At 73, Sylvia Woolworth Was Physically And Mentally Fit For Heart Valve Surgery

By Adam Pick on May 27, 2009

Here is a fantastic patient success story from 73-year old, Sylvia Woolworth, of New Jersey. As you can read below, Sylvia’s preparation for heart valve surgery was… extra-ordinary!

Hi Adam,

Five weeks ago, I had aortic valve replacement surgery. I was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis although I had no symptoms except a heart murmur.


 Sylvia Woolworth – Aortic Valve Surgery Patient


Thankfully, before my procedure, I read your book which greatly helped me prepare for surgery. My doctor, John M. Brown III, Chief Thoracic Surgeon at Morristown Memorial Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey, also prepared me during our face-to-face appointments.

I wanted to be in the best physical and mental condition for the operation. So, during the past twelve months, I lost 35 pounds. I went to the YMCA four-to-five days a week and I joined Weight Watchers to learn better eating habits.

At the YMCA, I entered both exercise and swimming programs. After six months, I discussed my reason for joining these classes and everyone was extremely supportive. When I said out loud, “I’m preparing for heart surgery!”, it gave me confidence that I was doing everything possible for a successful result.

Also, I wanted to address Marianna’s question about aortic valve replacement. Prior to surgery, I had a cardiac catheterization to find out if there were any blockages in my arteries. The catheterization is an outpatient procedure and you are awake – although, I was given a Benadryl and Valium to calm me.

Everything was explained by the nurses. The only sensation I felt during the catheterization was warmth. My cardiologist was talked to me during the procedure. He told me exactly what what he was doing and what to expect. My arteries were in good shape.

My next appointment was with Dr. Brown, the surgeon. Doctor Brown informed me that he could do aortic valve replacement through a minimally invasive surgery (also known as a mini-sternotomy). I have a four-inch scar from the middle of my breast up.

Dr. Brown also informed me that if anything happened to my valve ten years down the road, the procedure to replace the valve might be done through the groin.


Picture of Patient After Mini-Sternotomy


As I enter my fifth week of heart surgery recovery, I am cooking and doing some gardening, but no lifting yet. After surgery I was given a heart pillow by Dr. Brown which I found most useful. I use it for coughing, cushioning my seat belt and I hug it every night in bed.

Adam… Thanks for all you do! Your heart valve surgery book was most helpful!

Sylvia Woolworth
73 years young

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Elsin Ann Perry says on May 27th, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Dear Sylvia,

I was so happy to read your story!

I have a worsening aortic valve leakage and get echos every couple of months.

Nine years ago my entire aorta (59 cm) was replaced at Vanderbilt. (Aneurysm) I lost one kidney, 60% of my lung capacity and my spleen because of that operation (which, of course, saved my life, so no complaints!) But now it’s getting closer to heart valve replacement time. I have very little energy. If I didn’t have to take care of my husband, I don’t think I’d get out of bed much at all. (So it’s a good thing that he’s spoiled!)

Two doctors have told me that I’m not a candidate for general anethesia. I mentioned this to my cardiologist, who said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Or, as I think of it, “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it….”

I’m 68 now (I have no idea how that atrocity happened. A short while ago I was 35…) and am encouraged that a person a bit older than I am came through the operation well.

BEST THING—I’m overweight. NOW I do have a reason—your story—to lose weight. I’d better get with it, too. THANK YOU!!!


Martin D. Goodkin says on May 27th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Sylvia, being the same age as you are and NOT having had the benefit of doctors talking to and/or warning me about the after effects and ,consequently, having had a very rough recovery I am so glad to hear yours is going smooth. Now, 10 months after the fact I am doing pretty good and try to emphasize (Elsin, are you listening?) the importance of rehab AFTER surgery which would have made my recovery so much easier and faster!~

Elsin Ann Perry says on May 27th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Hello, Martin!

You bet I’ll insist on rehab afterwards! I was flat on my back and on a ventilator for two months after the aneurysm operation. Rehab had me up and walking (with a walker) two weeks after the vent was removed. It’s a wonderful thing.

(I’ve read Adam Pick’s book. Twice.)

Hooray for Adam, and my best to Sylvia and you.


Bonnie Neufeld says on May 27th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Dear Adam, I feel like such a failure! I have written you before as this has been a year long process from diagnosis to now. You know the story, got sick out of the blue, was edndocarditis, fought that and worked hard to get in shape to determine if I could live without surgery. By Deciember, in best shape of my life, 3 jobs I loved (all part time) and looking great at future. Mid January I started to go downhill and it has been a really tough few months, having to quit jobs and lay around like a seal (getting fat and eating fish oil stuff). I have angiogram 2 weeks ago, hemmorraged and stayed in hospital, so much pain, belly still huge and sore, black and blue. I bought your book last fall and am reading it again as I prepare to meet my surgeon next week. I have had to stay in Canada (as I was here on vacation when I got sick) I am so encouraged by this blog but having a hard time not comparing my progress (I am 54) with these elderly wonders and feel like the fat kid in the class. I guess I am in depression, I don’t want to go on anti depressants, was using a full body vibration platform to keep my muscles in shape but now my belly… Adam, every encounter I have with the Doctors so far make me feel less confident at a time I need my courage. Now I have vegetation so I guess it will be soon, One thing I really look forward to is an amazing story for your Blog, I somehow feel after all this, the surgery will be a breeze!! Thanks for listening, I feel so alone as I don’t want to make it hard on my family and friends by telling them how I really feel. Bless you Adam, Bonnie Neufeld

jeff stoveken says on May 27th, 2009 at 6:14 pm

hi sylvia, my name is jeff and dr Brown performed my aortic valve and root replacement surgery back in sept 08. hes a great dr. he performed my 5 hour surgery in about 2 and a half hours! if you have any questions, email me or leave a note here. jeff

Mary Ellen Gardner says on May 27th, 2009 at 8:33 pm


So glad to hear that your surgery went so well. It sounds like you did everything right!

Love, Mary Ellen

Phyllis Cooke says on May 27th, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I am facing the same surgery and so much want the less invasive without cracking my sternum. Was this your choice or your surgeon’s?

Good luck to you!

Phyllis Cooke
San Diego, CA

Elsin Ann Perry says on May 27th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Bonnie wrote:

One thing I really look forward to is an amazing story for your Blog.

Bonnie—we will be looking forward to reading it! And please don’t feel alone. You’re NOT alone!


Claud Woolworth says on May 28th, 2009 at 3:30 am

We’re so proud of Mom (all her kids) and glad to see she’s keeping a positive attitude. Its a long road but you’re doing great! GO MOM!

Gail Kapcsandi says on May 28th, 2009 at 6:44 am

Thank you for your success story and my best wishes for your continued recovery. I will be facing aortic valve replacement in very near future.
I reside in Edison, NJ and the New Brunswick surgical team @ Robert Wood Johnson is highly recommended to me. My cardiologist also suggested
Dr. Brown at Morristown, and after hearing your story as well, I will also see him for his opinion and consider Morristown and Dr. Brown! Thank you
and keep ticking!

Vincent Romano says on May 28th, 2009 at 6:49 am

Hi my story is similar. I lost 50 pounds before surgery and Dr Brown also did my surgery. He didn’t do the mini because it was thought that he may have to repair my Mitral Valve. As it turned out no repair was neccesary. I am 1 week out of surgery spent only 4 days at Gagnon Center. Can’t wait to feel better and start cardio therapy i am looking at MMHs therapy center.

Sylvia Woolworth says on May 28th, 2009 at 7:24 am

Your are computer savy, so check out Dr. Oz and Real Age for tips on eating well and loosing weight. Weight Watchers has a good site too. I find reading positive thoughts and surrounding myself with lean meat, vegetables, and fruit helps too. Keeping a journal of what you eat helps too. Good luck from Sylvia

Keep us posted. We are here for you. Regards from Sylvia

Dr. Brown made the decision for less invasive surgery because my arteries were good and the test (echocardiogram) showed only a problem with the aortic valve. If, during surgery, there is more work to be done, they will do it. Before surgery, you have to sign a permission sheet. As Adam says, fine a Dr. you are comfortable with and ask all the questions. Check out Mid-Atlantic Surgical Assoc. in my blog and check on Dr. Brown, and on Education, and explore their sight. Check your surgeon out on the web also. Just ask questions.

Carol Goth says on May 29th, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Dear Sylvia,

I am preparing to have 2 valves replaced (aortic and mitral) in about 2 months. I’d like to know what I can expect after my 5-7 day hospital stay. My husband is disabled, so I cannot count on his being able to care for me. What kind of care will I need in the 4 weeks after being released from the hospital. What kind of clothing will I be able to wear during those 4 weeks? I’m thinking of my incision (which will be longer than yours) and wondering just when I will be able to wear a bra again. Sometimes the silliest questions are the ones that are the most concerning. Your incision is beautiful; thanks for the picture! I’m happy that you’re doing so well so soon after surgery. I will turn 71 while I’m in the hospital. Thank you for encouraging me! You are inspirational.


Midge says on June 4th, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Carol, I’m 67 and had my aortic valve replaced on 2/13/09 (Friday, the 13th). I was in the hospital for 10 days, which was about right. You will tire very easily so it is best that you have someone to help both you and your husband, at least part of the day. Things improve alot after that, or they did for me.

I am now the proud owner of an 8 1/2″ zipper down my sternum which has healed well but still itches like crazy sometimes. A friend who had same surgery 17 mths ago says his still itches sometimes also. One of the best things my HMO told me was to buy a couple of bras one size larger than normal (no underwire…in fact I just got a couple of cheapies) Put one on when you leave the hospital and then wear one day and night for the first six weeks. I am convinced this really helped reduce pain from coughing and sneezing. In fact, everyone warned me how painful it was to sneeze and since I normally sneeze at least 20 times a day, I was really worried. But know what, it never was painful. Thank God for small favors!

I wore jammies for a couple of days, then switched to regular clothes but stuck with loose tops. You incision will be sore and tender to the touch, but again wearing the bra really helps. Another thing I was told at the hospital was to get out of bed every day, put on some normal clothes and take little walks around the house or short walks outside if you have someone to monitor you. Being outside really lifts the spirit and soul, even if only for a few minutes a couple of times a day. You may have to wear slip on shoes or slippers for a while…a found putting on shoes a task but then discovered if I sat on the edge of the bed and lifted my foot up to the bed level I could get them on….there was no way I could have bent over to put them on.

Watch the lifting…when they say 5 lbs. they mean it. You’ll see what I mean as you try to do things. Luckily your body often sounds a little alarm if you begin doing something you shouldn’t. I felt like I made the most progress in weeks 3 thru 5 post surgery, then I kind of hit a plateau; however, remember that your body is undergoing recovery from a serious trauma and will take months to get all the parts inside situated. But, it does get better and better and we all must be so thankful that this type of surgery is widely available and so common now that the rates of problems are so very, very low. I’ll take a few weeks interruption in my life in return to go on living for many, many more productive years.

Best of luck to you….you will come thru it fine.


martha rosario says on October 8th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

hello Adam, I love you and your book is wonderful i don’t have the perfect word to describe how helpful this book was for me.I had a surgery in 2007 and they just tell me I need surgery again , I have the same problem you have.i which I had this much information that I got from your book the first time I have surgery thank very much and I will let you know how everything come out with my second surgery..I which you and yours the best in live and thank you for all that good information in your book.I toad i will get bored of reading the book but no it was the opposite I wanted to keep rearing more and more..oh I`m 29 years old.

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