100 hour Mitral Valve Repair
As with my other "From a Patient's Perspective" web pages ( Cardioversion, TEE,
Angiogram) my purpose here is to give
you some idea of what you might expect, should you have to go through the same
procedure I did. If you read my page on Cardioversion
you know I'm pretty much a chicken when it comes to invasive medical procedures,
and you can't get more invasive than Open Heart Surgery! You might ask
yourself: "How did a guy that was petrified at the thought of having Cardioversion
done and postponed it for over a year bring himself to having the surgery?!".
Well I can tell you it wasn't easy. Three months passed between the diagnosis
and actual surgery and every single day I asked myself: "How do other people
do this? Knowing what is in store for them, how in the world do they go through
For me at least, the apprehension was based on not knowing what to expect:
How much pain is involve and am I going to be able to handle it? What are the
doctors and nurses going to do for me and what am I expected to do for myself?
What are my options if any? Questions like these kept racing through my mind.
I searched the web for information on Mitral Valve Repair and Replacement.
There were hundreds of sites, mostly sponsored by various hospitals that
do this type of surgery. You could see actual pictures of hearts at various
stages of repair, animation of the surgical procedure, and boilerplate numbers
on typical hospital stays, recovery times, etc. All fine and good, but none
addressed my concerns: "What am I going to experience, what
am I going to feel?". Hopefully I can shed a little light
on this by sharing my own experiences with you here.
I'm sure there are some of you reading this that have already made up your
minds that this isn't for you, and I certainly can understand. As an incentive
to continue reading this page, let me assure you it is not as bad as you might
imagine, and the whole process can be over and done with in just a few days.
Here was my schedule of events...
|Total time between
entering the hospital and leaving...
||100 hours (a little
over 4 days)
|Duration of the actual
||~ 2 hours
|First time I was able
to sit on the edge of the bed...
||~ 8 hours after surgery
|First time I was able
to get out of bed and sit in a chair for an hour...
tubes and Foley Catheter removed (yeah!). First time I was able to get out
of bed and walk around unassisted...
|Wires for temporary
pacemaker removed (pacemaker never used). Walked several hours in 1/2 to
1 hour segments. Felt great!
|Dismissed from the
||Morning of the 5th
If you still aren't convinced... The first day I was able to leave my room
and walk the halls of the hospital, an elderly woman passed me like I was standing
still (the tortoise and hare scenario). I looked at her and noticed she too
had a fresh Sternotomy scar. I asked the nurse about her and was told she was
96 years old and had the same operation I did. If a 60 year old chicken going
through this doesn't convince you that you can as well, think of this 96 year
old woman sprinting down the hall!
I have divided my experiences with Open Heart Surgery / Mitral Valve Repair into
three parts as follows:
- Preparation: The events that
transpired between the time it was determined that Mitral Valve surgery was
inevitable, and the day before the actual surgery.
- Screening, Surgery and Hospital Stay:
This covers my initial consultation with the surgeon, the actual surgery (what
I remember of it), and the recovery time in the hospital.
- Recovery: A work in progress, this
page will (still not written) cover my recovery from the time I left the hospital
to ??? To give you a little advanced preview, I think this was (and is) the
most difficult of all three events, both the living of it and trying to get
it documented for this web site.
Unfortunately I am no where near completing this web page. It has proven to
be the most difficult of all those attempted. Perhaps it is the complexity of
the procedure, or perhaps it is the fact that the recovery process is ongoing
and it is pretty difficult to write about events that are still in flux. What
ever the reason, there is some doubt if I will ever finish it. For that reason,
I've decided to give you the summary here in the beginning, rather than wait
for an end that may never come...
Mitral Valve Surgery - a quick overview...
- This is something you do because you have to. This is something you
do because if you don't, things are going to get worse and eventually beyond
the point of repair. For some, it is a non-decision; your quality of life
diminishes to the point where you will do anything to make it better. To others,
like myself, who are relatively asymptomatic, its a more difficult call. My
cardiologist told me that my MVP (Mitral Valve Prolapse) was so severe that,
if left uncorrected, would cause irreparable damage to my heart.
- This is major surgery and there are associated risks. There are many
things you can do to minimize those risk such as:
- Find the very best cardiovascular surgeon you can. This person will
literally be holding your life in his or her hands! In my case, I was
very lucky to find a surgeon that went the extra mile to save my valve,
rather than take the much easier path of replacing it with an organic
(pig) or mechanical valve, both of which have associated risks and / or
- Have your surgery done at a hospital that specializes in cardiac surgery.
Your surgery and rapid recovery depend not only on the surgeon, but also
on the nursing and support staff. Hospitals that specialize in cardiac
surgery are most likely to have the best of the best, with the experience
to handle any situation that may arise.
- Undergo thorough cardiovascular screening prior to your surgery. If
any thing else need repairing (such as a blocked artery) best do it at
the same time. Believe me, you don't want to go through this any more
times than absolutely necessary!
- Ask your surgeon how many units of blood will be required for your surgery
and donate that blood ahead of time at your local blood bank (Autologous
Blood Donation). There is no safer, more compatible blood than your own.
Check with your doctor first and if he says it is safe to donate blood,
by all means do it.
- If you have any health issues such as a bad cold, sore throat, etc.
get these attended to prior to banking your blood. It is also a good idea
to have your hemoglobin level checked and supplement your diet with iron
pills or iron rich foods if necessary. The blood bank will not collect
your blood if your hemoglobin levels are too low.
- Yes, there is pain involved, but it is manageable. Pain is relative
and highly subjective. Each of us has our own pain threshold and level of
tolerance. Fortunately with the medications they have today, it is fully manageable.
Keep in mind, even though it is possible to completely block the pain, this
isn't always a wise thing to do. Pain takes over where common sense fails.
- The anticipation is far worse than the event! As with every medical
procedure I've reported here, the anxiety and anticipation was far worse than
the actual surgery. In fact, since you sleep through the whole ordeal, it
is pretty much a nonevent. Yes, there is a certain amount of discomfort during
the post-op recovery, but it certainly is manageable. I guess the worse pain
I've experienced in my life was when I had a root canal. I can promise you
the pain I experienced in the hospital after surgery was nothing compared
to that of the endodontist tap dancing on an exposed root, 2 inches from my
- Knowing what's involved, how do you do it? I've been asked this question
several times and my answer is always: "You just do; step-by-step,
day-by-day, you just keep going until it's over with". Seems like
a simplistic answer I know, but that really says it all. You aren't doing
this because you want to, but rather because you have to. Once you accept
that fact, and go with the tide rather than against it, the sooner you'll
be able to come to terms with it and the sooner you'll be able to invest your
emotional energy in what really matters... in getting well. It took me a very
long time to learn this lesson.
In all of my web pages to date, I've tried to tell it as it is; i.e. to give
the reader an honest representation of what is involved, both the good and the
bad. I'd like to tell you that all went smooth and that I feel 20 year younger
since having the surgery done, but unfortunately it just isn't true. The fact
of the matter is, I feel worse now than I did before the surgery. Perhaps it
is just too soon; it has been only 6 weeks since the surgery. In fact I really
have no idea what the norm is. I've been told that some people have run a 10K
marathon race only 6 weeks after surgery. Others have told me it can take up
to a year to fully recover. It's interesting that the doctors and nurses give
you a great deal of information on the surgery and the events leading up to
it, but virtually no information on what to expect once it is over. Hopefully
I can shed some light on the subject as time passes...
About the logo...
"Veni, Vidi, Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered )
was Julius Caesar's battle cry. I felt that it was an appropriate motto
for anyone who has undergone open heart surgery. Perhaps someday I'll
make it into a button and hand them out to patients in the Cardiac Ward.
Page Updated: 26-Apr-2005