From Stroke To Heart Valve Replacement To The Gym… Kevin’s Story

By Adam Pick on March 3, 2010

I just received a very, very, very educational and inspirational story from Kevin Haines about stroke, heart valve replacement, rehab, Coumadin and cardiac depression. That said, I thought you might enjoy it…

Greetings Adam:

I have written you in the past but wanted to give you a post-op update. My aortic valve was replaced in October 2008 with a St. Jude mechanical valve.  I also had a root repair completed during surgery. I was 38 years old when we discovered calcified aortic valve leaflets. So you know, a piece of calcium broke free and traveled to my brain causing a stroke.

Since the stroke and surgery, I continue to make progress towards a healthy life.  I have come back from the procedure very strong. I credit my recovery to my support group (especially my wife), my heart and stroke teams at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and my rehab nurses who helped me through 26 cardiac rehab sessions. Your book, blog, and the readers comments have also been a huge help.


Calcified Aortic Valve Leaflets With Three Cusps
Calcified Aortic Heart Valve


I guess I am hoping to “pay it forward” for other patients (and their caregivers) who face similar situations.  Prior to my stroke and heart surgery, I was an active athlete. In fact, the stroke happened when I was working out at the gym.


Stroke Risk Associated With Cardiac Surgery
Diagram Explaining A Stroke


Today, I am in the best shape of my life. I exercise on a regular basis and I enjoy ALL the physical activities I did prior to surgery – softball, mountain biking, swimming, downhill skiing and playing sports with my kids. I believe a big part of my recovery was my positive attitude and participation in cardiac rehab. I recommend cardiac rehab to everyone.

Given my mechanical valve, I am a life time Coumadin patient. I use a home monitoring system which was provided through my cardiologist and insurance company. Having the INR testing device at home has been very convenient. Instead of going to the lab once a month, I self-test with a simple finger poke which tests my blood using the anticoagulation machine. I then call in my results. I only have to go to the lab once every 3 months.


Home INR Test Meter Machine For Patients


Like you, I also experienced cardiac depression and fought through that as well. I have to admit… Dealing with cardiac depression was much harder than I imagined.

Hats off to my heart surgeon, stroke team, cardiac team, cardiac rehab team, and most importantly my family and friends that helped get me through this procedure successfully. Finally… Thanks to you Adam for your heart valve surgery book, for all you do for this cause, and your passion towards helping patients and caregivers.


Kalamazoo, Michigan

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.

Dave Farmer says on March 3rd, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I had aortic valve replacement with a tissue valve and mitral valve repair in November 2009. A month later, an EKG showed Atrial flutter. Currently using Warfarin to avoid clots and strokes, I just had cardioversion which converted to normal heart rythym but I need to remain on Warfarin for months to be sure the conversion remains in sinus rythym.
I’m back to my regular 1 hour on the elliptical, Nordic Trac, or bike trainer, with strength training 3 times a week. An avid cyclist and skier the past 30 years, I’m missing the outdoors and those activities because I’m using blood thinners
After reading Kevin’s story, I’m wondering how he deals with cycling and skiing with the potential for bleeding if he’s injured.

Roberta says on March 3rd, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Hats off to you, Kevin! What an inspiration are for those who will be facing AVR. I have to admit that your comment “Dealing with cardiac depression was much harder than I imagined” really resonated with me. I, too was very active before my AVR this past fall. I ended up with a series of post operative complications that left me feeling ‘very emotionally and physically fragile’. I did not anticipate the emotional fragility that went with this.
I am now on the upswing and anticipate a full recovery. I started cardiac rehab 12 weeks post op and have 3 weeks left. Along with the wonderful support of family and friends, I believe that rehab has also been instrumental in both my physical and emotional healing.

Wishing you all the best, Kevin and thanks for sharing your story.

Bob H. says on March 3rd, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I am 54 and am facing AVR and potentially root surgery in the future. I am working out in gym right now 5 days a week in an effort to get as healthy as possible prior to AVR. I am scheduled for my yearly echo in March- started last year. Thanks for your positive words.

Don Gallagher says on March 3rd, 2010 at 4:18 pm


I just wanted to say thank you for your story. I am an active duty Marine, just hit 30 years of sevice today. I also have an Arotic Value that needs to be replaced, very active and plan on remaining that way for a long time to come. As it stands now, I will have the value and root repair surgery early next year, unless my condition changes. It is great to see you back to your level of fitness. Semper Fi, Don Gallagher

Nick P. says on March 3rd, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Bob H.

I am the same age as yourself facing the same procedures for root repair due to dilation and AVR due to a bicuspid valve. Make sure you don’t over exert at the gym when lifting weights etc. Over exertion could cause excessive strain on the aortic root leading to aneurysm.


Cindy says on March 3rd, 2010 at 4:48 pm

In response to Dave’s response … I too was wondering about the downhill skiing, biking etc that Kevin is doing. I was told that without REPAIR of my MVP that I would have to give up horseback riding (a big deal as I own 3) & any other activities where I might take a fall or get injured I train guide dog puppies & had one lay me flat out downtown one day! My 1st thought was “thank goodness I’m not on coumadin!!” I hit the cement really hard.

I suppose some doctors are not as concerned about the possibilities of injury while on blood thinners. My cardiologist is young & he was adamant about how coumadin would change my lifestyle. Thankfully I found Dr. Adams in NY (I’m in CA) … they only surgeon that could give me hope for a repair. The leaflets had calcium built up in them as well … mitral valve. He gave me an extra 4 hrs. of surgery from what was predicted the day before … to him I owe having my lifestyle just as it had been before surgery!!!

Kevin says on March 3rd, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Greetings to all. For those about to embark on the journey of heart value replacement, I wish you the best and stay strong. Well, the biking and skiing are both very moderate, and are done at a cautious pace, and with a helmet and padding in tow! I am not a weight lifter and my workouts are 95% cardio.

Each person is different, so caution in everything you do is key, knowing your limits, and following the direction of your medical team is what I have found works best for me. I have a cardiologist, neurologist, and internist all on the same page with my activities. Can I do them like I used to? No, not at that level, but that’s by choice – I can still do them is what counts !!

And those of you on coumadin or considering which direction to go, educate yourself as much as possible. Self/home monitoring enables you to test often, thus stay in range more often or get back in range much quicker. Your diet and stress level also play significant rolls in blood thinner therapy. I chose the mechanical valve because of my age and the thought of a re-do in 15-20 years just didn’t sit well with me. It takes a commitment, the right mind set, and willingness to be diligent with the life style changes it brings.

Do what is best for you, listen to the professionals, and keep moving forward. Best wishes to all.


Joseph Maniscalco says on March 4th, 2010 at 7:18 am

GOD Bless you Kevin, you have been very lucky. What a story. I’m a candidate for AVR in the very near future. I’m a 61 year old athlete, tennis being my passion. I do hope that GOD will show me HIS favor as HE did you.

Live long and propser,


Greg Smith says on March 4th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Just read your story after my wife pulled it up. I’m 60 and have been told by my doctor that the time for my aortic valve replacement surgery should be very soon. I have severe aortic valve stenosis but have not yet had any outward symptoms. The doctors have been keeping tabs on my heart since my mid-20’s when they heard strange sounds that they attributed to possible bicuspid leaflets in the valve. I work out daily before going to my job as a school counselor. I do treadmill, stepper, bicycle work as well as lift weights. I’m in good shape for my age. I also have a house painting business that I do primarily in the summer. I am busy all summer long as I paint between 10-15 houses on my school vacation. I work hard and enjoy the challlenges of setting up ladders and walkboards to get at the various spots around the houses I paint. I also do deck restoration work and like the challenges that that brings, too. I do not want to give up either of my jobs following my surgery. My questions revolve around whether to get a mechanical or tissue valve. I do not relish the idea of taking blood thinners the rest of my life, nor do I like the thought of having to have more than one heart surgery either. That will have to be the main decision I will struggle with for now. My question for you is about the life style changes that you mention. Could you, or any of the other readers, elaborate on the life style changes that have taken place for you since your heart valve surgery. My goal after surgery would be to recover to the point where I am back to the same level of activity that I am now. Thanks.

Kevin says on March 6th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Greg, great questions, and life style changes mean more for some than others! One of the biggest ones for me was changing to, and maintaining, a healthy diet – or at least healthier than I used to be eat. Coumadin requires constant monitoring of my diet, and I am happy to report this has been MUCH easier than some of the stories you hear/read about. Some of my biggest hobbies (softball, hockey, and most mens league sports) revolve around not so healthy (aka “bar”) food, and oh yeah alcohol. The latter has never been an issue for me, but I won’t kid you, I put some awful, AWFUL food in my body the last 25 years. I always compensated for it because I was in good shape. If you are considering blood thinners a healthy diet and exercise are a must.

Second, diligence with my medical health. Following doctor’s orders to a “T” is important, and this includes keeping up annual check-ups, blood work, etc. If you are like most who have heart surgery, you will likely be on more than one medication – quite possibly for life. When you are on coumadin, everything else you are on revolves around that. So, depending on you body’s tolerance to the others, there will no doubt be some medication trial and error as you go along. This was the case for me.

From the research I’ve read, and Adam can likely speak to this better than I, someone 60 years old has a pretty good chance of not having a “re-do” if you go with a tissue valve. That said, let your surgeon and cardiologist lead the way, and if you have time, GET A SECOND OPINION. If they truly care about your health, as you do, they won’t be offended.

Lastly, the right frame of mind (a positive one) is a must. I didn’t have much time to think about my surgery, it was only 13 days between my stroke (which is when we found about about the bicuspid valve) and AVR surgery. But I truly believe my attitude since surgery has lent a big hand in my recovery, my speed back to health, and my plan to stay this way for life. I, as you, have a lot to live for, feel blessed with my second chance, and being an athlete most of my life – I hate to lose 🙂 This is one battle I plan to keep winning. Best of luck to you, and any others who find themselves in this situation.


Mark says on March 14th, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Dear Adam,
I had my AVS relaced with a mechanical valve last dec. 15, 2009 and got out of the hospital on the 29th of of the same month 2009. Now i am at home for a recovery at a normal life and taking COUMADIN. I just started driving my car car after two months after my surgery but i am very causious of driving with my wife accompanying me all the time. Sometime, i feel dizzy when i walk and my cardiologist prescribed with SERCA TABLET 16 mg. a day if only necessary which my wife also takes for her VERTIGO. i hope then this would workout. Thanks agai Adam

C.C. Raphael says on May 23rd, 2012 at 5:21 pm

For Greg Smith…

In August, 2008, I had an AVR with a bovine pericardium valve. I suffered from a congenital bicuspid valve. I also was 60 yrs of age at the time. I have been extrememly health conscious for about 30 years and eat a predominantly organic whole foods diet and deal with stress through exercise and meditation. It was very clear to me that I was going to chose the tissue valve. Firstly, because no medication needed to be used to maintain its integrity; secondly, because a mechanical valve would seriously inhibit my lifestyle, dietary and otherwise; and thirdly because I did not want to bioaccumulate the poison that is coumadin as it can compromise other areas of the body. I realized that the valve could easily last 15 -20 years, and with the upcoming technology, a necessary redo may involve nothing more than than a catheter procedure like an angiogram. Lastly, I have done my own research, and i have found that one of the best ways to prpare for this or any other surgery is to strengthen one’s immune function. Since over 70% of all immune-producing cells are created in the lining of the small intestine, our immune system lives in our gut. To eliminate refined, processed, manufactured and packaged foods and to decrease or eliminate all chemical or refined sugars goes a long way to help heal the gut. Coupled with certain supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), digestive enzymes and probiotic bacteria, this will help to eliminate problems that can arise after surgery if one’s immune function is severely compromised.

The best to you,

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