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“How Long To Feel Like ‘You’ Again After Heart Valve Surgery?” Asks Patricia

Posted by Adam Pick on July 25th, 2010

Patricia just sent me an interesting question about heart valve surgery recovery.

She writes, “Adam – I had mitral valve repair via the Da Vinci robot on December 15th, 2009. For the 1st time in my life, I have a fully functioning heart with NO murmur!  I have been recuperating for the last 6 months and I am getting progressively better, a little at a time. My question to you is this:  How long did it take for you to fully feel like “YOU” again?  It has been 6 months, and I still don’t feel 100% yet. Thanks, Patricia.”

Patricia raises a great question that is relatively common among recovering patients. In fact, I just opened two other emails – from Alex and Barbara – that ask similar questions using different words. Their questions were, “When will I be my old self again?” and “Why isn’t my recovery going faster?”

In responding to these types of questions, I gently remind patients that healing is a personal process. Regardless of whether you had a median sternotomy or a minimally invasive operation (mini-sternotomy or mini-thoracotomy), please remember that our bodies are unique and recover at different rates.

I offer this thought for two reasons… First, as I personally discovered, my aortic valve replacement recovery was much longer than the initial estimate of 6-8 weeks provided by certain members of my medical team. Second, my patient research continues to show that perceived recovery times are all over the map. Some patients tell me they are 100% in six weeks. Other patients tell me it took 18 months until they felt their recovery was complete. For example, consider the chart below. It shows the time in which a select group of patients returned to work varied between 3 and 15+ weeks.

Survey About Returning To Work After Heart Surgery

Given the wide range of responses to this question and other research, I would refrain from offering Patricia (or anyone) an explicit timetable to feel “fully recovered”.

There is one more point I would share with Patricia…  Beyond the physical recovery that most patients immediately desire following surgery, I believe more awareness should be placed on the psychological needs of the patient during recovery.

The common cliche we all know is “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind”. In the context of heart surgery recovery, I think we should also consider the reverse of that cliche, “Healthy Mind, Healthy Body”. As many patients will tell you, heart surgery can be a physical and emotional roller coaster. (Please, please, please don’t miss the second part of that sentence which focuses on our emotions.)

It’s for these reasons that I often remind patients to include a structured cardiac rehabilitation program during recovery. Although studies continue to suggest that cardiac rehab remains under-utilized, the physical, social and emotional value of these classes is priceless.

In closing, I’ll offer you a wonderful quote from Kathy Benson, a former patient from Minnesota. In a memorable note to me, Kathy wrote…

Kathy Benson - Former Heart Valve Surgery PatientKathy Benson – Heart Valve Surgery Patient (Minnesota)

Don’t gauge your surgery and recovery on others. Each surgery is unique and each person will handle things in a different manner. It seems patients strive to become normal as fast as they can. What is normal? We will forever be heart surgery patients. — Kathy Benson

I hope this helps Patricia (and perhaps you) understand some of my ideas and patient research about recovering from heart surgery.

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.

 


Steve Dubay says on July 25th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Quadruple by-pass in 1997, Aortic valve replacement in 2009; sternum broken BOTH TIMES, wired together both times, but a non-metallic “shield” used in the 2009 procedure. With Shield in place, recovery MUCH easier – the second operation! BTW, same surgeon, same hospital for both, cost of second procedure (all costs) was $81,000; first one was $64,000. Had wife’s work insurance for the first one – my part was approx. $14,000; have not paid anybody ANYTHING for second operation – I had Medicare for the second one. Say what you want about the weaknesses and pitfalls of Medicare…you won’t hear it from me! Both recoveries were accompanied by a formal Cardiac Rehab Program (Hospital-based, both at the same hospital, 12 years apart!) Was unemployed during first surgery, went back to work(commercial bus driver for a tour company) four weeks after second surgery.

 


Nancy Frazee says on July 25th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

It took me one year to feel 100%. I did not have card. rehab and feel that I should have, as my legs are weakened and I do not have the energy that I had prior to my aortic stenosis. I am researching gyms and exercise programs now.
During a recent GP check-up, the Dr. said that he could hear a heart murmor,but said it was not anything to worry about. My severe stenosis was diagnosed by hearing a very loud change in a heart murmor. I am confused!!

Nancy

 


Sandy says on July 25th, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Hello All,
I am a 40 year old ICU nurse who also underwent an emergent CABG x 1 for a rare coronary artery anomaly on March 25, 2010. Prior to experiencing open heart surgery myself I had worked in a cardiac ICU for almost 15 years. Well, I can tell you there are many different rates of recovery, but what I’ve heard from my physicians and most patients is it takes at least a year to feel back to normal. I am now almost 4 1/2 months out and doing very well. I’ve been exercising since the day I got home (initially walking, then progressive cardio at the gym once I could drive 6 weeks post-op). While I am doing very well overall, I still have days where I’m extra tired and just need to take it easy. I still have scar pain but my sternum has healed and my physicians have told me not to resume weight lifting until I am free of all sternal pain. If anything, I have tried to do too much too early (I was able to do 60 pushups last week and 18 burpees but was very sore for 2 days after that at my incisional site). I am able to do 45 min of cardio most days before work and can now get through a 12 hour shift in the ICU and feel pretty good after. That being said, I’m sure it will be months before I completely forget that I had a sternal incision and I’m adjusted to all the weird sensations that one experiences after this major surgery. I’m on a medication regimen I now tolerate well but battled with orthostatic hypotension in the first weeks at home. For those about to undergo this surgery, just take it one day at a time…every week gets a little better!

 


MJ Samer says on July 25th, 2010 at 10:36 pm

I agree with all above comments. Take it one day at a time; every one is different, etc. I had tricuspid valve replacement 10/23/09 (3rd open heart surgery at age 63) and it was 8 or 9 weeks before the breast bone pain was mostly gone and another month or so before I had my energy level back. I also went through Cardiac Rehab. 3 months after surgery (only 4 weeks of CR –12 sessions) but it was enough to help get me back on track. It helps to be in pretty good shape going into surgery, too. An ICU nurse told my husband he saw big differences in recovery in patients who were in relatively good shape going into surgery like I was compared to “couch potato” patients. I walk or bike ride about 4 or 5 times/week and am back at work (teach part-time) and feel mostly like my old self now. (But I wouldn’t attempt push-ups like one of the others mentioned!! ) Be kind to yourself — and rest when you need to. Having said all that, if you really feel you aren’t doing as well as you should be at this point in the recovery, see your cardiologist…

 


George Trevor says on July 25th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Very interesting post. I am 5 months post AVR, 57 year old male. The past month I have finally said to those who ask that I feel 100% recovered. When I say that I am talking about the physical part. I agree with Patricia, we will always be heart surgery patients. Everyone is different. I excercise like I did before but I now always wear my heart monitor and check it every 5 minutes. At night you lay in bed feeling your scar and thinking about that first month where you worried about complications. Adam is right, the emotional part is what we and the doctors don’t understand fully. But as Adam says we keep on ticking.

 


Brian Arrington says on July 26th, 2010 at 6:58 am

I’ll throw a little curve into the problem.
I had Aortic Valve replacement on 7-13-09. I was back playing golf three weeks later. Six weeks after that I was back in surgery having fluid removed from around my heart (it happens, but percentage are low). Then 60 days later I was back having a pericardial sac removed due to fluid buildup.
While the incidence of fluid buildup is not abnormal it really slowed down my return to being as I was pre surgery.
The interesting thing is it took me longer to recover from the last surgery than it did the first just higlighting the differences between recovery rates.
Am just now really feeling as if things are back to normal.

 


Kerrigan says on July 26th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

The lasting effect of my surgery has been the constant lack of endurance. My docs all say, “it’s the blood pressure medication you must take.”
So I live with it.
My heart beat does not get revved up at all so it doesn’t catch up with the effort of climbing a hill etc.
There may be other options, but both the doc and the cardio folks say “this is the one you should be taking.”

 


Cindy says on July 26th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I too have a lack of endurance, especially in the heat or if walking uphill. I know it is the blood pressure medication. I am on such a low dose, but still it causes me to see white spots when I go up hills on my walks. There is no murmur ….. I’d like to have more endurance!! My surgery was Feb. 09

 


Dave Metrano says on July 26th, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Adam,

3 mos. after my valve replacement, I feel “110%”. I know a lot of my recovery had to do with my physical condition before the surgery. On the police department, I was known as a “physical fitness freak”. After 8 weeks (with my doctors blessing” I was walking 2 to 4 miles a day. I just came back from my spinning class and have even started to get involved with my weight lifiting routine.

If i could give anybody any advice before surgery, it would be quit smoking and get in the best shape you can.

 


Andrew Wrigley says on July 27th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I took twice as long at everything. Twice as long in Intensive Care, twice as long in the High Observation Unit. Twice as long to leave hospital. Why? No idea, but I suspect two factors: One the damage and deterioration before surgery (I had endocarditis on my Mitral valve), so had been in hospital for two months before the surgery. The other is the damage done during surgery. That will always differ. Then of course, there is the third factor of how quickly you heal. We are all different.

Now, just over a year after the surgery, I am playing tennis twice a week and walking ten miles once a week. On average, I walk 6 kilometres per day. So endurance is not a problem.

What is a problem is what Kerrigan put very well: My heart doesn’t “catch up” with sudden exertions like walking up a hill. But it is getting better. Slowly.

What is great is the lack of Atrial Fibrillations (they did a Maze procedure on me).

As to getting back to work, it took a long time. I would say some of it was emotional: my work is either intense (software design consultancy) or stressfull (property management with a dysfunctional family as partners).

But not all was bad. At the ripe old age of 49, I got married, 5 months after the surgery. I remember waking up in the ICU unit, hearing the mechanical valve clicking and thinking “Oh, sugar, the repair didn’t work”. Then I opened my eyes and saw Helen and I will remember it as one of the happiest moments of my life.

Let there be light.

 


Andrew Wrigley says on July 27th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

The other issue I have is stiffness. The operation left me with some sore vertebrae in the cervical region of my spine (probably due to hours on my back and not enough neck support.

But also general stiffness and, urm, unsuppleness. Am considering taking up yoga

 


Mary Pfister says on July 29th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I am 3 months out of aortic valve replacement and one by-pass. I had open heart surgery and I am presently completing cardiac rehab and I am 69 years old. I feel great with the exception of pain and neuralgia along the incision. Has anyone else experienced this and how long does the neuralgia last?

 


Jocelyn says on July 29th, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I am 7 months out of mitral valve repair and have just started jogging again. I’m actually training for a 5K next month. I’ve also started Pilates classes. The past few months I had felt decent, but now I am really starting to feel GOOD. I almost forget I have an 8-inch incision scar down my chest! I dealt with some dizziness and other strange things after the surgery but those have slowed a lot. I’m so excited that life seems to be back to “normal,” especially being a busy mom of 2 extremely active little boys!

 


wendy hill says on July 31st, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I have had a triple valve replacemet 2 metalc,one on .the right ventrical and also the left ventrical. and a pigs valve at the aotorter ventrical, This left me as the consultant with total heart block.Since then ive has 3 pacemakers fitted and I still have a very difficult way of life. Plus the pigs valve doesnt last much longer so they will be opening my chest and chickenwire Again im not worried because my consultant was excelent,at his job but threw it all i havent felt a slight difference,apart from the symptons i were having and my doctor was to be true thought i was a hypercondriact.I went the last time i went to the doctors, i was filled with fluid,because my body was shutting down.H said do u think u go up hospital, I had a angergram that showed up the 3 leeky valves and a anerisam,before xmas im not going threw that and something happened,i wouldnt want it that way,so thats my story in fact its only a little bit of my life in the last 2 yrs xxx

 


jeff stovekens says on August 1st, 2010 at 6:54 am

in response to jocelyn,i feel the same way.i forget about my scar until i am dressing or something,lol.im almost 2 years post-op and thats my only reminder. i actually improve more and more every month,still! at 47 i actually feel like a young adult again.its amazing.im very active between hiking and biking etc and im constantly improving. it was nt as quick as everyone had said though. are you on coumadin too? jeffstoveken@yahoo.com feel free to email with any questions,jeff

 


John Ung says on August 1st, 2010 at 11:36 am

According to my cardiologist, I have moderate mitral stenosis with the mitral valve leaking. So I have to go for valve replacement eventually. There is some discussion whether to wait until the situation deteriorates or to go for valve replacement early when my heart condition
is still good. I am sure many have gone through this point of serious consideration before. Any thoughts on this?

 


z. czarnowski says on August 4th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

my wife, 74, is scheduled for aortic valve replacement in spite of being asthmatic patient for last twenty years, now with a very severe reduction of her respiratory capacity.Where is the limit for open heart surgery and when the replacement of the aortic valve can be done only via intraarterial procedure like Da Vinci or similar?
I am writing from the so called”underdeveloped country”, that is from Argentina which makes our chances even more unsafe.
Many, many thanks, if you will answer. If not, many other thanks for your good will towards all suffering from these heart troubles that, at my wife´s age and my own, 83, cannot be considered too dramatically, but rather should be taken as a natural ending of our earthly journey,

 


Sharon says on August 11th, 2010 at 12:55 am

Has anyone who has had valver surgery had a problem with kidneys functioning again? If so, about how much time did it take to rebound?

 


Mary Ferraro says on August 15th, 2010 at 12:45 am

At 52 I had my mitral valve repaired 10/28/09 & knew I was back to feeling 100% when I had stopped marking anniversaries on 28th of each month . . . somewhere around the 14th month. But I must add that every single day in the hospital and at home you do feel a tiny bit better than the day before even though I was wiped-out for the first 10 days. I went back to work after 10 weeks and that was perfect for me but everyone is different. Highly recommend lots of walking as well as cardiac rehab monitored stretching and exercising. Going to physical therapy really helped a lot when my trapezius and shoulders were sore in the first couple of weeks back at work.

 


Patricia Shabel says on August 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Thank you, everyone, for your fabulous answers. It helps me tremendously! I had some complications from my blood pressure medication that they finally took me off of in April, and I started to feel better. Then about a month after that, I started to feel really nauseous and had abdominal pain, fever and chills. My surgeon’s office suggested going to the ER to make sure that it was not an infection to the mitral valve that they repaired. It turned out that my liver enzymes were elevated, and my liver and spleen were swollen. There was no real explanation for it, but I believe it may have been a complication of the surgery. After 6 weeks in bed (again!), I am now finally feeling better and am starting to get back into my life again. Through all of it, the doctors did say that my heart sounds amazingly good! There is NO MURMUR and the heartbeat is strong.

With the issue of “not feeling like myself”, I was also having mental issues of flipping words around, forgetting a lot of what I was saying and not remembering people’s names (I’ve always been very good with that), and general comprehension issues. I just didn’t feel like my sharp self at all, although my focus was 100 times better than it was before the surgery as the blood now goes to my brain properly!

Now, 8 months after my mitral valve repair, I am feeling much more like myself mentally, I am feeling so much better, and I do have some issues with stamina. I am very slowly starting back with some physical activity, and I’m sure the endurance will get better, too. I am so grateful to be alive and to have had a successful surgery, something I do not take for granted through this whole recovery process. As long as I am gradually improving, I’m grateful for the results. Thank you to everyone again for your support through your comments and going through this all together!

 


Sharon says on August 21st, 2010 at 2:23 am

I am in my 5th week of recovery after mitral and aortic valve replacement. I am now noticing my fingers are twitching, its looming big in my mind Has anyone else had this happen?? My heart rate is really slow, I think its the meds but also short of breath at times. Looking so forward to feeling well again but for me its taking time.

 


Marco Hiirata says on October 25th, 2010 at 8:20 am

Hi, I had my aortic valve replaced in May ’90 when I was 28. Now I am 48 and fit as a fiddle. Well, I was a sportsman since I was a teenager. My valve was damaged due to high rhuematic fever. Everybody recuperates differently. In my case I recovered very fast and back to exercising within a few months. Of course, I avoid high impact sports like soccer, although I love the game. I swim a lot and go the gym. I play tennis and golf. Praise the Lord, I never had any complication thus far due to warfarin etc. In addition, I read a lot on health issues esp diet and exercise.

It is quite amazing to me that I can do almost what other normal people do. So can you. Keep up the good spirit and never lose contact with the Lord.

 


sylvia lerigo says on March 27th, 2011 at 6:12 pm

My mother 87 years old and in pretty good nick, but went for a cardiogram for a valve replacement, but had a heart attack on the couch, however the arteries were found to be clear.

My mother wanted this operation as she hated feeling breathless. An active woman who looks after herself, and goes out nearly everyday and other than her breathlessness she was good.

She had another heart attack within hours and the doctor said there was two choices, the operation or she dies. We were in a spin and the doctor said he felt the operation (because of her previous health) was worth going for. She now has what is termed as a lazy kidneys, (on short-term dialysis) on a ventilator four days later, blood pressure keeps going down, has drugs to sort this out.
My questions are:

1. How long can she stay on dialysis?
(We’ve been told some people are on for weeks and then the kidneys kick in!)
2. Will she have to have long-term dialysis? (She won’t like that at all!)
3. How can you tell if she’s had a stroke?
4. Could she be brain damaged? (was suggested this may happen)

 


Marie says on June 2nd, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Would like to find out if repairing or replacing my mitral valve, would eliminate or correct my atrial fibrillation Which at this moment is 24/7.

P.S. I had a mitral valve repair in 2006 and a Maze procedure as well. I am still in A-Fib, and the valve still leaks….
I am being told I would be better if I repaired the valve, this will reduce the A-Fib… I need help….

 


carolyn says on August 29th, 2011 at 12:46 pm

my dad had heart valve replacement surgery in july of 2011 after being diagnosed with endocarditis. he was on a ventilator prior to surgery and serveral days after. he only has one kidney and had to go on continous diaylsis for 2 days after coming off the ventilator he also needed a pacemaker after surgery. he was home for 20 days and ended up back in the hospital for anemia. he had lost 3 pints of blood after 11 days he is back home and has shortness of breath. i have him sheduled for cardiac rehab, but with his shortness of breath and fatigue is this a good idea?

 


margaret williams says on November 16th, 2011 at 10:08 pm

MY 12 YEAR OLD BOY JUST HAD PULMARY VALVE REPAIR IN 01/8/2011 AND IS STILL FEELING TIRED SOME DAYS HIS SCAR IS HEALING VERY WELL HE GOT A PIGS VALVE FITTED AND THEY SAY IT WILL ONLY LAST 10 TO 15 YEARS THIS IS PUTTIN MORE STRESS ON HIM AS HE KNOWS HES TO TAKE HIS MEDS FOR UP TO 6 MONTHS AFTER HIS OP AND JUST TAKE THINGS EASY,HIS LAST SCAN SAYS HIS NEW VALVE HAS A NARROWING AGAIN BUT NOT TO SEVERE I JUST HOPE ITS OK FOR HIS SAKE A DONT THINK HE COULD GO THREW ANOTHER OP SO SOON

 


Jim Pattillo says on June 16th, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Oct. 2011 ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Maintained that level of fitness through May 8, 2012 when I had AVR (via right thoracotomy) for aortic regurgitation/insufficiency. I never had any symptoms and the valve was not stenotic. However the LV was enlarged. I was working from home in 6 days, went to my 6 year old’s baseball game at 8 days and back to work full time in two weeks. I’m now about 6 weeks out and feel like me. I’ve felt that’ll way since about 4 weeks post AVR. If you are in the window for this surgery, get in shape and don’t put it off until there are symptoms.

 


Lena says on June 17th, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I was diagnosed with mitral stenosis and due for a mitral replacement surgery on Wednesday Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. What must I do to prepare?

 


chris windle says on November 3rd, 2012 at 1:46 am

I’m 11 months post aortic aneurysm repair and valve replacement. I’ve been a runner all my life – now 62. I began rehab shortly after the surgery and returned to work two months ago. I am now finding that my workouts which include stationary bike, elliptical and rowing machines cause my heart rate to jump from 100 to 130. I’m supposed to keep it below 130 (Dr.’s orders.) I take 25 mg of metoprolol daily. I was steadily increasing my endurance (heart rate and bp were close to pre-surgery levels) until this recent period of elevated heart rate. I’m trying to get in to see my cardiologist. Anyone else experience a set-back this late into recovery? Any explanations? Thanks!

 


Joyce Broadnax says on December 21st, 2012 at 11:16 am

Help. My 66 year old sister had aortic and mitral valve replacement surgery 8/9/12. Since then she has been hospitalized 4 times due to fluid build. At first the fluid was in her lungs – a pleurodesis was done on 11/23/12. Now the fluid is in her abdomen. She has no energy and just not feeling herself at all. she’s not experiencing any pain – just not feeling well. Does anyone have any suggestions or has anyone else experienced these same problems? Myself and the rest of my sibling don’t know what to do at this point. PLEASE HELP! Thank you.

 


Portnoy says on May 11th, 2014 at 1:08 am

My sister needed a complete heart transplant due to hypertrophic cardio myopathy. A new heart was found, she had the surgery, but somehow the new heart just did not function. I do t think anyone knows why; we were told that this just happens in one case per thousand. She is the one. She has been on a ventilator and artificial heart pump for the last ten days, and is kept completely sedated as if she were in a coma. I just don’t know what to think. If she had known how she would be now, perhaps she would not have gone in for the surgery. Everyone else in the family has this condition too. I have not yet been tested but I have all the symptoms. Will I have this kind of operation? No.

 

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