Even With A Crooked Scar, Sandy Is Extremely Thankful

I just received an interesting email from Sandy which addresses a key point and warning for patients – especially women. That said, I thought you might like to learn more about Sandy’s heart valve surgery experience. Here is what she wrote to me:

Dear Adam,

I am a 52-year old female. I had a mitral valve prolapse / heart murmur for 10+ years. So you know, I was never told I might need surgery someday. However, after my annual echocardiogram, the cardiologist informed me that I had severe regurgitation and an enlarged heart. At the time, my only symptom was fatigue.

Crooked Open Heart Surgery Scar
Crooked Open Heart Surgery Scar

Well… I am extremely thankful and truly overflowing with gratitude that my doctors diagnosed my condition. My valve was repaired without any complications and I feel like I have a new heart!

However…

I do have one small complaint that serves as a reminder of the fact that 10 months ago I was in an operating room with my mind blank and my chest opened up. My scar is crooked!

I am average size and fairly small boned. I am not overly vain and not extremely busty. However, when I look at my scar in the mirror I have a sense of, “Why wasn’t my surgeon more careful with the incision?” and “My surgeon does this for a living for Pete’s sake… Why wouldn’t he perfect that part of the operation?”

I certainly don’t mean to sound ungrateful, or anything of the kind. Every day, I give thanks for my new “lease” on life. I am writing only so you could perhaps let other women know that this is something they may want to discuss with their surgeon ahead of time.

In the scheme of things, my post-op scar was the last thought on my mind prior to surgery – but it may have made a difference if it was discussed. Who would have thought that I, the patient, needed to explicitly discuss this with my surgeon?

Once again Adam, my appreciation to you for all that you do. Thank you for your heart valve surgery book. It was of immense value to me in preparing for mitral valve surgery.

Sandy

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.

  • Lucy grubbs

    I just had surgery a month ago I also noted a little curve to mine by it is straigtenimg out. I was lucky my scar is a littl less then 3 inches. I’m assuming it is an anatomical reason fir the scar

  • Glenda

    I have a small mole between my breasts. All the women in the family have it. It was never discussed. It was the last thing on my mind. My husband pointed out to me that Dr. Chan cut around it. He didnt have too but I he did. Im glad he did it that way. I guess he took time to think about and made the decision to “save” it.

  • Barry Gordon

    I am a candidate for an Aortic Valve replacement. It will probably be done next year. I had a triple bypass several years ago and had the same question about my “Scar” as Sandy. I suggested (after the operation) that there should be an option to schedule a plastic surgeon (naturally at extra cost as it is a business) to do a “better job” on the final incision closure. I will say though that after three years it is a very faint line

  • Rosemary Geraci

    I understand totally how she feels! I’m 20 years older, but my scar is hideous, and I’m ashamed for my husband to have to look at it. He is more than kind, but I still feel awful–mutilated.

    My wonderful cardiologist told me it’s just the type of skin I have, but if it bothers me so much he’d send me to a plastic surgeon. Believe me, if I were younger I would have been there a year ago. My surgery was in June, 2008, and the incision is still red, and protrudes.

    I never thought to ask my surgeon about it pre-surgery. I saw the pictures on this site and assumed I’d look the same. Everyone should ask before surgery!

  • Rosie

    My mitral valve was replaced 14 months ago. I am just now getting over chest soreness. My 7 inch scar is crooked, my nose is crooked, but my heart is healthy. I am very thankful as I know you are just to be healthy again!

  • Marilyn

    I am a 53 year old woman who had aortic valve replacement on Sept 16 2009. I received a mechanical valve. I too have a crooked scar! I found if I stand crooked my scar is perfectly straight! I must have not been straightened out on the operating table. I have a feeling it is not the surgeon that positions us. Oh well! Not many will see enough to know unless I tell them!

  • M.Montgomery

    I also have the same crooked scar and often wondered why the surgeon did it also? But, it is true in the scheme of things it is not really that important.
    I totally understand her feelings about this and share the same.

  • Cindy

    I have scoliosis & if I stand with arms up & out to the side my scar is absolutely straight. When my arms are at my side my scar is straight until about the deep V in a bra, then takes a hard left turn :) I’m going to be 57 in Jan. Not planning any 2 piece bathing suits!! So small price to pay!! Surgery was last Feb. 3, Dr. Adams had a plastic surgeon close from the inside out … no staples, glue, stitches visable. Scar is barely noticeable now except for a tiny area which is covered by band of bra. Another WONDERFUL aspect of Dr. Adam’s team. I did not even have to request the plastic surgeon closure … just done! And I had a chest x-ray recently for another situation & the way the sternum is wired together … AMAZING!! Looks like it was done on an overlock sewing machine!!!

  • Debbi Rose

    I had an aortic valve replacement 16 months ago. I have a keloid scar which looks like a nine inch angry earthworm…raised, red and very tender. This has to do with my skin type and the way I scar. I am told a plastic surgeon can help. My scar is slightly crooked, but my valve and quality of life far outweigh any cosmetic issue. I am blessed. I’ve named my scar Herman. I’m happy to share my life with him…what a miracle I’ve experienced!

  • Steve McDonald

    I have to say my scare is straight and unbelieveably thin. I had it done at Mayo and have had serveral people coment on how nice it looks. You would almost think they used a razor blade to cut the skin. Being a guy, I didn’t care how it looked, but from a womens point of view I would be alittle P.O. ‘d also. I know they used glue to close it up , so maybe this had something to do with how nice it looks.

    AVR, single by-pass 11/19/09
    Carbo medics mechanical
    Dr. Suri
    Mayo Clinic

  • Marny

    your scar is not crooked. Mine is. I had it done when I was a baby and when I had my second sergery 8 months ago, my surgeon told me that my scar was crooked. The only thing I can think of for it to be crooked is that the surgeon tries to hide the scar in the boobs. But mine starts out crooked, which i kinda like because V neck shirts you can’t see my scar. Well you are not the only one out there with at crooked scar.

  • Cheryl

    Hi Sandy
    I had my surgery Oct 1/ 09 and my scar is positioned exactly the same as yours. I didn’t ask but I wondered if the doctor thought this was cosmetically a good place. Perhaps the doctor was trying to hide the incision somewhat under the breast. I feel the scar will eventually fade and honestly, I don’t really care. A scar is a small price to pay for good health. I figure I was glued together as there isn’t one stitch mark. Cheryl

  • vicki

    My surgery was 11 months ago. Like Glenda, I also have a tiny mole between my breasts. I had discussed this with my surgeon and he said it wouldn’t be a problem cutting around it, but for me to remind him about it. My thought was, I’d be out cold, how am I supposed to remind you? My scar is fairly straight except for just a tiny “detour” around the mole. Since I’m small breasted, both my mom & brother say that it looks like I now have cleavage! Ha!

  • Bill

    Sandy. I had my mitral valve repaired at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NYC by Dr. Craig Smith about 7 months ago. As a guy, I didn’t care about the scaring, but asked for minimal invasive surgery to expedite recovery. My scar is about 4″ long, just under the right breast. In the procedure the ribs on my right side were separated to gain access to the heart, so my chest was not cracked. If the doctor is trained in the procedure and the patient is a candidate, it would seem to be a good choice for women facing mitral valve surgery.

  • Paige

    Hi Sandy,
    I can appreciate your feelings about the scar. I, too, have an 11 inch crooked scar after aortic valve replacement 9 months ago. And it is a keloid because of my light complexion, blue eyes, etc. I’m told that is a genetic trait. The scar is crooked about the cleavage line and turns into a lump further down. However, at 65, that is the least of my concerns! I’m just as grateful as you to have had the surgery and have a full life ahead.
    God bless all of us “crooked” women!

    Paige

  • Cindy McGinn

    Hi Sandy,
    I’m pretty much the same as Debbi Rose and Paige; crooked and Keloid. I was a little concerned about wearing my V-Neck and scooped neckline tops and asked my family if they thought seeing it would make people uncomfortable. Boy did my daughter lay into me. She told me that I shouldn’t be worried about that and that I should be comfortable in my own skin. She told me that every day when I see that scar I should remember that I am a survivor and stronger and healthier for the journey. It is part of who I am and I should wear my various necklines with pride. Well, I did have pride; in the fact that she is a smart young woman!

  • Micki

    Hi, Sandy!! I had my surgery 6 months ago. While my scar is somewhat crooked, I must admit it is “fading” very nicely. My surgeon used glue to put me back together, never put any dressing on it, and told me not to put any creams, ointments or anything. Like some of the others, I look at my scar with gratitude. From day 1, I was never embarassed to let it show. I must also admit, that my scar for my defibrillator is much more predominant, it was stitched together and is more red and raised. That minor surgery was performed a week after my open heart sugery, which was for the replacement of a bicuspid aortic valve and the repair of the aorta from a 5.5cm aneurysm in the ascending aorta. I consider myself lucky and will celebrate my “other” birthday” on June 1st each year. I consider my defibrillator, which was a total surprise, to be my guardian angel.

  • Thalia Faunt

    Thanks so much for this feedback it is a great insight into what I have in store. I am having the Ross Procedure performed for Aortic Stenosis on 2 March 2010 at the Epworth Private Hospital, Richmond, Melbourne, Australia by a Dr Peter Skillington. I am intending on discussing the scarring topic with him on 11 Feb as I have been concerned of what sort of scar I will end up with. I am 39 yr old. Thalia

  • Richard Holoubek

    I had an AVR in February this year. First of all… I am very graeful the procedure went as well as it did. It went so well for me that it was like having “minor” surgery. My scar is approx. 7″-8″ Funny thing is it is very narrow and light in color at the top three inches and then it gets thick (approx. 1/8″ – 1/4′ wide) and ruby red for the next 4″ down. I’ve been putting Mederma cream on it. I’m not sure if it’s the cream or the time since my surgery that is causing it to fade. On occassion it itches when the weather is about to change! It’s a real life barometer!
    Sandy… you look marvelous! No kidding… In fact, I thought your photo was a little sexy!… Shame on me!

  • Kerrigan

    I asked about it prior to the surgery and was told they did a “plastic surgery close” which ended up great. No stitchholes, just a couple of small lumps at the bottom of the scar which are getting smaller. The daily use of Mederma for the past year has helped a lot I think.

  • Katie

    I had a Mitral valve repair when I was 30. As you can imagine the scar was an issue of mine (particularly being single!) however I was told where it would go from and to. After the operation the surgeon apologised that he had to go in higher than previously thought yet the cardiologist who stitched me up came in to admire his handy work on a daily basis. I don’t think the surgeon had anything to apologise for, he had a job to do and he fixed what mattered. I have since had the scar opened up twice, once at the top and the other time slightly lower and now it is not quite as neat as it was. At the top there are now two lines, which is the part most people see. I personally think that it makes a great talking point. I work in a primary school and the children are often asking me ‘What’s that?’ I’m just pleased when people ask rather than stare! Any dates I have been on- don’t seem to have been put off by it just find it an interesting topic. It’s now part of who we are!

  • James Dow

    Dear Carol,

    Please do not be concerned about your scar. Apply Mederma according to directions. Thank God you have added years to your life span.

    For your information, in my humble opinion, your incision could have been done more neatly, however, it is not as bad as you imagine. Cosmetics are important, but they are the least important aspect of open heart surgery according to experts.

    Now then, you did not say whether you are a single woman, or married. Taking that into account, let me just add that I find you quite attractive in spite of the scar.
    I would have apprciated it if I could have seen a more clinical photograph (no bra).

    Keep on ticking.

    Jim

  • jeff stoveken

    i had my surgery almost 15 months ago and i had to laugh at debbie roses’ comment. my scar sounds exactly the same ! i also wonder if the keloids are also the wires that are wrapped. i heard that they can stick out further on some people. i wonder if my scar will ever be a faint line as some have described here. does anyone still have alot of sensitivity with their scarring? somedays mine hurts to the touch. jeff jeffstoveken@yahoo.com for any questions or comments

  • neil kortie

    Oh Sandy,

    I feel your pain and could not agree more. I too have crooked scar. I even thought maybe I should call the surgeon and ask if that was his artistic signature, perhaps it was a point of pride to have an original piece of art work signed with a crooked scar. That way everyone would know that this was a valve replacement done by the great Dr. Kirschner. When I saw other patients in cardio rehab my hopes of a signed artistic scar were all gone as they all had perfectly straight scars. Oh well, next time I’ll get a straight edge and mark it out myself. I guess it’s the job on inside that really matters, and that job was done very well.

  • Kelli

    I am now 24. My first surgery (ASD Repair) was 22 years ago, my second (Danielson Procedure in attempt to correct Tricuspid Valve and regurgitation) 1 year ago. Since I had grown up with the originaly scar it was just part of my body that I was used to being there. Not that I really liked it but it had healed and faded well and didn’t bother me. SUprisingly, as a young female I don’t remember ever being self conscious about it. It wasn’t until prior to meeting with my surgern for consult that I realized how crooked it was. At this point I decided to request that he follow the original scar if possible, otherwise I was going to end up with a something looking like a D on my chest. He kind of laughed with me at my request but in the end was able to do just that. A year latter my new crooked scar is only faintly pink mainly at the top and bottom.

  • Alice

    I had my first surgery in 1993 when I was 31–to repair a sub-aortic membrane. I’m getting close to a time when I will have to have AVR. My surgery was done at Univ. Pennsylvnia. My scar is not so bad but there is a huge hard knot at the bottom. When I was younger (and thinner!) the knot was so prominent it was immediately noticeable in a swimsuit. It also rubs against an underwire bra. Thank goodness for Victoria’s Secret Angel bras! Thanks for mentioning this Carol as I have been embarrassed to discuss it with my new surgeon.

  • Patricia Shabel

    Just like Bill, I just had mitral valve repair surgery done minimally invasively by Dr. Alfredo Trento at Cedars Sinai (he was Adam’s other option) on December 15th, 2009 (6 weeks ago). I was born with mitral valve regurgitation, an enlarged heart, and a heart murmur, and at 44 years old, I just had the surgery, which went amazingly well. For the 1st time in my entire life, I have a normal heartbeat and don’t feel my heart beating all the time, which I felt throughout my life. I feel a clarity and alertness and ability to focus (I thought I was ADHD for my whole life but was told it was simply not enough blood to my brain!) that I have never experienced before. I’m so grateful to have had this done and fully corrected and no longer have a leak! It’s such a miracle!

    Now that being said, Dr. Trento went through the main part of the underside of my breast, not my chest as I had thought we would, because as a 44 year old woman, my breasts have dropped a bit due to gravity and age and he wanted to make sure he was able to get into my chest properly and at the correct angle. As a result, my right breast that he went through is smaller and a little differently shaped than my left one, which I didn’t notice until a week after the surgery (too many drugs!). I was told that it will go back to it’s original shape to match the other one, but I don’t think it will. ALSO, the scar under my breast is about 4 – 5 inches long and not the straightest.

    Even though it is not as I expected, I have to remember that I am grateful to have a fully operational heart, and I’m not exhausted, dizzy, lightheaded, and short of breath the way I have been for so long. I had no idea how bad my health was and for so many years until after the surgery. I guess if I need to have a scar and my breasts are not identical, I can live with that for now. I am grateful to be alive (not everyone makes it through the surgery–I just found out that Rodney Dangerfield died from complications to heart replacement surgery). As I recover more each day, I also see that I have been given a 2nd chance on life!

    I am single, but if the man I want to be with can’t deal with a scar and a difference between my 2 breasts, then he isn’t the kind of man I want to be with. I wish it came out perfectly, but my heart valve came out perfectly and THAT’S the most important thing!! It wouldn’t matter about my breasts if my heart wasn’t working, and I have to keep it all in perspective.

    Thank you, Adam, for all of your work in this area, your book, and your commitment to people being educated about heart valve surgery! It helped me SO MUCH in making decisions about where to have the surgery done and what to look for and what to expect. I am so grateful to you! Thank you!

  • jeff stoveken

    patricia, well said! whether you are a guy or girl,its still a scar. but for me it stands for an accomplishment, life! i know some people may care and some people dont. mine has some large keloids and ive seen children staring at me on the beach at times(at first i wondered why, because i often forget about it unless im undressing)but it does remind me that its over with.i was told id need surgery eventually and that was a tough thing to keep in the back of my mind.but i think other people accept our scars just as they would accept birthmarks and any other skin marking. any questions or comments ,feel free to email. jeffstoveken@yahoo.com

  • Coco

    I apologize if I sound insensitive but my initial reaction to Sandy’s letter was disbelief. I myself has had corrective heart surgery and a long scar centred down my chest, I also have a scar that starts at my chest and curves right round to the centre of my back. I am an 18 year old woman, and whilst I do have body insecurities (such as every teenager does) my scar has never ever been one of them!!!

    My scar is keloid and much more crooked than the women featured in the photo above. I honestly believe that it is other peoples negative opinion on their own scar insecurities that make others more weary of their own scar, the fact is its a scar, a permanent reminder of a big chapter of your life, its not hideous and its part of your character build.

    Please worry about much more important things in your life such as your health, which need I remind you is the sole reason for having that scar, others aren’t so lucky to have another chance, crooked scar and all!!!

  • Corinne

    I had a mitral valve repair done here in Canada in Dec 2007. The incision is straight and the stitches were beautiful, but I developed a raised, red, sensitive keloid scar that ended up about four times wider than the way the incision looked immediately post surgery. Just my luck, it was red and bumpy at the top, where it shows and fades away to pale white and thin at the bottom. My GP sent me to a dermatologist who injected it 3 different times with cortisone. It took more than 18 months, but is is now pretty flat and has faded a bit. It will never disappear the way the rest of scar did, but it is now much more manageable. I take care with necklines on tops I purchase, and if a neckline will let the scar peek, I use a heavy pancake makeup designed to help cover scars called Cover FX, which the dermatologist recommended. Now my big worry is finding a swimsuit that covers it, because I am afraid that it might be further damaged by sun exposure.

  • Tracy

    I am 49 years old and was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in March of this year. I had my second surgery 3 weeks ago. The first was in April. My first surgeon used a relatively new technique going through my lower breast. While this left no visible scar it was Very painful. My recent surgeon performed a sternotomy and like many others the scar is crooked. The Dr. explained this is due to the protective film they used to cover me which shifted the skin as it was applied. I am so grateful for the success of the surgery and have no real concerns about the crooked scar. I do wish I could find a swimsuit that would cover the scar as I do not want to darken it with sun. All of that is minor as I am grateful to be restored to a healthy, active life!!!

  • Susan

    Be grateful you are alive. Sad that aesthetics mean so much to some people.

  • Jacqualine-Marie

    People’s opinions are fascinating. For those of us who have had this surgery, perhaps what we can learn besides being grateful for life, is to not judge anyone. I am not a vain person but I do like looking my best. There’s a difference. I asked all the right questions – knowing for 40 + years that I would eventually need this surgery (bi-cuspid aortic valve with severe stenosis) and did more than my share of research. I’ve had surgery before and always healed perfectly. I am obviously utterly grateful to be alive at the at of 68 I’m youthful, happy, etc. But I was not prepared for a severely keloided and crooked scar (worse than most, apparently) and little was discussed prior to surgery about this because I’ve never developed a keloid. Ultimately, I don’t care about the scar. I don’t hide it. I ignore it as much as possible, however, it burns, itches and stings much of the time. It causes unplanned for discomfort. If someone could fix it I would certainly do what it takes. But so far, I seem to be stuck with it. Sandy, in the photo, has the right to be unhappy with her scar, it doesn’ t make her ungrateful. I was of the impression that sites such as this one were to provide information on all aspects of one’s particular health issue. Scars are an aspect of surgery and should be discussed without assuming someone is shallow for inquiring. If these sorts of issues can not be addressed then it removes the rights of each patient to participate in their own health care.

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