This story reflects one person's experience. Not everyone will experience the same results. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of your treatment options.
Today, Serafine spends her free time running, hiking and cross-country skiing. Sometimes it is hard to believe she has endured a lifelong battle with heart valve disease.
From the Beginning
Serafine’s heart trouble started when doctors detected a heart murmur after she was born. She was considered a “blue baby” because her skin had a bluish tint due to a lack of oxygen in her blood. Doctors attributed her condition to a heart murmur and decided to watch it carefully as she grew.
Each year, Serafine’s mother took her to the doctor to monitor the condition of her heart. When she was eight years old, her pediatrician noticed the murmur getting progressively worse and referred Serafine to a cardiologist who diagnosed her with a leaky heart valve.
“I thought I was dying based on the way my mom cried at the news,” said Serafine.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
Serafine’s life continued normally as her doctors monitored her heart valve disease. When she was 23 years old, doctors determined her heart valve was not closing tightly and blood was leaking backward across the valve causing her heart to work harder and distribute less blood throughout her body.
A complex valve replacement surgery called the Ross procedure replaced Serafine’s leaky pulmonary valve with her own aortic valve. In turn, her aortic valve was replaced with an allograft, or donor valve, giving her a few more symptom-free years.
Serafine's symptoms returned when she was 31 years old. She was tired and out of breath, signs that her replacement valve tissue had weakened and it was time for another valve replacement. Just five days after learning she needed surgery, Serafine was admitted to the hospital for tissue valve replacement.
Serafine knew from experience that tissue valves only work for a limited amount of time. However, she and her doctors determined that a tissue valve would be her best choice if she planned to have children in the future. Her other alternative was a mechanical valve. While a mechanical valve lasts much longer than a tissue valve, it requires patients to remain on an anticoagulation medication, which is not recommended for women who plan to become pregnant.
Recovering with Determination
Within hours after the surgery, Serafine felt good enough to sit up in bed unassisted and dangle her legs off the side. “It went awesome!” she said. After four days, she felt good enough to go home. She still faced a long recovery, including two months of modified activity and driving restrictions. During that time, her boredom led to some depression, a condition that is common among heart surgery patients. After two or three months, Serafine felt she was getting back to normal. “I felt good enough to do anything!” She was even able to enjoy hikes with her dogs.
One More to Go
Serafine knows she will need another surgery. Her tissue valve should last 8 to 20 years*, and then she will receive a mechanical valve. “I always say I have one more to go,” she explains.
With her positive attitude and the support of her mother, Serafine knows another surgery will only be a minor bump in the road. “My mom has made life so much easier. She deals with everything as it comes and says 'things happen for a reason,'” Serafine explains. “Maybe this happened to me so I can share my story and help other people through it.”
Serafine encourages other patients to do online research and talk to people who have had valve replacement surgery to find out what it is really like. “I can’t explain how wonderful life is… I’m a heart patient, but life goes on!” says Serafine.
*Various clinical studies indicate that tissue heart valves may last 8 to 20 years depending on their position. Aortic valves have tended to last longer than mitral valves in these studies. The exact timing depends on the type of tissue valve, your age, lifestyle, medication requirements and other factors.
Last Reviewed: January 19, 2010 2506