“What Are My Aortic Valve Replacement Surgery Risks?” Asks Sharon

By Adam Pick on October 21, 2011

I just received an email from Sharon that rekindled a memory. Sharon writes, “Hi Adam – I was recently diagnosed with severe aortic valve stenosis and I need an aortic valve replacement. Even though I’m 62 and in relatively good shape, I’m worried about making it through. Do you know what the mortality rates and surgery risks are for aortic valve replacement? Thanks, Sharon”


Female Patient In Gown


I can relate to Sharon… I distinctly remember wondering this exact same question just seconds after I was told that I needed an aortic valve replacement. Although I was too nervous — in that moment — to ask my cardiologist about surgical risks and mortality rates, I would later research this topic prior to surgery. In response to Sharon’s questions, there is good news to share. The good news is that data from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons suggests that the mortality rate for aortic valve replacement procedures is low.

“How low is low?” you might be thinking.

Well, consider this excerpt from The Cleveland Clinic’s 2010 Surgical Outcomes Report for Valvular Treatment. As you can see, the STS benchmark shows that the national average for aortic valve replacement operative mortality is 2.7 percent. At The Cleveland Clinic, the mortality rate is significantly below that average at 1.1 percent.


Aortic Valve Replacement Mortality Rate & Risks


So you know, I was hesitant about answering this question publicly as the topic of mortality and risks often trigger variable levels of fear, uncertainty and doubt for both patients and their caregivers. However, I hope you can focus on the positive reality that, on average, about 97.3% of patients will be just fine.

Still, even with this optimistic dataset, I continue to have ongoing conversations with patients that are scared. In my opinion, this is completely normal. To help patients calm their fears of heart valve surgery, I remind them that life — to some extent — is risky. From the moment you wake up, risk is actually all around you.


Consider the act of driving a car. I don’t know about you… But, in Los Angeles, my home town, the drivers are crazy. I have not done the statistical analysis but my guess is that having heart surgery may be less risky than driving through weekday traffic on the 405 freeway at 6pm. It seems like every day I am forced to yell out at some reckless driver, “Are you trying to kill me?”


Finally… There may be more good news for you to uncover regarding mortality rates and surgical risks. As you prepare for aortic valve replacement surgery, I encourage you to interview your potential surgeons prior to scheduling your operation. During those interviews, I suggest you ask direct questions like:

  • “How many aortic valve replacements have your performed?”
  • “What are your surgical outcomes for patients similar to me?”

During those conversations, you might learn some very helpful information that will increase your comfort level. Alternatively, if you don’t like the answers you are hearing, that might be a very good indicator that you should find another surgeon to perform your aortic valve replacement.

I hope this helped Sharon and those of you wondering about mortality rates and surgical risks for aortic valve replacement surgery. (I promise the next blog will be much more inspirational.)

Keep on tickin!

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 HeartValveSurgery.com 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 HeartValveSurgery.com 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.

Claude LaPerle says on October 21st, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Hi Sharon,
There are other risks which are mentioned in Adam’s book. I, however, was not aware of the risk of a stroke from the surgery.
All is well, thanks to the quick actions of my surgical and recovery team.
Best wishes for a successful operation.
Claude LaPerle

Adam Pick says on October 21st, 2011 at 1:58 pm


Great to hear everything turned out okay following your stroke!!!

You raise an excellent point.

For this post, I did not focus on the post-operative complications that could impact the patient. I sensed Sharon was most concerned about mortality.

However, as you allude, some of the common complications include atrial fibrillation, fluid in lungs, stroke, ventricular tachycardia (high heart rates), etc.

Keep on tickin!

Joseph says on October 21st, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Dear Sharon,

If you are a believer, then you know that to be absent of the body is to be with The LORD. What better place in the universe? But if not, go to Dr. Craig Smith at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. He relaced my aortic valve on July 12th of this year. I was in ICU 16 hours and running the hallways on the 2nd day. He is an angel of The LORD, believe me, I saw things I couldn’t believe while in the OR. Come see for yourself. Look into his eyes and you will know exactly what to do.

Don’t be afraid Sharon, be Victorious in knowing that there isn’t one thing in this life that is going to take you any where until GOD calls you home.

My very best wishes,
Joseph Maniscalco

Don Blubaugh says on October 21st, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Adam is right on the money with his comments. I interviewed several surgeons, reviewed their personal stats (how many valve replacments in a year, mortality rates, etc.) I was also concerned about stroke resulting from bypass and was told all the preventive steps that are taken to lessen this possibility. In the end, I concluded that I could not live with the diseased valve. Surgery was a must! In the end, I went with a surgeon that I felt most comfortable with.

Vicki Natividad says on October 21st, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Almost 3 years ago, prior to my surgery for VSD closure and aortic valve repair, 2 of the questions I asked were my stroke risks and my mortality risks. Based on my health history, I was told my risks were 1%.

liza eden says on October 21st, 2011 at 7:16 pm

i was diagnoised with severe aotic stenosis in July of this year. I was admitted to the hopital August 5th and after much testing i had surgery on the 11th. I was afraid i would be one of those not waking up! I think that’s normal for anyone undergoing any type of surgery. I made it through just fine and was up and walking on day 2! I went back to work this past Monday. I know without the surgery my chances were slim. i was told if i didn’t go in there was a very good chance i wouldn’t make to the hospital if “something” were to happen. When it is put like that, what choice do you have. i am not 100% yet, will i ever be? I am 64 and just try to do each day as it comes.

Wilmer David Brown says on October 21st, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Hi Sharon, three years ago I was in the same situation, only I’m a male, I was 68 years old and had both of my lungs operated on, taking 25% from each one. At John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD they gave me an Mechanical Aortic valve, if I had not have had this done I wouldn’t be here today. The first words out of my mouth when I woke up was Ain’t God Great. I not saying everybody feels the same but you will live a lot longer. Wishing you the best and may God bless you and ease your worries!

Ricky (a female) says on October 21st, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Personally,I think if you have no fear,when you are told you need heart valve surgery…..you aren’t human.When I had my Mitro valve surgery about 9 years ago……I put off going to the cardiologist,then when I went 6 weeks later…….I was told ,I had to have surgery,NOW!!.My Dr.was so great….he called my Brother(also a Dr.)Made him aware what my condition was,and surgery would be SOON.When I had to sign all the pre- paperwork,my Brother said,if you trust in God,and your surgeon……Just sign and put it in God’s hands.GOOD LUCK SHARRON,soon you will be helping others on this blog.

Jim says on October 23rd, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Sharon –
The mortality rate takes into account everyone from the very sick to the very healthy when they have these procedures. I was told that for my age group at the hospital I chose the rate was about 1% for an aortic valve and root replacement.

I had some of the common post-op issues; A-Fib, fluid build up but slowly under the care of professionals these are slowly remedied.

Good luck Sharon, take some deep breaths and try and relax….it has been almost 4 years since my surgery. If that does not help, ask you doctor for something to help you relax.

Merilee Brown says on October 23rd, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I am a 65 year old female. It has been nearly one year since my aortic valve replacement surgery. I have been exercising diligently for about six months and I recently added a diet to reverse the weight I have gained in the process of being ill and tired before this surgery. I feel amazingly well. I have energy. I sleep well. I have no shortness of breath. My color is good. People tell me how good I look. I am on coumadin. I feel as though I have a new lease on life and I am so grateful.
Good luck! Trust God and your doctors. It gets better every day.

Ricky (a female) says on October 24th, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Hi Merilee,YOUR DRs.MUST BE VERY PROUD OF YOU,as well you should be of yourself.Positive attitude has a LOT to do with recovery.Keep on ticking…….

Tom Haynie says on October 25th, 2011 at 11:54 pm

I am now 60 and almost three years out from my complicated but successful AVR surgery. Like nearly everyone faced with this procedure, I questioned the mortality risk and took a pragmatic approach. I worked closely as a team member with the best cardic surgeon I could find, Dr. Myles Guber in Denver, CO. By team I mean I brought the money, the defective heart valve, and determination to cooperate fully with my doctors and staff. My surgeon brought his skill and experience along with other professionals involved in my care. I was going to give it everything I had to not only survive but thrive as a result of the surgery. I also resolved that rather than worry about survival rates, I was driven by the knowledge that without the surgery my mortality rate was 100%. You do your best to maximize survival by being the best patient a doctor could have, and not worry about death. That 2.7% mortality rate that Adam refers to very likely includes all high risk patients who have everything to gain from AVR surgery. I am sure you will do well with the surgery and appreciate the benefits once you have recovered. By the way, be sure to do the cardiac rehab.

Ricky (a female) says on October 31st, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hi Mr.Haynie.Dr Guber assisted my Dr.(James Narod) with my surgery.Nine years ago.We are VERY LUCKY to have such wonderful,Dedicated Surgeons.Dr.N.went to a smaller town to make a very large heart center.(Grand Junction)Co.Keep ticking everyone.R.

Anne Shannon says on November 5th, 2011 at 5:27 am

Hi Sharon,

I had AVR 16 months ago at the Cleveland Clinic. I was 69 at the time. Best choice ever in that I had a top-rated surgeon in an amazing hospital. Had surgery on Friday evening, got out of the hospital on Monday Morning and flew home to Colorado on Tuesday. I had no complications afterwards and, as my husband says “if you had seen me five days after the surgery, you would have asked when I was having my operation.” I had a minimally invasive procedure.

I did cardio-rehab and am continuing to work out – feel amazingly better. Hope all goes well for you. As a physician friend told me “find the place that does the most of whatever procedure you are considering!” And don’t be afraid to travel for the best facility. I have a journal – which is in serious need of updating – which you might check out.

SALLY ANN says on November 8th, 2011 at 12:50 am

I need aortic valve replacement, but i’m to scared to even go too the surgeon. I know I will die if I don’t have surgery but i’m reading what can happen if I do have the surgery. None of my options seem positive. looks like most people have trouble living past the 30 day mark, strokes, something called pump-head. I don’t want to die but I don’t know how to go forward and who or what to believe. I’m hoping to find a valve replacement email buddy or several. rungee1776@aol.com sally-ann

Connie Rightmer says on December 29th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

My father is 84-year old and has severe aortic stenosis. He is not a candidate for open-heart surgery in his current condition. We are attempting to go forward with a pending TAVI procedure and are hopeful and have faith that he can make it through this non-invasive surgery. Prior to that procedure he will need angioplasty on 2 clogged arteries. Are there any testimonials from patients who had the TAVI surgery that are in their 80\’s? Any feedback will be greatly appreciated. It is nice to read such positive attitudes and stories from other patients, however, most of you are in your 60\’s. All the best, Connie

Penny says on November 1st, 2013 at 8:07 am

Hi, My Mom is 86 and has aortic stenosis, she has a heart murmur, on blood pressure and thyroid medication. She was told she needs heart valve replacement, she recently has lost about 30 lbs, Her Doctor told her 86 is not considered old for this type of surgery. Anyone with comments or any type of suggestions would be so appreciated.
I am really scared for her and don’t want to loose her.

Sherry Neal says on July 21st, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Hi, Sally I noticed that this is an older post. Have you had your aortic surgery?

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