Doctor Q&A: When Can I Return to Normal Activity After Heart Surgery?
It is one of the best and most common questions I receive from patients. That fantastic question is, “When can I return to normal activity after heart surgery?”
To answer this important question, I was VERY LUCKY to interview Dr. David Adams at the recent Heart Valve Summit. So you know, Dr. Adams is the Cardiac Surgeon-in-Chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and he is the Co-Founder of the Heart Valve Summit. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see Dr. Adams operate here in the United States and on a medical mission in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Adams has been one of our greatest supporters AND he has successfully treated over 100 patients from our community including Brian Walsh, Sophie Marsh, and Boris Keyser. 🙂
Here are the highlights from my interview with Dr. Adams:
The “Individuality” of Patient Healing
Personally, I really LOVE what Dr. Adams says about the “individuality” of patient healing in this video. It’s so true. All patients are unique. We heal at different rates. Please remember that as you (or your loved one) begin the recovery process.
Personally, during my recovery, I experienced some issues with sternum irritation and pain medication. At times, the recovery was not fun. For me, starting cardiac rehabilitation was a big turning point in my recovery. Those sessions really helped me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I encourage all patients to have a recovery plan in place (that includes cardiac rehab) prior to surgery. All in all… It’s 11 years after my surgery and I’m doing great!
Me (Adam) At Torrance Memorial Cardiac Rehab Program
On behalf of our entire community… Many, many, many, many thanks to Dr. David Adams for taking the time to share his clinical expertise and research with us! And, many thanks to the awesome team at Mount Sinai Hospital including Gideon Sims and Flo Kelemen!
Keep on tickin!!!
P.S. For the hearing impaired members of our community, please find a written transcript of my interview with Dr. Adams below:
Adam: Hi, everybody, it’s Adam with heartvalvesurgery.com. We’re here at the Heart Valve Summit in Chicago, Illinois, and I am honored and thrilled to be with Dr. David Adams, who is the cardiac surgeon and chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He is also one of the founders of the Heart Valve Summit. Dr. Adams, thanks so much for being with me today.
Dr. Adams: Adam, good to see you again.
Adam: Yeah, so Dr. Adams, we were just talking about some very common questions that patients have. I know they see you a lot; just so I know, how many procedures do you do a year these days?
Dr. Adams: My mitral team is going to do around 450 operations this year. We see about 750, and we operate on about 450, so a busy group
Adam: That is a busy group. I imagine one of the questions that you get is from the patients, when can I return to normal activities after my heart valve surgery? How do you respond to them?
Dr. Adams: I always tell patients, Adam, that the first week, you’re going to be in the hospital. It takes four or five days to have an open heart operation and feel good enough to go home. Now one thing I tell them is they’re probably not going home on pain medicine. By the time they go home, they’re going to be able to walk. They’re going to be going up and down stairs. Lots of them live, at least in the northeast, and they have to go upstairs to their bedrooms. Most of them only go home on Tylenol or Motrin. They’re not taking pain pills anymore. That’s a big change, by the way, in the last decade. A lot of that has to do with how we both open and close patients but certainly you’re going to be sore.
Your second week at home, I always tell them, is going to be about just taking care of themselves. They’re going to be in comfortable clothes. I want them to be able to take naps. I want them to go outside. I want them to be able to walk around. They’re going to be tired; they’re going to be recovering from surgery
The third week, I tell them they’re starting to get their sea legs back. We operate on lots of patients from all over the United States. We’re comfortable putting them on airplanes after 15 or 16 days. By the third week, they’re ready to go face JFK and go fly all over the country, so they’re getting better. They’re not perfect yet, but they’re getting better. A lot of people in New York are back to work during the third week, especially people that have desk jobs or patients that can control their schedule. I tell them, “Don’t go back full-time the third week. Go back part time. Be able to come home in the afternoon. Still take care of yourself.” It’s not that often you get to do that for a while, at least in New York. That’s actually a luxury. You might as well take advantage of it.
By the fourth week, people are really getting back to their routine. We get asked all the time, “I have a trip planned,” or, “I have a big family event, or now it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas. What kind of time frame do I need to really be able to know I’m going to enjoy that and not feel limited?” That’s usually in the fourth or fifth week. Again, that’s all local how you do things, but by four or five weeks, most patients are getting back to their routine. Certainly, I tell patients by six or seven weeks, you should have this behind you.
The only other thing I’ll comment on is the individuality of patients. I try and tell people it’s like orthopedics. You may be a little sore. You may still move certain ways and remind yourself you have something, so be smart. Don’t do things that hurt. You can’t work your way out of that. That means you need to rest. Just like if you’ve sprained your ankle, you start bringing up your activity level as you do more things and you don’t hurt. You don’t get more active when it hurts; you rest. This is the same thing with heart surgery. If you’re doing activities that are hurting you, you probably need to decrease that. If you’re doing things and it’s not hurting, I think it’s safe to expand that. That’s how we coach patients.
It is remarkable; we see almost all our patients back during the fourth or fifth week, and very few of them have any complaints. Almost all of them have really rejoined their life.
Adam: Fantastic. Dr. Adams, thanks for the response. Thanks for sharing that with all of our patients out there. Again, thanks for the extraordinary support of this global community for heart valve therapy. There’s over 300 people here, I know, congregating to learn about the latest techniques, and practices, and the fact that you started this, one of the co-founders, it’s just a testament to the space. We can’t be more thrilled with what you’ve done. Thank you so much.
Dr. Adams: I will thank you, Adam, for your leadership. I think this has really been an exciting decade in valvular heart disease. You’ve helped me on this journey, and I think a lot of this is around trying to take better care. All of us are trying to take better care of patients, so it’s been a lot of fun.
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.