Guest Blog: Deb Offers A Spouse’s Perspective On Heart Valve Surgery

By Adam Pick on June 29, 2012

In addition to talking with patients, I’m often afforded the privilege of speaking with their caregivers. Over the past several months, I’ve been trading emails and chatting on the phone with Deb. Her husband, Fred, was recently diagnosed with a severely leaking mitral valve.


Deb & Fred - Husband And Wife After Heart Surgery
Deb & Fred (Mitral Valve Repair Patient)


The great news is that Fred’s surgery went very well. In fact, he’s already back on the golf course.

To memorialize the experience, Deb recently sent me an email titled, “Spouse’s Perspective When Husband Gets Mitral Valve Open Heart Surgery”. With her permission, I am posting her note for all of us to learn from. Here is what Debbie wrote:

When I first heard my husband needed surgery to repair his mitral valve, I was thinking, “O.K. It’s time to get this fixed so he feels better.”  He then had to get a TEE and angiogram (cardiac catheterization).  When the tests revealed that he also needed 2 bypasses due to coronary artery disease, I started getting nervous.  We started doing research to figure out who would be the best surgeon.  We talked to family, friends, coworkers, doctors, and looked on the internet.

The  more information we got… The more worried I became.  Even though medical teams do these surgeries every day, they don’t do them on my husband every day.  Also, after going through this experience, I have learned a lot. Thankfully, everything worked out amazing for my husband and he is recovering very well and quickly.

In hoping to help others going through this experience, I can now say the best thing you can do is,”Stay as positive as possible. Have faith that all will be well.”

There would be days where I would think, “I can do this. I can be supportive and get my husband thru this!”  There would also be days when I would think, “Why do we have to have this happen?” On those days, I would just cry.

As people found out my husband upcoming surgery, it seemed like everyone had a story to tell me.  Some people said stuff like “They do these all the time!” and “Act like he was getting a haircut”.  Others would tell me these scary stories about stuff that made me very nervous. I was thinking, “Why are you telling me this?”

What I would suggest is that you definitely keep the faith, read positive books, learn to let things go, and keep everything you hear in perspective since everyone’s body heals differently.

My good friend, Amy Gould suggested I get Adam’s heart valve surgery book.  This was really helpful for myself and my husband to get a better understanding of what to expect. My husband would read it at night after work and I would read it during the day.   What really was good to know is how to get your house set up in advance of surgery.  We had a recliner in the living room. However, it didn’t have a handle.  We re-arranged our bedroom and moved a recliner up from the basement which had a handle.  Even though my husband was able to sleep in the bed, it was good to have another spot for reading or taking a nap.  I bought a few items from “Relax the Back” to elevate your legs and have different comfortable areas during the recuperation period.



When you do your research to find a surgeon, have a spiral notebook and write everything down.  Make sure you find a surgeon that you can trust and feel comfortable with.   Ask all your other doctors who they would suggest, doctors always know doctors.   Set up two surgeon consultations. Then, after you make your decision bring your spiral notebook with your everyday to the hospital and  write down all the doctors and nurses names and phone numbers, and info they tell you because you have so much to think about during the day, you will forget things.  Then you can easily refer back to your notes.

While in the hospital, I brought my husband a pillow from home which helped him sleep much better.  I also brought in some boxers, t-shirt and a robe.  He was not able to use these until a few days later but made him feel better than just having the hospital gown on.  They give everyone a red heart pillow after surgery.  Spray it with lavender to help your spouse sleep well or your perfume to remind him of you when he is sleeping.  I also brought in a stand-up clip that holds two fun pictures of us for him to look at which we put on the adjustable tray — where they keep your water and other stuff.

I used a small suitcase on rollers which I would pack the night before so it was ready to go in the morning since I left so early.   I would put stuff in there for both of us.  It made it easier just to roll it around every day.  The first day while waiting during surgery I put my jacket in there, I brought snacks, water, books, newspaper, my laptop and cell phone charger.  Then, on other days, I would put stuff for my husband in there like clothes, toilet paper, food, and the newspaper for him to read, etc.

I highly suggest you send out an email before the surgery for friends, family and coworkers to let them know that he will not be able to have visitors since the patient really needs to get sleep so the body can heal.   People mean well when they stop by and visit. But, then the patient feels like they need to stay awake. If you do have family come to the hospital, make sure they have reading material, a laptop or cell phone for texting or something to keep them busy so the patient can sleep.   I brought my laptop to do work and would also read emails to my husband which cheered him up knowing everyone was thinking about him.

Get to know your nurses since they have a tough job.  I suggest bringing in doughnuts, candy or something to share with their co-workers.  Write a note on the inside of the doughnut box or somewhere to thank them for taking such good care of the patient.

I was very tired the day of surgery. We had to be at the hospital at 5:30am and I stayed until 10pm.  My brother had suggested I get a hotel room so I didn’t have to drive home.  Even though I lived fairly close, just 30-40 minutes away. I did stay at a hotel 5 minutes away.  I also got a room for my mother-in-law. This was 1 of the best things I could have done since I was exhausted that day.  Also the 2nd day it was helpful to have somebody drive me home because I was again very tired.  Have 2 friends come and 1 can drive your car home.

It really helps to bring in your own food.  My husband didn’t have much of an appetite the first few days. But, when I started bringing in food he started eating better.  Also, I brought snacks for myself to eat with him.  If you need to pick food up from a nearby restaurant those hot/ cold storage bags are great.

After several days of being on so much medication, it is difficult for the patient to go to the bathroom.  I brought Raisin Bran or some other high fiber cereal from home for breakfast.  Bring in your own favorite coffee, it might need to be decaf because of blood pressure.  Lastly, grape juice works like prune juice but tastes better.  When all else fails bring in White Castle sliders they will definitely do the trick.

If you don’t already own a blood pressure machine and thermometer get one in advance.  You will need to take both readings for a few weeks when you get home from the hospital.


Incentive Spirometer
The Breathing Gadget (aka Incentive Spirometer)


My husband is soon starting cardiac rehab and has been walking quite a bit and using the breathing gadget.  Everyone highly suggests rehab for a better recovery.  It’s really not as bad as I expected it to be. It’s amazing how fast the body can heal with proper rest and nutrition.  You can do this!


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.

Megan says on July 1st, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with your husbands surgery. It’s nice to hear other peoples positive experiences. My husband is soon to go for Mitral Valve Repair (Aug. 9th) and now as the time comes closer I am getting more nervous each day.The ideas of packing a rolling suitcase is genious!! With everything else on my mind right now, I would have never thought of that! I would like to ask though, how did you deal with everyone constantly asking questions about His condition? And also, what was going through your mind when he was actually in surgery? How did you get through that time frame? Thank you in advance for any answers to these questions!!

linda says on July 4th, 2012 at 10:51 am

I bought Adam’s book and down loaded it on my Nook for us to read so we knew what to expect as we were getting pretty anxious. The book was a huge help as then he knew what to expect and was aware of what was happening. When we knew the date of my husbands’ surgery (he had an aortic valve replacement) I signed up to the journal online and sent the address etc. to all of our family and friends, that way I didn’t have to keep repeating and they were able to follow his progress. It was the best thing I did. We still use it and it has been almost 4 months! We took a suitcase with wheels too which was very helpful and I took my lap top, my nook, his slippers, robe and underwear and we bought a button down shirt 2 sizes too big for him to wear in the hospital when he could and then home, that was another great idea!

ClyDenna says on July 5th, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Thanks so Very much for posting this. I’m 72 hours away from taking my hubby to CCF and this really helped me prepare for the little things. Thanks to Deb for sharing such important vital info.
Cly Denna, Norb’s wife.

Lydia says on June 24th, 2013 at 10:34 am

June 3 was the date of my husband’s valve replacement and short by-pass surgery. Now, three weeks later, he his doing pretty well physically according to his follow-up doctor visit. He has begun rehab and we’re hoping that will shorten his recovery time. Sadly, however, I feel some aspects of preparation for and recovery after open-heart surgery are missing – those aspects are the “mental” ones. As the date for surgery drew closer, he became pretty much a monster and had me in tears nearly every day for one reason or another. The stress he was feeling was passed on to me. There were days when I didn’t dare start a conversation. During his hospital stay and for the first week and a half or so when he came home, he was pleasant. Now he is apparently becoming bored and angry that he can’t resume his normal activities. Again, I am the recipient of his monster-like moods and instead of being even a little bit thankful I’m taking care of most everything, he’s accused me of making him a prisoner. Maybe we just didn’t get enough emotional preparation tips, or maybe my husband is not who I thought he was after 24 years of marriage. Has anyone else gone through this? How did you cope? Truthfully, there are times when I feel this surgery will destroy our marriage –

Toni says on July 2nd, 2013 at 9:35 am

My husband just had quadruple bypass and I can relate to you so much Lydia. The only thing getting me through is my faith because I keep praying for strength. My husband and me and our children are all very scared and this is life altering. I have to keep staying strong for everyone and it is taking it’s toll, but I refuse to let it win. You have to stay strong for everyone but you are allowed to vent, call a friend, do stuff for yourself, and most of all and most helpful….have a good cry as needed. I think also getting him out of the house will help lift his spirits. good luck to you and I will pray for you to have patience and strength as well…it can only get better from here because we’ve already been through hell in a handbasket watching our strong husbands be a bit weaker than we are used to. It’s all normal to feel the way we feel and it will eventually be back to normal for us. Email me any time, it helps to know others are there with a sympathetic ear and I could use one as well. Don’t forget humor!!!

Rosa Wilson says on October 12th, 2013 at 8:25 am

My husband has been battling heart disease for 17 years now, he had a heart attack at 36 at that time I was 30 year after year he has had stent after stent, just a few months back he had to have open heart surgery, he did well but it s me going through depression and perhaps he is just hiding it from me, apox 6 weeks after his surgery I put a home that I love on the market and sold it for no reason, not late and could afford it, just cannot figure it out, I am so sad that I sold our home and feel like I let him down, he is just happy to be alive, I now have bought a small house but am so sad that I sold the home we were suppose to live in until we retired, not only that for the first time in my life I had to go on antidepressant, which just recently weaned my self off, they had terrible side effects, I worked out of my home but my smaller home is to small for the job I was doing, I just feel like im making mistakes, can you please help me with that. My husband and I have been married almost 30 years and I love him so much, I just am scared now and feeling over welmed.

Joy says on December 21st, 2013 at 2:27 am

End of October my husband was referred for heart test, after several, and catherization, we saw the Thoracic surgeon. We were told a triple bypass and valve replacement was required w/no other options since the blocked vessels were at 95/98 percent, and the valve was not closing. The surgeon scheduled his surgery for 12/16/2013, he went on leave from work and 2 days before we rescheduled due to an emergency, someone worse off than my husband. Rescheduled for 12/23/2013, on 12/21/2013 they called to cancel that surgery to do holiday and staff issues. We were so stressed and fruststrated, we asked the surgeon to call, he did my hubby explained he was already on leave from employment and cannot keep going through this. He explained he will need to cancel, at that the surgeon rescheduled him for 12/26/2013.. Needless to say I do not trust them anymore. Help need some or any advice please.

charlotte says on January 11th, 2014 at 2:01 am

i can relate to the anger and the toll it takes. i was married to the love of my life and took home another man the anger never let up and did ruin our marriage. i spoke with the surgeon who told me he knew this happened and he sometimes wondered if he did any favors. just a sad out come.

C says on March 10th, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Thanks for the info!

Lost marbles says on April 7th, 2016 at 6:57 pm

Am I losing my marbles? Be honest please. In the past 2 years I had a very upsetting miscarriage. 3 months after my loss my mom whom I was very close to, passed on. 2 weeks after that I hydroplaned rolling 3 times down an embankment. My dad and 2 of my children were in the car as well. It’s only recently I’ve stopped hurting “everyday”. I still have my share of days and moments of pain physical and emotional. (Dad broke some ribs, kids were well)… During these events I was alone as my us and works months at a time away from home. I’m trying not be let resentment set in. Just in December we found out he has severe leaky mitral valve also dis formed. Consultation is next week.
Just 10 days ago while my husband was gone for work ( against Dr wishes) my brother had suddenly passed away. I’m just emotionally in an uproar. I told my husband I’m taking the thought of having a baby at this point off the table. He is very unhappy with me saying that. I’m left feeling we had a marriage ‘deal’ and not of love. We’ve only married 2.5 years ago. I’m 41 he is 54. I’m needing words of encouragement as its not in the home. We are like dualing dragons.
I have had no support for any of this crap that’s happened other that ‘it is what it is’….. Gee thanks.

Rachel Chambers says on May 23rd, 2017 at 9:40 pm

I know this is an older thread but maybe someone could help me. My husband has a quadruple bypass almost 3 weeks ago. I have taken care of him, our kids and EVERYTHING else. Did any of the wife’s find themselves looking at their husband’s differently? I’m not attracted to him like I was. I see him as a fragile cardiac patient not as my strong active husband. I feel horrible. I love him with all my heart and don’t want this ruin our relationship. Please any advice would be appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Newest Community Post

Teresa says, "I am thinking about all the folks"
Read more

Earl says, "So today I went to see a vascular"
Read more

Carolyn says, "August 12 this year was my first year"
Read more

Find Heart Valve Surgeons

Search 1,500 patient-recommended surgeons