Without my scar, I'm not here. Show it Proudly!
My Heart Valve Story:
In the fall of 2010 I was feeling tired all the time. I’d have to sit on the edge of the bathtub while I was drying my hair. I started taking the elevator at work – it was up only one floor. When I wasn’t too tired to go to the gym I couldn’t push myself. On the Expresso bike, the woman on the next bike was riding the same tour I was and she passed me (she smoked me). She was at least 15 years older than I was.
In December 2010 I saw my primary care PA for another problem, but I mentioned to her that I was tired all the time. She dismissed it and said that I was just feeling the effects of getting older. Older? I was only 49! I asked, then had to demand, for a referral to see a cardiologist. My cholesterol was high and I was just put on a statin, plus I have an extensive family history of heart disease. She relented and gave me the referral.
At the cardiologist’s office I gave the intake nurse my family history, gave him my symptoms, and expressed my concern for my fatigue. The cardiologist looked at my paperwork, listened to my heart, and said, “You know that thing your dad had? You have it too. And I think we need to operate very soon.”
My dad had to have his aortic valve replaced over thirty years earlier – when he was in his early 50s.
My cardiologist was surprised that my primary care PA didn’t realize it when she listened to my heart. She told me that she could hear my heart murmur. He let me listen to my heart “beat”; it was going lub-woosh, lub-woosh, lub-woosh. Heart murmur? Nope, that sound was unmistakable aortic stenosis.
I was calm. I guess since my dad’s operation was a success, I didn’t think I had much to worry about.
Like my dad, I had a bicuspid valve which had calcified to an opening to a size less than a dime. My cardiologist was so glad that I pushed to see him. He said that it could have been very bad, very soon if I didn’t get checked out and get my valve repaired.
January 7, 2017, I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis; March 15, 2011, was my second “birthday.” There were a lot of tests in between. My cardiologist called me the cheerleader – I had a positive attitude throughout the process. Because of my age my cardiac surgeon would only put in a carbon valve, even though the less invasive TAVR procedure was just becoming popular.
My surgery was successful. After coming out of the anesthesia, my surgeon asked me how I felt. “I’m alive!” I exclaimed. He said that there was really no reason to doubt that I would make it. It wasn’t arrogance, it was confidence, and I was grateful that for it during the entire process.
Sadly, a month after my surgery, my dad passed away. He had a massive heart attack. But I take heart in knowing that he lived over 30 years with his artificial valve.
Recovery was hard. I remember coming home from the hospital and dreading having to climb the 15 stairs to get upstairs to go to bed. My husband stayed behind me while I took one stair at a time, resting after every step up. It was a tough those first few times just walking around the house for a few minutes. But I kept moving forward, and progressing. I remember how happy my father-in-law was when he saw me race down the stairs; I was well on my way to full a recovery!
After returning to work, I was sitting in my friend Becky’s office and she looked at me, shocked. She was amazed by how pink my complexion was. I looked at a photo a friend had taken of me in January and my skin was gray. I didn’t realize how sick I was because it was a slow process for my valve to calcify and close, and my circulatory system to slow down.
I had my surgery at the Heart Hospital at Norfolk (VA) General. My surgeon and medical team were awesome.
I credit the nurses at cardiac rehab for giving me my life back. I was a “gym rat” before my surgery, and they pushed me hard because I was so active before surgery. I was able to return to the gym and continued to beat my time on that Expresso bike :)
A few years later at the Norfolk Zoo, I was stopped by a young mother pushing her daughter in a stroller. She wanted to thank me for not covering up my open heart surgery scar. Her daughter had OHS shortly after she was born and the mom said that her mother and mother-in-law were horrified when she let her daughter’s scar show, especially when they’re out in public. I smiled at the young mom and said, “Without our scars, she and I aren’t here. Show it proudly!”
I’m looking forward to celebrating my seventh anniversary at my second chance on life.
I’m grateful to the American Heart Association. Because of their funding for research, both my father and I were able to outlive our damaged valves. Because of their funding for research of cardiac care, we were able to thrive after our surgery. Because of the American Heart Association I can proudly show my scar!