I am an 81-year-old widow from the New Jersey Shore. I was always an active senior, enjoying walks on the beach, shopping, gardening and exercising. I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis a few years ago. Although I had no symptoms, my cardiologist informed me that open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve was definitely in my future. I was scared to death to have surgery so I put the idea out of my mind.
It did not take very long for the symptoms to appear. At first the symptoms were mild. I experienced occasional shortness of breath and I noticed I wasn’t walking as fast or as far as I had. I tried not to think about it, but the symptoms were becoming more severe. I began feeling lightheaded and I realized I was stopping frequently to rest while doing simple chores like getting the mail or house cleaning.
My condition was deteriorating. It became difficult to walk very short distances without feeling dizzy or losing my breath. I woke up every day, only to feel alone and scared.
Then something terrible happened. I lost my beloved brother after complications associated with open heart surgery. After this, I decided I would never have surgery. I was scared, spending most of the day sitting in a chair in front of the television, not really watching but worrying, and wondering how much longer my heart valve would function.
Discovering the Maryland Heart Center
My son and daughter found the Maryland Heart Center while searching the Internet for information on aortic stenosis, a severe narrowing of the aortic valve. I never imagined there might be another option for my condition. We began reading about all the different procedures available to the older patient, especially the minimally invasive aortic valve replacement procedure. Through the support and optimism of my children, I began to have new hope.
The Phone Call
I will never in my life forget about my first phone call to put things in motion. I spoke to Jo Ann Sikora [C.R.N.P., a cardiac surgery nurse practitioner who works in cardiac surgery], explaining my condition and telling her all that I’ve been through.
In my opinion, she is one of the best health care professionals I have ever dealt with. She was kind, compassionate, understanding, and very concerned about my problem. She guided me every step of the way, answering all my questions and promptly returning my phone calls. She helped me prepare for the consultation with a surgeon, as well as my visit to the University of Maryland Medical Center for all the tests.
After spending a morning at the heart center to have some tests done, I had my consultation with my surgeon later in the day. As busy as he was, he spent as much time as I needed to discuss his procedure, answer my questions, fill me in on details, and explain before and after surgery issues. He was patient and understanding, never in a hurry to finish. He made me feel confident and optimistic about what he was going to do. I left Maryland that day with new hope, actually looking forward to my surgery, knowing that I was in the best of hands. For the first time, I was not afraid.
I have to admit, I was still a little frightened as I traveled to Maryland for my surgery. But the feeling was different. After the initial phone call and my first visit to the heart center, I really believed I made the best decision. My surgeon, Jo Ann Sikora and the entire staff at the center made me feel very comfortable about my surgery. I was apprehensive but excited and prepared to face my condition.
I had my surgery on October 15, 2007. Everything went well. After only two days, I began to eat solid foods. The next day, I was already walking with a walker. The entire team assigned to my case was fantastic. The doctors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists and social workers took great care of me and pushed me to a speedy recovery. I experienced very little if any pain, and have only a small scar where the 4-inch incision was made.
After only a short hospital stay following surgery, I was released. The staff made sure I knew exactly what I had to do when I arrived home. They provided me with guidelines and literature to help me understand what was ahead during my recovery. They explained all my medications and made it easy to schedule follow up visits.
They also kept my cardiologist in New Jersey informed about my case. It was time to begin the process of getting my life back in order. By following the heart center’s guidelines after surgery, I was getting stronger and taking more steps every day.
After only two weeks, I stopped using the walker. Soon I began going outside for walks. My shortness of breath and feelings of fear and depression were gone. I had met a new challenge and was determined to make a full recovery.
A New Beginning
It has been 10 weeks since my minimally invasive heart valve surgery and I feel stronger than I have in a very long time. I can walk up my daughter’s driveway in Virginia which is 427 feet up hill. Her mailbox sits right at the end of the driveway and I get her mail every day! This walk is challenging and has motivated me to do even more!
I am now walking every single day. I go shopping, clean my house, do small projects, and I’m back in the social circuit. I do not get tired or out of breath. I don’t have to depend on everyone to complete small tasks. I’m back!
I don’t know how I could ever thank the University of Maryland Heart Center for all they’ve done for me. I really thought it was too late for me; that my condition was so far gone that there was no real hope. The Heart Center changed all that.
I will always have a place in my new heart for Jo Ann Sikora and my surgical team. They did more for me than replace my heart valve. They replaced the last few years of loneliness and hopelessness with a new love for life, a second chance at happiness and a new beginning.
Thank you to the University of Maryland Heart Center.
Manahawkin, New Jersey