Tom Broussard - Heart Valve Ambassador
As a Heart Valve Ambassador, one of the most rewarding things I get to do is talk to others who are preparing for a heart valve replacement.
For many people, it’s an anxious time, with fears about the procedure and their condition.
I never had a chance to get anxious about either of the two valve surgeries I’ve had or talk to anyone who and undergone a replacement.
In 2011, I underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery. I was 59 at the time and was so relieved to have avoided a heart attack that I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that they also replaced my heart valve.
A few months later, I had a debilitating stroke caused by a clot, something my doctors suspect was due to the surgery. I spent the next 11 months learning how to read, write and speak. Other health challenges, including renal failure, caused me to lose a kidney.
It was a difficult time, but my focus was on stroke recovery. When it came to my heart, I figured everything was fixed and I didn’t have to worry about it.
In 2017, I found myself having trouble breathing. At first, I thought I was just a bad cold or the flu and ended up that the emergency room as symptoms worsened. After some misdiagnoses, I learned that it was heart valve disease (HVD).
Heart valve disease (HVD) is a relatively common condition affecting more than 8 million adults in the U.S. in which one or more of the heart valves have been damaged, disrupting blood flow by not opening or closing properly. The condition can strain the heart and hinder proper circulation of the blood.
HVD becomes more common with age, with 1 in 8 people older than 75 years old estimated to have moderate to severe heart valve disease, but people congenital heart valve defects or those who have experienced a heart attack, rheumatic fever, hypercholesterolemia and poor lining of the heart walls or valves have an increased risk.
In my case, the valve I hadn’t paid much attention to six years earlier had failed and was causing my heart to strain.
For some people, HVD symptoms, which primarily chest tightness or fatigue, can be so subtle that they are unnoticed or attributed to other conditions, such as aging or being out of shape. And while HVD worsens over time, progress can be so slow that it isn’t detected until the condition is severe.
Left untreated, severe HVD can cause heart failure, stroke, blood clots, or death due to sudden cardiac arrest.
Once doctors identified the problem, it was just a few days before I had my valve replaced for a second time. Even though it was an emergency situation, instead of feeling scared, I felt relieved there was a plan to move forward.
Valve replacement is traditionally done through open-heart surgery – as my first one was – but this time I had a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, a minimally invasive surgical procedure that wedges a replacement valve into the aortic valve's place through a catheter, similar to stent placement.
Talking to other patients about heart valve disease has given me a new sense of purpose. When I had my valve replacement in 2017, I didn’t even know what TAVR was, let alone talk to someone who had undergone the procedure.
In some cases, it’s about being there to listen to fears. In other cases, it’s about encouraging someone to seek additional information so that they can better understand.
Today my health is pretty good. I exercise every day and maintain a healthy diet to help protect my heart health. I make sure I get enough rest and listen to my body when it says it’s tired. Living in St. Augustine, Florida, the humidity can take a toll. Gone are the days when I could spend hours doing yard work. I make adjustments where needed and can still enjoy activities like roller skating.
We’re all different, but there are very similar themes in our fears and experiences. I was that person who was in terrible shape and got better.