Guest Blog: Jim Talks About Pain, Cardiac Rehab & Mowing Lawns After Aortic Valve Replacement Surgery

By Adam Pick on August 8, 2013

A common question that patients have before cardiac surgery is, “How much pain will I experience?”

As we have previously discussed, each patient will have a unique experience during recovery. Some patients experience a lot of pain. Some patients experience some pain. And, some patients report no pain. For this reason, most patients will become familiar with a pain scale (see below) during their hospital stay.


Jim Swanson - Cardiac Surgery PatientJim Swanson – Aortic Valve Replacement Patient


Recently, I received a patient update from Jim Swanson about his experience specific to pain.  I thought you might enjoy Jim’s update, so I posted it below.

Hi Adam – I had my aortic valve replaced and aorta replaced 13 weeks ago.  I was able to delay the surgery for several months to finish up some work projects. This gave me a long time to think about the surgery.  My thoughts ranged from pure terror to acceptance.  I had a friend who had open heart surgery the previous year, and found that a number of the people I met in business also had the surgery.  I was suddenly sharing my experiences with them and I realized I was not alone.  Each person’s story was different.  For several patients, there were complications that they were able to overcome.  For others, there was only modest pain and recovery went smoothly.


Patient Pain Scale


My main fear was to awake from the surgery and face a new reality of “terrible pain” and situations I would not be able to handle.  However, when I awoke, there was very little pain (granted I was on strong pain killers).  By day two, as the strong drugs wore off, I was surprised to find that the actual pain in my chest was pretty manageable.  As was the case with two of my friends, there really was no need for strong pain killers.  By day three, I was just taking regular Tylenol.  I found similar stories from people in my Cardiac Rehab group.  We definitely felt like we had the wind kicked out of us — but the actual pain was limited.


Jim with Nick in the hospital
Jim with Nick (his son)


I certainly believe some people come out of surgery with incredible pain. We are all different physically.  I am writing this to let you know that, if you are looking at open heart surgery, the pain may not be as terrible as you imagine.

My surgeon was Dr. Timothy Kroshus, at Regions Hospital.  My friend, who helped develop my valve at St. Jude Medical and is a salesman for the valve, recommended Dr. Kroshus as being the top doctor in the field up here.  Dr. Kroshus told me he had done 3,000 or 4,000 of this same aortic valve / aorta surgeries.

FYI, I am very proud as I just finished all 36 Cardiac Rehab sessions. I also cut my large lawn yesterday — walking behind the mower.  The Rehab Team was very excited to get your book.

Thanks for all you do!

Jim Swanson
Minneapolis, Minnesota

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.

Lloyd Eisen says on August 8th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

jim……………want you to know that i am a 62 year old lawyer in atlantic city and had your operation on 2/25/13 at U of P hospital in Philly, with Dr Bavaria.( i have new st jude bovine valve and new aorta too) i had had a repair of my bicuspid valve in ’99 at Cleveland so it was a reop. i finished my 36 rehabs about a month ago, and have been golfing, going to the gym and working on an improving basis getting stronger every day or week. noticably. also had virtually no pain in either operation and i joke with people that the most painfull part of the 99 surgery was when a nurse ripped off a sticky pad from my skin that had been used for heart monitor as i was leaving. so best wishes to you. Sincerely, Lloyd

maureen says on August 8th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I have been told I am about two to three years away from needing my aortic valve replaced due to stenosis. My fear about pain is I am allergic to all pain meds, I can only take anti inflammatory meds. Narcotics and synthetic pain meds slow and stop my heart. Actually had a complete ceasarian hystorectomy (spelling sorry) done with an epidural and versid (again spelling??) no pain medication afterwards. I have been told I am a candidate for the operation that is done through the artery but I still worry about pain management afterwards? Anyone else familiar with my problem?

Dominick says on August 10th, 2013 at 9:07 am

Maureen, dont worry about –I had my aortic valve and aorta replaced with the full open chest surgery. Never felt the need to for the pain meds when the nurses and docotrs attempted to push them on me. I suffer from recurring kidney stones (That is Pain) by comparison to the pain I get from kidney stones –the pain of this surgery is easily endured. Look, cutting ones ribs open does offer discomfort after the fact–just make sure you hold a pillow against your chest if you are going to tighten your stomach muscles as in laughing, coughing and God forbid Sneezing. Just keep a very firm pillow handy for the first few weeks after surgery –you really wont need pain killers. Plus the fact they cause constipation–I’d rather have some pain discomfort than not be able to go to the bathroom. Good Luck –you’re going to be just fine without the pain meds.

maureen says on August 10th, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Thanks, Dominick, I learned the pillow trick with the hystorectomy surgery, yes it really works. I needed to hear that about your heart surgery. I guess if I made it thru the other surgery without the pain meds, and they took out a major organ in that one, then I should be able to handle this. It helps to hear that from others though. Thanks!

Jackie K says on August 10th, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I will be having an aortic valve replacement within the year. I am a 61 year old female . I had breast cancer in 1990 with bilateral mastectomies and silicone implants. Due to rupture I have silicone in my lymph system., diagnosed on biopsies I have since been diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis, auto immune hepatitis , rheumatoid and osteo arthriits. schogrens and now this. I am afraid but I believe the doctors from Abbott in Mpls are experienced with this and will take good care of me.
Will I have more energy after the procedure? I haven’t had chest pain. What symptoms did others have.

Barb says on August 12th, 2013 at 1:53 pm

My story/question is this – At the recommendation of my family doctor’s office I had an echocardiogram less than one month ago,The diagnosis for the test was “heart murmur.” It was news to me and after having the recommended test, my doctor’s office called to tell me that I have an aortic stenosis, that my heart is beating fine, and there’s no need for a follow up. I asked about prophylactic measures and after hesitation the nurse told me – Um no need for that. I waited a few days to gather some more information and found out during my search, that many of the feelings I’ve experienced over my life and was told by my parents and later my spouse to – quit exaggerating – exercise more – eat a better diet – stop worrying (all of which I’d followed to no avail). I’d grown to accept these “feelings: as “normal” for me – easily fatigued, shortness of breath, excessive urination (even years after bladder surgery/cystocele), intermittent chest tightness & heart flutters, but now have discovered that these were symptoms. My question is this – Because my doctor’s office is saying there’s no recommended follow up suggested from the test reading – What if anything should I do or say? I made an appointment to discuss my concerns with my physician’s office, but if they stick to what they’ve already told me Should I be concerned? I have a 24 year old daughter who was born with a congenital VSD & aortic stenosis. So I know some of what/what not to expect after testing. Thank you.

Jean Norenberg says on December 8th, 2013 at 11:34 am

I am a healthy 82 yr old female. I have two leaky valves, MVP, and A-Fib. No other major health problems and not overweight. For the past year I have been experiencing extreme shortness of breath. Echo and other tests show increased pulmonary pressure so it’s looking like a valve replacement might be in the near future. I am concerned that at my age, taking almost a year off for health to return may not be the way to go. I have not yet seen anywhere comments from anyone in or near my age group who has gone through valve replacement/repair so don’t know what to expect.

Mary says on June 8th, 2014 at 4:42 am

I am 66 year old female with bicuspid aortic valve waiting for surgery date. Thank you Jim especially your comment before surgery about thoughts ranging from pure terror to acceptance as this is totally me at the moment. Also felt reassured about the pain levels you experienced. i too am reluctant to go through the heavy painkiller thing with all their side effects. am a bit of a control freak so this whole open heart surgery thing just terrifies me. Can exercise like i used to and have put on four kilos in last six months. walking just dosnt work for me unless its at a fast pace. i need real aerobic exercise to keep my weight stable as i have thyroid issues too. am just thoroughly depressed and want my life to get back to normal. mary

N Gangadharan says on July 18th, 2014 at 10:08 pm

I had my aortic valve replacement and double by pass on 04 June 2014 and am recovering fine. Absolutely no problems. I feel most of your recovery depends on your mindset. Try to be as normal as possible. I have almost forgotten that i had a major surgery. Of course your physical condition also plays a role.
Be sure of your goals, be steady in your programs and be positive for an uneventful recovery and restoration of normal life.

Eloqui says on November 6th, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I had my mitral valve repaired by Dr. Vaughn Starnes two weeks ago Tuesday. My last Tylenol was over a week ago. Although the incision under my breast is sore, I can feel where they stretched my ribs, and I still have pin prick nerve discomfort down one arm– it’s nothing compared to what I expected.
On the two week mark, I dressed up and went to a business meeting. The next day my partner and I conducted a half day training at a clients’ office. Truthfully, I’m amazed I have enough energy to slowly get back into my work routine.
I’m 64, hiked until the day before the surgery, and kept my weight down to give myself the best advantage. And when I spend 3-5 hours doing what I used to, I’ll need a lengthy nap, but please that’s nothing! Modern medicine and a rock star surgeon make all the difference. And although I would never choose to go through this again, the whole surgery is now in the rear view mirror.

Eloqui says on November 6th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Anyone else experience low blood pressure after their surgery? We’re talking 88 or 90 over 60. My usual BP is 120 over 70.

Daleen says on February 6th, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I am 58 and had aortic aneurysm with aortic valve replacement at the closing of surgery had emergency coronary bypass.. which turned my surgery into a 7 hour event…at week 5 I have developed inflammation of the heart and am now on medro dose pack…yesterday was the first day I have been fever free since the day of surgery. I have stabbing nerve pain in my left pinky which has rendered my left arm pretty much useless. I also have pain in my Right chest..neck..and shoulder area with movement of my right arm…does anyone out there have any input on ever feeling better

hc says on April 5th, 2015 at 6:33 pm

I am a male 78aost79 just had valve replacement experience some discomfort in chest have many other
Health issues the cardo MD was satisfied with results time will only tell..on
Medication est.2months.

Kimberly Ottinger-Walker says on August 29th, 2015 at 10:33 am

Yes, I have the same pain except mostly in left side, but does occasionally switch to right side

Kimberly Ottinger-Walker says on August 29th, 2015 at 10:46 am

I am 52 and had several Echos and was informed my whole life I had MVP, not to worry. Not! I switched Drs(which in itself is another story) he listened to my heart. Ordered immediate ECHO. I received a call that night from my Dr on his cell phone stating I had an appt with a Cardiac Surgeon Monday, I was on pace for Surgery. Come to find out I had Bicuspid Valve with Severe stenosis and Aortic Aneurysm, and was operating on 18% of my heart and needed immediate surgery. To say I was stunned was an understatement. I had been Misdiagnosed my entire life, and could(would) have died shortly if not for a Dr who cared. Please, always question, no matter what!

Daleen says on August 29th, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Your answer of mindset and positive attitude is quite discouraging…and downright insulting…I have been active my entire life and I am on my 4th round of prednisone..I have been pleguaged with high fevers and chest pain..because I’m a nurse and I know my body I wasnt ready to sit back and assume that it was just me…I have Dresslers Syndrome and no one knows when it will end. So I am very careful about the advise I give other cardiac patients

Martbigee says on May 8th, 2016 at 10:18 pm

I had open heart surgery just over three weeks ago. I died briefly 7 hours after the surgery, but manual CPR brought me back. I’m 73, and have also had two strokes within the past three years. I’m an insulin dependent diabetic. The pain of the operation is largely gone, but I get very tired and have to lie down several times a day (I use oxygen when I lay down). My strength and stamina are still very poor. At what point might I be able to drive myself to my doctors appointments? Any suggestions?

bennypat says on June 6th, 2016 at 10:32 am

I had a valve replacement also and a few weeks ago my BP was very low. It scared me but ended up clearing up by itself. I might of taken to much high blood pressure medication. The biggest problem I’ve had since the surgery is memory loss.

bennypat says on June 6th, 2016 at 10:35 am

Attitude has a lot to do with recovery time.

curtis bell says on October 23rd, 2016 at 9:41 pm

i agree dr. dont listen always ask more questions / and if your dr, gives you answers that dont match research you have done get a second and third opinion / dr. get real lazy about their jobs after a while / remember how many people you meet everyday that care about doing a great job . no customer service is that way in every field

CHERYL SCHMIDT says on February 18th, 2017 at 3:28 am

Hi, I had an Aortic Valve Replacement 5 months ago and I’m still in the 36 weeks of cardiac rehab. I’m loving every minute of it. However my fears of waking up with the respirator down my throat won’t go away…The first day they knocked me out right away, but when I woke up the second day, I was totally panicked. They wouldn’t take it out for almost 2 hours. This did a major job on my head. When I got home I was terrified to lay in my bed for 3 weeks. Everytime I laid down, I started panicking and couldn’t breath. So I slept in a recliner for 3 weeks. Now even though I’m doing well, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m terrified I will have to go through it again. Why? I don’t know. I just can’t forget….
Any suggestions?

tbonepl says on April 25th, 2017 at 10:51 am

Ask you doctor if this if this could be PPS (Post Perocardital Syndrome). Treatment is Coltrazine and high dose aspirin. Sorry you are having issues.

Hoss the Magnificent says on May 21st, 2017 at 6:09 pm

Thanks Jim, I am going in next month for aortic valve replacement to correct severe aortic insufficiency. Your comments have been among the most reassuring I have read in the past several months preparing for the experience. There is a history in my family of heart valve issues, with some not-good outcomes and I’ll spare you the unhappy details. I am not a smoker and did not have rheumatic fever as a child, as some of my dear relatives who did not do so well with this surgery. I am <60 and have no history of heart issues, and my cardiologist just detected the condition this past winter, so I am optimistic. Thanks to everyone who has contributed their stories, wishing all the best.

Alice Reid says on July 16th, 2017 at 12:04 am

I wake every morning with a loud ticking in the back lowest point of my skull. Does anyone else experience this ?

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