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.
When he was 21 years old, Matt was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic heart valve during a routine doctor’s visit. Although he hadn’t experienced any heart valve disease symptoms, his doctor detected that Matt's aortic valve had two leaflets instead of three, which caused aortic regurgitation. Because his valve wasn’t closing properly, blood was leaking back into his heart forcing his heart to work harder to pump blood.
Monitoring the Situation
At first, Matt was placed on a blood pressure medication designed to help his high blood pressure and aortic regurgitation. His doctors monitored his condition closely and believed surgery wasn’t necessary until the heart valve began to deteriorate.
Each year, Matt had an echocardiogram so his doctors could monitor his bicuspid heart valve, the aortic regurgitation and his overall condition. In 2004, his doctors decided they needed to conduct more tests on his heart valve.
After a routine echocardiogram, an MRI and a cardiac stress test showed his aortic valve had begun to deteriorate and weaken. It was time to replace the failing valve with a mechanical heart valve through open heart surgery.
“My biggest concern was getting through the surgery. I was only 29 years old at the time and didn’t know what to expect. I was really scared of the surgery and any side effects or complications that might arise. I also was concerned about the recovery time, when I would be back to normal and how my life would be affected in the future.”
Matt felt lucky to have his doctors and girlfriend (now his wife) by his side every step of the way. “Overall I received great information and support from my cardiologist and primary care physician, and I even got to meet with my surgeon prior to the operation to discuss my surgery in detail.”
Managing the Medication
Matt didn’t know much about anticoagulation medication before or immediately after his heart valve replacement surgery. In hindsight, he would have liked to have met with the anticoagulation nurse or patients who were on anticoagulation medication, especially in the early days when he was getting comfortable with his dosage and the INR tests that measured his blood's clotting time.
“I never really thought about anticoagulation prior to the surgery. When I awoke in the hospital and began my anticoagulation medication each day, I came to the realization that warfarin would be part of my life in the future.”
Matt takes warfarin (Coumadin®) every day and tests his INR once a week to make sure it is within the doctor-recommended range. When he is in that range, he is able to push his tests out to once every two weeks.
“Self-testing really has changed my life for the better. I travel for my job and with the self-testing unit I am able to take it with me wherever I go, no matter how I travel. It is always with me, and it makes it easy to report my INR results to my doctor’s office.”
Matt does not have any side effects from the anticoagulation medication. “It is just part of my life. It’s fine. It has its ups and downs but I manage my anticoagulation without any problems.”
Matt has advice for other heart valve patients: “Stay positive. In the beginning it took time to get my INR levels to where they needed to be. I got frustrated that my INR was not within my doctor's recommended range, whether it was too high or too low. It also took me a little while to work with the self-testing machine. But, like anything, over time it became easier, and now it is just a regular part of my life.”
Coumadin® is a registered trademark of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.