Christine Rekash Wagner – My Journey: Operation Backward Blood – Part 1

When Christine had her mitral valve surgery in 2013, she had many questions – but could find few answers. Wanting to help others facing similar journeys, she kept a journal from pre-op through post-op, and shares it here with some tips and tricks she found made the difference for her. This is the first of a multiple part series – check back for new installments monthly.

Tell us: What questions do you have – or what advice would you share – in preparing for heart surgery?
After several years of yearly echocardiograms and a watchful eye, in October of 2009, I was diagnosed with a leaky mitral valve. In October of 2012, I was advised that the results of my yearly echo demonstrated that my mitral valve regurgitation was becoming severe enough that I should consider surgery while I was a young and healthy 41 year old female.
The irony of the situation is that externally I wasn't feeling anything but what I had grown accustomed to as part of my daily living - heart palpitations and fatigue which I attributed to the overall stresses of everyday life. However, internally, I began to exhibit signs on my echocardiogram that my left ventricle was becoming dilated as result of the heart working harder to pump the blood that was regurgitating backward, thus not pumping efficiently throughout my body.
While I struggled with the concept of having surgery at such an early age, especially being in optimal health, I was advised that a repair to the valve is more advantageous than a replacement. As a female contemplating if pregnancy would ever be an option with this disease, I was advised several years early on that child bearing would be very high risk and I would need to be closely monitored by a team of cardiologists both during pregnancy and in delivery.
The most difficult pill to digest was the fact that my disease would only get worse as time progressed. The heart would become weaker and the ventricle would continue to enlarge, pressure in the lungs continue to increase, chordae become weaker, possibly rupture and cause irreversible damage overall. I continuously struggled with the thought that while I maintained a healthy weight of 125 lbs, over all healthy diet, moderate exercise and no matter how many antioxidant glasses of wine I consumed, genetics simply ruled this disease.
With all of this being said, on January 16, 2013, my husband and I met with Dr. Patrick McCarthy. After many questions and answers, hesitations, fears of the unknown and all the "what if's", I scheduled the surgery for June 13, 2013.
I chose to have the traditional open heart sternotomy incision even though I was an optimal candidate for the robotic minimally invasive procedure. I was not overly concerned about the cosmetic appearance of the scar post-surgery as much as I wanted to minimize any risk during the minimally invasive procedure. In my opinion, sometimes the old fashioned ways are the best ways. Open heart surgery has become so advanced that I was comfortable with the traditional sternotomy being in the hands of world renowned surgeons and cardiologists at Northwestern. 

Operation "Backward Blood" was the moniker that I chose to refer to my surgery. In preparation for Operation Backward Blood, my surgical team recommended I read heart valve patient Adam Pick's book, The Patients Guide to Heart Valve Surgery for patients and caregivers to dispel my anxiety, uncertainty and fears of what I was about to encounter. Looking back, I can truly say that the anxiety of the surgery was the most stressful for me and I would have been even more anxiety ridden without having read his book and his experiences, as well as the input from doctors across the country.
With this in mind, I would like to share with you some tips and tricks for my preparation of "Operation Backward Blood" pre-op, post - op and recovery from a female's perspective.
If you are fortunate as I was to have some time to schedule the surgery, you will also be fortunate to organize and delegate work assignments, household chores and shopping lists. While I do not   recommend scheduling six months in advance as I did, as anxiety levels just intensify, I found that it was extremely helpful to make notes and deadlines for myself as the operation date drew closer.
I also applied this tactic to my job. d0e883078bb1d73b7c478b18fbfd34c7-huge-go
I took copious notes of where I left off before enacting FMLA re: my workload as a paralegal and I found this extremely helpful when returning to work.
Additionally, I began to keep track of common items, as well as favorites that I would purchase at the grocery store so that my husband or caregivers would be able to streamline their trips to the grocery store. I even made meals ahead of time and froze them for when I would return home, with the intention of making cooking a little easier for my husband and caregivers. There's nothing quite like homemade chicken soup to help you feel better instantly. I am very fortunate that I have a very close knit family and had fresh homemade "meals on wheels" delivered to me by my parents and sisters post-op.
Lastly, I scheduled a few days off prior to surgery to clean my house from top to bottom one last time, a final trip to the grocery store, pay bills, organize my legal documents needed for the hospital, prepare for my recovery, pack for the hospital and enjoy time with my family and friends.

Coming up in the next segment of Christine’s journal: Make your lists and check them twice!

Posted by AHA/ASA Katie Bahn on Mar 7, 2016 11:15 AM CST


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