“How To Manage The Fear & Anxiety Before Heart Valve Surgery?” Asks Sophia
Sophia sent me a very appropriate question about two emotions experienced by most patients prior to heart valve surgery. She writes, “Adam – I’m 62 and diagnosed with mitral regurgitation. I need surgery and I’m scared out of my mind. Is there anything the surgeons can share that could ease my fear and anxiety?”
Luckily, I was able to ask this exact question to Dr. Marc Gillinov, MD, a leading surgeon from The Cleveland Clinic. So you know, Dr. Gillinov has performed over 2,500 heart valve procedures during his career.
I’m hopeful this video interview helped Sophia (and perhaps you) understand the realities of heart valve surgery. As Dr. Gillinov suggests, the odds are very favorable that you will have a successful procedure. However, please take the time to do your homework — get a second opinion, research your surgical options, evaluate your surgeon — prior to entering the hospital.
Thanks to Sophia for her question. And, a special thanks to Doctor Marc Gillinov for sharing his clinical experience and advice with all of us. For those of you who are hearing impaired, I have provided a written transcript of this video interview with Dr. Gillinov below.
Adam: Hi, everybody. It’s Adam and we are here at the Mitral Conclave very fortunate to be standing next to Dr. Marc Gillinov from the Cleveland Clinic. We’re answering your questions up at HeartValveBlog.com. This question, Dr. Gillinov, comes from Sophia and she writes, “Adam, I’m 62 and diagnosed with severe regurgitation. I need surgery and I’m scared out of my mind. Is there anything the surgeons can share to help ease my anxiety and fear?”
Dr. Gillinov: Absolutely. It’s normal to have some fear and some apprehension. Somebody tells you, “You need heart surgery,” and most people never expect to hear those words. I would recommend a few things. I’ve talked to many, many people, thousands of people, with this sort of concern. First, gather information but don’t dive too deeply into the internet. Go to a few reputable sites, like yours, and get information but don’t over think it because the more information you get, the more contradictions you’ll find, inaccurate causing more anxiety. So go to the internet and get some information. Talk to someone you know. I mean, you must know someone. You will know someone who’s had heart surgery, who’s had a heart issue, because they will reassure you and then when you go to meet with your surgeon, sit down with your surgeon and do listen to what your surgeon says, what he or she tells you about what operation should you have, how should we do it, but ask questions that go beyond just the technical aspects of the surgery. Ask the questions that have answers that are going to allay your concerns. For example, people almost never ask, “Is this going to hurt?” Or “If it is going to hurt, how can you make it so it doesn’t hurt very much?” People rarely ask, “How long ‘til I feel normal?” There are no concrete answers to these questions. Depending upon how your operation’s done, your surgeon’s going to be able to say, “It might be two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks.” Your surgeon might be able to say, “We’ve got a great protocol in place for managing discomfort so that we will keep it under control.” And probably most important, make sure that your doctor or your surgeon are people who are willing to talk to you because you do want an excellent communicator. You want everything fixed on the inside but just like dropping your car off to get the brakes fixed where you don’t really care if you talk too much to the mechanic, in this case through the whole process the patient is talking to the doctor and having all your concerns addressed. So, get the best plumber you can and make sure you’re getting a good person as well.
Adam: And one of the questions that a lot of people, one of the big fears, is that of, obviously, death and mortality. And I knew what I found comfort in was the actual statistics of success, not of failure but of success. Can you share a little bit about your statistical outcomes with patients who have come to you like Sophia who have issues with severe regurgitation and need surgery.
Dr. Gillinov: Well, Adam, you just made a really excellent point. I now always phrase the statistics in terms of success. I used to tell people – Let’s say you’re having an isolated mitral valve repair operation and our operating risk of the person dying is around one in a thousand and when I said to somebody, “Your risk of not getting through is one in a thousand,” a lot of the time they heard that wrong. They thought their chance of surviving was one in a thousand and, of course, you don’t want to do anything where the chance of surviving is one in a thousand so to set the record straight, the chance of surviving an isolated mitral valve operation is 999 out of a thousand so 999 out of a thousand, we hope, will sail through getting their mitral valves fixed. 99% of them won’t have a stroke or a heart attack so we’re talking about people who in generality, the chance that you get through this and come out the other end in great shape.
Adam: Great. Well, as always, Dr. Gillinov, thanks for your help and all of your incredible support. We really appreciate it. Again, this is Dr. Marc Gillinov from the Cleveland Clinic and you can learn more him at the Heart Valve Surgeon Finder. Thanks much.
Keep on tickin!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.