I had my mitral valve replaced in April 2003. I was 37 at the time. I am talking from personal experience. I will share some personal experience and some questions to ask. It is rather long, but I think it will help you and your mother.
1. Make sure to ask if the valve can be repaired or does it have to be replaced. Some valves can be repaired and not replaced. The cardiovascular surgeon will probably check during surgery to see if it can be repaired before they replace it. That is what they did with me, but in the end I had to have it replaced.
2. Depending upon how old your mother is, this is a very important thing to ask and think about. Some doctors suggest pig valves. Pig valves only last for about 15 years, so if she is young, she should consider a mechanical valve, they last 60-70 years. Go with the kind of valve that lasts the longest time period (trust me, she does not want to go through this surgery but once if at all possible, not trying to scare you or her). I had a St. Jude Mechanical Valve and it is also MRI
compatible so she can have MRI's in the future if need be, etc.
3. Be prepared for EXTREME soreness in the chest. They actually cut open the sternum
(break the chest bone). The surgeon will discuss this in more detail with you and her.
4. More than likely she will have to be on Coumadin
for the rest of her life if she gets a mechanical valve. This is a blood thinner and keeps things from sticking to the valve. She will have to have monthly visits with her cardiologist every month for the rest of her life so they can check her Coumadin level and keep it where it should be. This is very imporant. Talk with the doctor about Coumadin.
5. Ask the surgeon to explain step by step (and most do without you even having to ask) what will be done during the procedure. I won't go into detail about that.
6. Ask about post-op. (I am sure the surgeon will discuss this in detail also). From my personal experience, I was in intensive care after the surgery for 24 hours. They wean you off the ventilator as quickly as possible. She will not remember any of this time because she will be heavily sedated, so don't let that scare you. Also she will have many IV's and tubes when you see her in intensive care, again, don't let this scare you, it is normal. After 24 hours they will "bring her around" a little more and move her to a regular room. She will have a heart monitor and a temporary pacemaker and it will be painful for her to lie flat down. She will still have some IV's but not as many as she had in intensive care. She will be more alert once she is moved from intensive care. I had to sleep in a recliner for about 2 months as your sternum is broken and if you lay flat down someone has to help you get up, etc. She will be uncomfortable for a while, but pain medication does help. I really did not have pain, it is just a soreness that is so sore you can't describe that makes it hurt. They will begin making her walk with a pillow that she will hold across her chest. That pillow will be her buddy. If she has to cough
or sneeze she will hold that pillow over her chest with both arms to help ease the pain when she coughs or sneezes and also to help with stitches not coming out. Again, they will make her walk so clots will not form in her legs. She will have tight stockings on each leg that she will have to wear for a while after the surgery.
7. Ask about recovery time. I could not drive for 12 weeks. This gives your sternum bone time to heal. She will not be able to sweep, vacuum, or do many other things doing her recovery time. The doctor let me return to work 3 months after my surgery. The doctor will encourage much walking and other gentle exercises to strengthen her heart and strengthen her body.
8. I can tell you this, it was a tough recovery time, but it was tolerable. The result for me is that I feel better than I have in a long time. It took me approximately 6-12 months to totally feel good and back to normal. But I do get tired easily sometimes still to this day. There are good days and bad days.
9. Please tell her this one important thing. When I went in for my surgery I was not scared at all. When the surgery was over and I started to know what was going on (getting over the heavy sedation) around me, that is when I became very scared. I think that is when it hit me. Also if she gets a mechanical valve she will hear a ticking noise in her chest, that is the valve. That was the hardest thing to get use to. Now, I barely notice it all. After the surgery I would get very emotional because I would feel that I would never feel better again, but it does get better. Trust me, it does. I was also told by my cardiologist and surgeon that it is normal for open heart patients to become emotional after surgery. I was very emotional and cried at nothing. It is a combination of just being scared that something will happen. It does get better and that feeling does go away. It is something you just can't describe unless you go through it. However, it may not affect her in this way at all. Everyone goes through things differently!!
10. Ask the surgeon about success rates, how many he/she has performed, etc.
11. The surgeon will ask what medications your mother is on currently and tell her what to take or what not to take before surgery. They may also want to do a catherization before the surgery to ensure there are no blocks (they did this with me). After the surgery the surgeon and her cardiologist will decide what medications she will take etc.
12. I hope the above helps and all goes well for your mother.