James: Tissue Valve Recipient

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 James learned he had a damaged heart valve, his doctors suggested he have heart valve replacement surgery right away. Hoping to avoid surgery, James took his health into his own hands. He researched how he could improve his quality of life. He lost weight through diet and exercise. Aware that he also suffered from kidney stones, an inflammatory condition, and atrial fibrillation, James started taking medications to keep those conditions under control.

Despite these efforts, James’ heart valve problems continued. Because of his damaged heart valve, he tired easily and felt out of breath while exercising. Anything more than walking made James feel tired and worn out. He never experienced the increased energy one might expect from healthy lifestyle changes.

Surgery the Only Answer

In 2006, when he was 63 years old, James came to the realization that the only way to successfully repair his damaged heart valve was with surgery. No amount of medical intervention or lifestyle changes would give him the results he needed to live a full life.

Although surgery was necessary, James explored all possibilities so he could fully understand his condition.

Exploring Options

James' research revealed he had two choices for replacement valves: tissue or mechanical. He decided if a tissue valve could last as long as predicted, then perhaps a less invasive replacement surgery would be developed before he needed another operation.

James let his doctor know that he preferred a tissue valve. He knew the mechanical valve could last the rest of his life, but that it also would require him to remain on anticoagulation medication, which he didn’t want to take.

Recovery at Last

After surgery, it didn't take James long to start feeling more normal. A key to his recovery was participating in physical therapy exercise classes. The closely monitored exercise routines, performed three times a week, helped get his energy back. Now, a few years after the surgery, he wants to take up the exercises again.

Advice for Others with Heart Valve Disease

James recommends that people considering valve replacement surgery—or any surgery for that matter—should do their own research. He points out that you do not have to be a medical professional to access information and resources in medical libraries.

Although the Internet is a wonderful resource, James stresses the importance of checking the credibility of the information you are accessing. For example, he came away from one Web site with the impression that his heart valve surgery was a five-minute quick-fix. He was actually in surgery for the typical 5 to 6 hours.

James is glad that he realized surgery was the only way to resume his active life, and he plans to enjoy every minute of it.