and traveling.. I am in cardiac rehad and starting to work with light weights. I am working on getting my upper body strength back before riding the Hog. I hope to take it out for a spin in September.
    If all goes well you should be better than ever. Just remember not to overdue it. The breast plate is broken and needs time to heal. Listen to the surgeon as to guidelines when to resume your activities… Good Luck
    Joan Parkinson

  • Richard Holoubek

    I couldn’t have given a better response than David Ott’s (see above). I’d known of my aortic stenosis for many years. I got accustomed to seeing my Cardiologist every 3 months and every 3 months got a green light.

    Then, back in November 2008 just before Thanksgiving, I was spreading fertilizer on my lawn and had to stop several times because I was out of breath.

    I mentioned it to my Cardiologist at my next subsequent appointment, had another echocardiogram done and two weeks later received a call from my Cardiologist that “it was time”. I had my aortic valve replaced on February 25, 2009 with an Edwards Lifesciences Bovine.

    I agree with David Ott… By the time it might need to be replaced, they will have the transcatheter device and procedure down pat. I am a very active at 58 years old and absolutely did not want to deal with Coumadin.

    Today… a little over 5 months after surgery… I’m “power” walking 3.3 miles/day in a little less than 40 minutes. I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the time it takes for me to cool down and stop huffing and puffing.

    I do EVERYTHING! It’s like I never had a heart problem. The other good news… is that I only take a 325mg Asperin, 50 mg Antenynol, and a 10 mg. Lypitor. LIFE IS GOOD!!!

    One other thing… The picture of you with your boys is great.  My wife and I have a 21 year old son.  We are Best Friends and do quite a bit together.  Knowing valve issues are likely hereditary… My wife and I had our son checked out by my Cardiologist to see if he is showing signs of valve issues.  The “bad” news is that he is… the “good” news is that by the time he needs to have something done… it is likely it will be a non-invasive procedure (transcatheter).

    Aaron…  you look like you’re in very good shape too.  I was/am in good shape too and my recovery from surgery was rapid and uneventful I believe in large part because I was in good shape. Best of Luck to you… tell your boys they have nothing to worry about… you’ll will be with them to play a round or two of golf with your grandchildren!
    Richard

  • Mary Anne

    Aaron: I had my aortic vavle replaced on June 8th (7 weeks ago) I also had stenosis for a few years before it reached the point of surgery. I feel fortunate that I had been monitored for so long because there were no other complications – no damage to my heart – and fortunately no blockages were present during the heart cathetorization. My doctor said I was young (58) and healthy and there was minimal risk.

    I have had a fairly quick recovery – back to work in 4 weeks – and feeling like myself again. I do go to cardiac rehab – that is a safe way to monitor how much exercise you can handle – I follow instructions and don’t overdue it – and I am feeling great. In fact I feel better than before surgery – no more shortness of breath. It is a good feeling to have the surgery behind you and move on. Life is Good!

  • Vernon Young

    Initially, you will be limited to walking 5-10 minutes while you are recovering in the hospital. The sooner you get into a mental attitude that you are NOT helpless, the better. Nurses describe a condition following heart surgery where the patient refuses to exercise because they are afraid they will injure their heart. Not so.

    Excercise trumps everything. You aren’t going to feel like walking, but you must force yourself to get out of your bed and walk. The cardiac unit where I spent 8 days following replacement of my aortic valve and main aorta had signs posted every 25 feet to let the patient know how far they had traveled on their own. The first few times, a nurse is going to be with you. Soon you will discover that you can do this.

    Your cardiologist and surgeon will inform you of target walking goals during the first month out of surgery. They will limit you 10-15 minutes of walking activity. You’ll welcome this. You will tire quickly. But they want you to increase this activity to two 15 minute walks each day. You can walk on a treadmill or walk around the area where you live. I would suggest taking walks with your wife or children. This will be the first month following surgery.

    In your second month the goal will be to walk 20 minutes a day until you can increase your ability to walk two 20 minute intervals daily. In the third month, you will be expected to walk 30 minutes until you can increase your activity to walk two 30 minute intervals. You’ll tire. No problem. Don’t try to push it. Walk 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.

    Walking trumps everything. By the fourth month you can make a decision on whether or not to join a cardiac rehab unit. This is a good idea if you do not possess the self-discipline to follow an increasing activity profile.

    On July 30, 2009, I will be one year from my surgery. By the end of my fourth month I was walking 60 continuous minutes per day. This morning, I rode a bicycle at 14 mph for 10.3 miles and felt great. When I am not on my bicycle, I walk on a Visioneer 9600 treadmill with cardio-grips for 3 miles. It takes me about an hour to do this. But you must involve yourself with cardio exercise activity.

    What I am trying to relate to you is that just because you have had heart surgery, it does not limit your abilities. You are going to recover 100% and be able to do things even better. You won’t believe me when I tell you that you are going to feel great by the end of the 1st year.

    Oh, did I mention that I wear a St. Jude pacemaker as well? You can’t believe how great you are going to feel at the end of a year. You are being given a gift, take advantage of it. Watch how much you eat, you can gain weight easily if you are not careful. I would recommend the Weight Watchers points diet.

    Have a great life!

  • peter chaconas

    I am 6 monhs into recovery…58yr old…aortic valve replaced after years of knowing it was coming….Recovery is at an individual pace..You may be suprised at how easy it is to recover, and that the pain was not as bad as you expected…you sound healthy and physically active, that will be an advantage.
    Keep a good outlook….eat and walk….take your time, your body will speak to you…so…..LISTEN…
    Just remember……every day, you are getting better–whether you feel it/realize it…or not….
    And at times, you may feel it’s not fast enough….but then, out of nowhere..you will suprise yourself at what you can do….
    YOU’RE GONNA BE JUST FINE!!!

    PETER in Los Angeles

  • Sean R.

    My experience is similar to David’s & Richard’s above. As far as walking in the hospital, Duke let me go as far as I wanted; I did 5 miles one day – 100 laps of the ward. 3 weeks after surgery I was allowed to go through “cardiac rehab” – 3 times a week, one hour at a time, monitored light cardio, for 12 weeks; it was very, very helpful. In addition, I walked 30 minutes a day. At 3 months, I was allowed to resume swimming and weight-lifting. Since then (I’m now 11 months post-op), I have been allowed to do anything I want – with one and only one exception: I am not to lift more than 70 pounds (but I ignore that with lower body, as 70 pounds must be meant for upper body.)

  • http://www.heart-valve-surgery.com Adam Pick

    Great thoughts everyone!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Fred

    Adam,

    I saw Aron’s post on your site. You can tell him that a heart transplant patient will be doing the Kona Ironnman race this October in Hawaii. I’d say that shows that there is a pretty good chance that he will be OK after his valve replacement surgery.

    Also, I will be undergoing an aortic valve replacement (due to severe stenosis) in the near future. I have all intentions to go back to what I was doing before my aortic valve made me pass out one day at the end of a triathlon in Washington, DC. And I’ve been told that there is no reason why I should not be able to!!!

    Cheers – Fred

  • Jonathan

    I am 30 years old and had 2 surgeries (one for aortic valve replacement and one for a root replacement) I had my aortic root replacement surgery in January and have been feeling 100% for about 2 months now. I surf every morning before work and workout 3 times a week. Like Adam mentioned in his response, Heart Surgery is definitley a miracle. My friends still think I am lying to them when I tell them I had 2 heart surgeries and need to see my scar for proof. After you go through such a traumatic experience I felt more energized then ever. I feel like everyday is a blessing now as cliche as that sounds!

  • William

    Aaron;
    I had my aortic valve replaced earlier this year and now I am hitting the golf ball further into the woods than I did before! I do highly recommend cardiac rehab, which will give you a structured program. Without it, you run the risk of pushing yourself too hard which will only delay the process. Best of luck to you.

  • Kathy Claflin

    Adam, my 18 yr. old Son is going to have the Ross Procedure within the next 6 mo. He has Bicuspid Aortic Valve, and his valve has gone from mildly leaking 1 1/2 yrs. ago, to moderately leaking now. I was wondering if your new Son Ethan, has been tested to see if he also inherited Bicuspid Aortic Valve? I have 2 older Sons (21 & 28), and all 3 of my Sons are now concerned that their future children might be born with Bicuspid Aortic Valve. Do you have any idea what the statistics are for this congenital heart condition to be passed on to their future children? I love reading all of the comments on here.

  • Leticia Creasey

    Wow! Great inspiring stories. I have a bi-cuspid aortic heart valve and will someday need replacing. I am very active. I dance and teach ballet and take aerobic classes. Being active is such a big part of my life. I notice when I exercise vigorously I feel short of breath and my head starts to hurt. I know any surgery carries some risk, but I look at the bright side and think about how wonderful it will be when my heart is working at full capacity. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories.

  • ashish

    Hi,
    Can anyone tell me that a patient who has undergone valve replacement 3 years ago can board the flight or not?

    Ashish

  • Donna Bumgardner

    I’m looking for info on valve replacement for my mother who has other health isssues. Diabetic, triple by pass previously, pacemaker, congestive heart failure, many broken bones from falling, and NO muscle tone. We are meeting with her cardioligist on Aug. 18th 2009 and am hoping to be more educated on making some hard decisions. I don’t have all the info we need yet as the will be doing a procedure that involves going down her throat to look at the heart and then with those results we have to decide on the valve replacement surgery.

    Thank you for your time
    Sincerely,
    Donna

  • D-nizzle

    hey everyone , i had aortic valve replacment 2 years ago, im 28 and had it at 26, i had the st jude valve and it works great, the clicking sometimes bothers me but thats it….good luck everyone….if u have any questions just ask…

  • Shawn Boice

    Hi just returned home from seeing my oncologist. I’m in complete recovery from cancer. However, I was diagnosed 6 years ago with moderate aortic stenosis. I told my oncologist that I had just completed the 200 mile Seattle to Portland Bike Ride. Although I was sore afterwards, my breathing was okay except on steep hills. I currently run 5 miles easily. He said I was “crazy” to be doing this, although my cardiologist said I could continue to exercise until I get extremely short of breath. My oncologist said I need a second opinion and that he personally would not recommend that I continue this “extreme” exercise.

    I’m afraid if I have a valve replacement, I won’t be able to continue to do what I’m doing. I’m afraid. I survived cancer three times and don’t want to drop dead because I’m working out with moderate stenosis. Can they fix it with minimally invasive surgery? Will I be able to exercise better AFTER it is done? Any comments or advice welcome. If you know of a good doc in Seattle, let me know.

  • Kevin

    Aaron. I, like you, am an active father of 2 boys and I am 39 years old. I had aortic value replacement surgery 10/27/08. I was active and in good shape prior to the procedure. I am just shy of 10 months from surgery and I am as active or more active that prior to. I went to cardiac rehab and took it as a religion ! I have always worked out, and have been back at the gym 5 days a week since the 3 month mark. I was playing softball, golf biking and swimming at 6 months, and have virtually no limitations. I went mountain biking yesterday and had not struggles.

    I have a mechanical valve so I do have to avoid really really heavy lifting, but other than that I would say there are no limitations once you are healed. My life is back to normal and I am enjoying everything I did before and then some.

    Hope this helps,

    Best of luck to you.

    Kevin

  • Ron

    Oh man, I am SO happy to have stumbled on this blog!! I am driving myself and my doctors wild wanting to get back to the gym, though still recovering (7th week) from aortic value replacement and open heart.
    I’m 63 in terrific health, very active (until now) and a personal trainer as well as holding down a geek job at at one of the largest companies in CA.
    There was no warning and no one picked it up that I had end game stenosis brewing until I got up from the leg press after pushing about 700# and suddenly couldn’t breathe on vacation during Thanksgiving.
    Anyway, doctor just cleared me to go back to the gym on my “own recognizance” (since I’m supposed to know what I’m doing). I know I have to be careful and may not do anything that involves pushing (and involves the sternum) until month 3. Still have a little clicking at the top of the sternum, so it must be still knitting. Annoying.
    Going to go back and read everything here! Thank you for starting this blog, man!!

    Ron

  • Cathy Morris

    Is it just the St. Jude aortic valve that ticks so loudly? Or do other composite types do the same. I’m 2 years now and still find the ticking annoying. Good info here…I was worried that too much cardio…where your heart really gets a work out would be stressing the valve but if you guys can do marathons I guess my elyptical machine isn’t going to kill me!

  • Mark Dickinson

    Can you explain Atrial Tricuspid Valve Repair or replacement. I was born with Tetralogy Of Fallot and have had a Waterston-Cooley Shunt Procedure, Aortic Stem rebuild and a porcine patch between the Atrium and ventricle. Need Pulmonary Valve replacement and a fix of the Atrial Tricuspid Valve. It will be done at U.C. San Francisco Hospital by Dr. Anthony Azakie an expert in complex congenital heart defects.

  • Jim Sempek

    I too had aortic valve heart surgery. I am in my 7th week of rehab and am doing very well. The key to dealing with heart surgery is to remain positive that evrything will be fine and you can work your way to a better life. I am an avid fly Fisherman and a duffer when it comes to golf and I truely enjoy the game.
    My heart surgery went well and the recovery is long but has a purpose. That sternum needs 12 weeks to repair itself and heal as it should. After 12 weeks so my doctor says, start with the short game. Your chest will tell you what your limitations are but most important you need to keep your way of thinking absolutely positive. I am really looking forward to being even better on the golf course once the body is ready. I do plan on some guided therapy. I even quit smoking after 55 years of it. My viens are in good shape and my heart is ready. By the way, I am a very active 72 year old living in south eastern Idaho. So with all that, don’t let the surgery get you down because you will be better…Jim

  • raza

    I m 62 years of good physic,admitted in hospitol after check up process on 14th april 2010 n got open heart sugeory next day,shoud be mentioned nthat it was my 2nd (Re-do) case,my family members as will as myself were scared,but my surgeon Mr.Solat Fatmi,encouged me ,actually Mr.Fatmi is not only axpert in his field but also a good humanbeing .I released from hospitol 2 day before the spacific period of 8 days because i was improving faster than the others,after arriving home I started walking which has been increased gradually now i m walking near t 7 k.m daily regullarly, I cant miss my walking at any rate,i have imroved a lot,and there is nothing wrong i feel.

  • Lloyd Michael

    Had my valve replaced on Oct. 19. I had known for 20 years that this was coming, but “balooning” of aorta artery made it come much quicker than expected. At age 62 I opted for a Bovine tissue valve.
    Surgery and recovery have gone well. Am now in 3rd week of cardiac rehab. It is something that should be done as it allows you to know what exercise you should be doing and not do too much. Looking forward to spending time with grandson and back to playing golf as I feel I now have received a 2nd chance.
    Lloyd Michael

  • Maryann

    I had mitral valve repair April 13, 2009. I STILL have shortness of breath, well I’m not really sure if that’s what it is – I have trouble sort of “catching my breath” or taking a deep breath(sometimes I have to bend over to take a quality breath). I don’t have any problems exercising and really never did. I had my first annual checkup last May – echocardiogram was fine, lungs are fine. I’m worried another valve has crapped out on me. Surely they would have noticed???? I guess my question is, could this be a lifelong thing that I will just have to get used to? Perhaps it’s menopause? Perhaps it’s anxiety? Am I more at risk for further valve disease since my mitral valve went bad on me? Sorry for so many questions, but thanks in advance.

  • will

    ok i have been told during cardio rehab, i cant lift more than my own body weight, as it creats a lot of pressure on the aorta, in turn putting me at risk of postage stamp type ripping. also not to run and stuff, i asked my cardiologist about the issue and the only thing he said was domenic gives good advice..what gives i have run a few times not crazy running but 200yards anyway….i want to be able to lift moire than my own weight..i am 30 lbs heavier than before surgury so i am working on the 200lb mark i am 184 now. is there truth to this? i am now a week awys from initial diagnosis of the endocarditus, and itt will be a year since surgury at the end of august. thanks

  • Phil Ackerman

    I had mitrsl valve surgery almost 2 years ago. I felt good as could be expected following my surgery. My mitral valve was repaired and I also had one artery bypassed. Rcently I have felt extremely tired and my endurance has been getting worse. I have lost my appetite but try to get on withmy life as best I can. The last work up I had about 6 months ago was normal and the doctor was very encouraging. Could this be all in my head? I don’t want people to think I am a hypocondriac so I have kept these symtoms to myself. I have a treadmill in my basement and have been able to work out with out any side effects. Lately, however, I start to perspire during a workout much more than what I would consider normal and in fact will also perspire at the least amount of exertion. Could my mitral valve be malfunctioning again? I feel a tightness in my chest not like a heart attack but like there could be scar tissue wrapped around my heart. What are your thoughts.

  • Nicole

    my brother survived an emergency aortic dissection. He is still in ICU and making small steps in the right direction slowly. They woke him up to test taking out the breathing tube and I dont think he recognized us. It was very scary and any books or intel you could suggest to get us prepared for this recovery process would be appreciated.

  • Phil

    When I had my Open Heart Surgery it took me 4 days to wake up. I had what was called encepalapathy. They think and air bubble went to my brain while I was on the Heart Lung By Pass machine. Then after the 4 th day I finally woke up and besides being somewhat confused I eventually came out of it. I still have issues with my short term memory and I forget things but for the most part I am doing well. Feel free to ask any additional questions.

  • Ron Sardanopoli

    I’m 62 years young and I was an active person before my surgery, and I plan on being an active person after surgery. Now that I’m retired. I play in a competitive softball league, ride my motorcycle to the games, weight lifted 3 times a week. I was diagnosed with a bicuspid stenosis aorta valve that needed to be replaced while I was in the army in 2001. I retired from the military in 2004 and visited a cardiologist once a year. My visits to the cardiologist went to every 6 months because the aorta blood flow diminished to 0.7. I was feeling the aortic valve problem with various episode of feeling dizzy when I played softball. My surgeon informed me that I need to get it replace. I was surprised to find out that my catherazation found 5 artery blockages from 50 to 80 percent. The surgeon felt that if he was going to open up my chest he would do a full overhaul (5 bipasses) so he didn’t have to go back in later in life. My surgery was November 9 2012, and I’m approaching my 3rd month on February 9th since the surgery. I am scheduled to begin cardio rehab Feb 13, (a litlle late) due to an administrative mix up, but I am a self motivated individual as I am walking a brisk 30 minutes a day, everyday. All of my medical concerns that I felt up until this point had gone away. My major concern was losing my voice for two months. I was told that the breathing tubes must have injured my vocal chords on insertion. Usually this goes away after two weeks, mined lasted 2 months. But the good news is my voice is back (feel sorry for my wife :). I feel great, and can’t wait until I get to that 100 percent point of feeling better than ever. Ron

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