Tuesday, December 15, 2015


About a month ago I started noticing a lot of irregular beats, which I believed to be PVCs. I contacted my cardiologist and he prescribed a Holter monitor for 24 hours. The results showed PVCs and PACs but not enough of them to worry about. Happily, the irregular beats decreased recently. i still have some but everyone has somne, but far less than I had initially.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

One Year Since My Heart Attack/Stroke

December 9, 2014: I was sitting downstairs enjoying my model train layout when I began to experience an ill feeling, chest discomfort, and vision disturbances. It was the beginning of my medical-surgical journey through three weeks of hospitalization, two open heart surgeries, and months of recovery. Today I am fortunate that my treatments were successful and I feel fully recovered. It's great to have a new lease on life!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Echo Report FOur Months Post-Surgery

What a great echo report!

Summary 1. Left ventricle: Size was normal. Systolic function was normal by visual assessment. Ejection fraction was estimated in the range of 55 % to 60 %. There were no regional wall motion abnormalities. There was mild concentric hypertrophy. Left ventricular diastolic function parameters were normal. 2. Aortic valve: A bioprosthesis was present. It exhibited normal function and normal motion. The leaflets appeared normal. There was a normal-appearing sewing ring and no rocking motion of the sewing ring. There was trivial aortic regurgitation. There was no significant perivalvular aortic regurgitation. Valve peak gradient was 12 mmHg. Valve mean gradient was 7 mmHg. The aortic valve obstructive index (by VTI) was 0.68. 3. Aorta, systemic arteries: The root exhibited mild dilatation, but represents proximal aortic graft after reconstruction of the proximal ascending aorta.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Surgical Evaluation

I was contacted by the marketing department of Temple University Hospital, where I had my surgery. They asked my surgeon if he could recommend one of his patients who they could interview about the experience, and perhaps even make a video. I agreed because I am so pleased with my surgical outcome and I have so much respect for my surgeon, Dr. Wheatley. He is a young and up and coming heart surgeon who is already an expert in his field. It will be my pleasure to give him my recommendation.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Cardiac Rehab

I attended 10 cardiac rehab sessions. I think they were useful for a couple of reasons. First, you are monitored with a running EKG in progress while you exercise. This is reassuring as you exercise and begin to test your exercise tolerance limits. Second, attending rehab gets you into a regular routine of cardiovascular exercise designed to improve your fitness level. This is particularly important for individuals who would not otherwise exercise. Since I already exercise daily, and the trek and expense to rehab was significant, I decided to withdraw from the program after 10 sessions. I do plan to resume workouts that elevate my heart rate into the target range for me. This will be in addition to my walking and my workouts with weights combined with stretching. It's important to keep active as we age to avoid the trap of becoming frail prematurely.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Four Month Evaluation

I was in Philadelphia last week for my first post-operation medical evaluation. My first post-op echocardiogram since discharge was completed and I met with my cardiologist. Everything looks very good. My new aortic tissue valve is performing beautifully with no leakage and low gradients. This is good news. MY next appointment with my cardiologist is set for January, 2017. I am continuing cardiac rehabilitation, walking, and working with weights combined with stretching. The idea is to ward off becoming frail with age.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cardiac Rehab Week Two

I'm in week two of cardiac rehab. I go to rehab three times a week. My target heart rate for exercise is 95-105 BPM. So far they have me exercising very lightly. My exercise HR is only in the 70s so I've asked them to increase my work load.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Cardiac Rehabilitation Started

Photo: The Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Brookhaven Hospital on Long Island

I'm keeping busy with summertime activities while working on my recovery from surgery. I've started monitored cardiac rehabilitation sessions at Brookhaven Hospital here as well as an exercise program on my own with light weightlifting. I hope to improve my overall fitness level so that I can continue scuba diving and stay healthy generally. At 66 it's getting tougher to stay fit enough for some of what I want to do. But I can't complain. I'm lucky to be alive.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Exercise And Progress

In addition to my daily walks, I've started an exercise program that incorporates some exercises recommended in a recent issue of the AARP newsletter...stretching, body weight squats, touch your toes, etc. I'm combining that with a couple of exercises recommended by my scuba diving insurance company that are designed to improve upper body strength. I use two 20 lb hexagonal dumbells. The two exercises are pullups and pushups both done from a bent-knee position in the deck. Then I add some overhead lifts with the dumbbell one arm at a time, and some curls. I'm hoping that the body weight squats help improve the muscle tone in my left leg, which is somewhat atrophied due to a long ago bout of sciatica and arthritis in the knee. I'm trying real hard to stick to my low carb diet. My weight is good at about 190, down slightly from where I've been in recent months after my surgery. I stopped Warfarin last Tuesday with the blessing of my cardiologist so now the only pill is a daily aspirin. That made me happy. I have my first post op echo in a couple of weeks, but the valve seems really good. I have no palpitations or other symptoms and it really pounds shut. I know it's working, that's for sure! Finally, Monday I start cardiac rehab. I'm getting a late start due to the move to the summer cottage but I at least want to try some sessions to see if they are helpful.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Off The Meds!

Three and a half months after my surgery I have stopped with the last of my prescription medications...Warfarin. My only pill now is a daily aspirin. I'm feeling physically good,I've started to lift light weights and do exercises and stretching, and I am scheduled to start cardiac rehabilitation next Monday. I am still depressed over the loss of our dog Bradley. The problem is that the death of the dog happened at the same time as my surgery and so the two events became intertwined for me. Therefore I don't feel like I will ever be fully recovered because I can't bring Bradley back to life. This is unfortunate because my recovery has been so successful otherwise. I don't know what the answer is. Getting another dog might help but I can't expect another animal to be like the Bradley.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Three Months Post-Surgery

I'm feeling physically pretty well. This week I plan to start the ball rolling on joining a cardiac rehab program. It may help me to improve my conditioning. I want to try anyway. The results of my 24 hour Holter heart monitor were excellent with no arrhythmia or other abnormalities. My cardiologist took me off Amiodarone, of one of the remaining two heavier medications I'm taking. In three weeks I can stop the other (Warfarin) as long as I don't notice any palpitations or other irregularities. Then I will be completely off medications save for a daily aspirin and multivitamin. For the most part, I have made an amazing recovery from a very traumatic operation. I'm still working through mental and emotional thoughts and feelings that come with surviving such a trauma, compounded by the loss of my beloved dog, Bradley, while I was in the hospital. As I wrote at the time of my surgery, the whole experience has a surreal quality for me, and I often don't feel like I fully comprehend what happened and what the implications going forward are. This is not uncommon for heart surgery patients, The good news is that I am not debilitated or suffering from extreme depression. Hopefully things will straighten out for me with the passage of time and the loving support of my wonderful husband, who has always been there for me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Eleven Weeks Post-Surgery

Photo: Spring on Fire Island: Beach Plum in Bloom

I am doing a lot of walking. Next week I wear a Holter for a day (three months post-surgery. Hopefully I can get off the warfarin and amiodarone if there are no abnormalities. We'll see. Feeling good with no medical issues. Battling delayed grief and depression over the loss of my dog companion. For two months I concentrated on getting myself better, but now that I'm feeling recovered, the pain of loosing him is overwhelming at times. He was put down while I was in the hospital so closure is difficult. If I had it to do over again I would have tried to find a way to keep him alive longer. He was old and failing, but I didn't realize how much delayed mental pain over him I would have later on. But what's done is done and I'll have to cope.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Open Letter To Patients With Aortic Disease

An open letter to patients with Aortic Disease

Seven Weeks Post OP

I'm feeling recovered, walking five or six miles a day, incision is healed and I'm using scar cream on my scars to reduce their visibility. I'm still on coumadin and amiodarone for at least another month. Hopefully I'll be able to get off of these meds at that time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Illustration: Surgeon Draws Diagram Showing Work Done

I asked my surgeon, Dr, Grayson Wheatley at Temple University hospital in Philadelphia, to indicate where my dacron ascending aorta hemiarch graft was placed, and where he put the two CABG grafts. While I have no coronary artery blockage, the CABG grafts were necessary because my native coronary artery buttons were small and elliptical and he felt that there was inadequate perfusion through them. So I ended up with a new valve and dacron conduit extending up into the arch, plus four Bentall buttons: two native and two grafts.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

B4 And After Surgery

My sternal incision is nine inches long, and I have about a 2-1/2" scar where the four chest tubes exited from my belly. Then I have four incisions on my upper legs where the veins were harvested for my CABG grafts and a few puncture holes in my groin area and neck area. Quite a few cuts and holes but all healing well!

Friday, March 20, 2015

One Month Anniversary

My recovery is progressing. With the warmer weather the snow and ice has melted away. I am now able to walk outside. I can take a morning walk for about an hour and once again in the evening. I cannot cover as much distance yet, but it feels good to get the fresh air and sunshine. I am fine medically. I have no problems now related to my surgery. I still have to take too many pills and drugs, but I hope to be able to discontinue taking some of them very soon. This week I had appointments to see my surgeon and my cardiologist. These were the first follow-up appointments since I was released from the hospital. The sutures in my chest were removed and my incision is healing nicely. My cardiologist let me discontinue Metoprolol...and I immediately noticed more energy and pep and I felt better. Now it is all about regaining my strength and stamina. I am planning to attend the York TCA train meet in April. I usually go for a couple of days...Wednesday through Friday. I should be strong enough by then to enjoy the meet.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Difficulty: Getting Strength Back

It's been two weeks since my second of two trips within five days to the OR. Medically things seem OK, no issues with my new valve or all of my surgical repairs, heart rate or BP, etc. I just had no idea how weak I would be and how painfully slow and difficult getting any strength back at all would be. I haven't felt quite strong enough to go out of the house yet, but with all of the snow and ice and cold here in Philadelphia I couldn't go anyway, so I have a major dose of cabin fever. It's supposed to warm up this week and I have my first follow-up appointment on Tuesday so hopefully I'll feel better after i finally get out and get some fresh air.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Surgery Saga Day By Day

Day 1: Surgery Day - February 16, 2015: After 11 years of waiting and watching the big day arrived. The night before I had to wipe myself down with special anti-bacterial wipes. I repeated the process in the morning before leaving for the hospital to check in for surgery.

When we got the the hospital at around 6 AM, Dan and I were placed in a cubicle in the pre-surgery area. Then it was time for yet another body wipe. There was the possibility that I would need to undergo DHCA (deep hypothermic circulatory arrest) with cerebral perfusion (they basically cool the body down and shut it down but keep the brain supplied with oxygen through arterial connections.) Therefore, I had electro-encephalagram contacts glued to my head. I really looked like a Franmkenstein creation.

Finally, I was ready, said godbye to Dan and I was wheeled into the OR for my procedure.

Day 2: Tuesday, February 17, 2015: I woke up in the ICU at about 2 AM, again at 4 AM and yet again at 6 AM. I was still on the ventilator. I would remain on the ventilator for 17 hours after waking up, until 7 PM in the evening.



Dan and our friend Stephen were bedside. I was awake much of the time and when I was I asked for pen and paper so that I could scribble questions and make requests. I was not in a great deal of pain, and my breathing was not encumbered by the ventilator tubes that were still deep in my throat.

My surgeon Dr. Grayson Wheatley at my bedside.

I had read somewhere that if you wake up post surgery and the vent tubes are still in, think of it like breathing through a scuba regulator. Since I am a scuba diver this worked well for me and I did not fight it or try to yank out the tubes. I couldn't have done that anyway since my arms were restrained. I was on the ventilator that long (17 houus) due to the length of my surgery (7 hours,) from 9 AM until 4 PM, and the complexity of the procedures performed resulted in the need for me to have an inter-aortic balloon pump installed to augment heart function post-surgery.

I felt generally pretty well for just having awaken from surgery, and I was finally taken off of the ventilator and the tubes were removed at about 7 PM.

Day 3 and Day 4, February 18 & 19th, 2015: I remained in the cardiac intensive care unit. Whie I felt good the day after surgery, I began to feel worse during this time. I was unable to get out of bed. I had zero energy. I felt like I was in declinbe and I frequently voiced my concerns about exhaustion to my caregivers.

Day 5, February 20, 2015: At 6 Am my nurses decided to have me get out of bed finally and sit in a chair. I tried as hard as I could with their assistance but I only made a few steps in the direction of the chair when I passed out cold. I awoke surrounded by a team of nurses with one of them using a breathing bag on me. It was clear that something was amiss. I was scheduled for a heart catheterizaton later in the day. After the cath it was decided that I would require a return trip to the operating room. I went into surgery at about 7 PM that evening for a condition known as cardiac tamponade, where fluid a clots develop around the heart post-surgery and prevent it from functioning fuly. Thankfully the procedure was relatively short and it was succesful. I was returned to my room in the cardiac ICU.

March 2, 2015 Just completed a 30 minute walk in the house sans walker. It wasn't that long ago that I couldn't even get out of bed. I have some puffiness in the ankles, but other than that I have no complaints at all. I haven't taken a pain medication in a week. If I can continue to improve a little at a time like this I'm optimistic that I'll be walking outside soon...if Old Man Winter will give us a break here in the Northeast. Day 13: Discharge To Home! Journal posted on February 28, 2015 My stamina all of a sudden leaped to the point where I can walk a lot and even climb steps! I never thought I'd get back to this point. So the insurance denial doesn't matter...the hospital has cleared me to go home later today! Tears of happiness I gotta tell ya. Day 12: Cardiac Floor Journal posted on February 27, 2015 Waited all day today for insurance approval to enter acute rehab only to be denied. So the next option is to enter sub acute rehab at a different facility maybe as early as tomorrow. I am medically stable and feeling good just not strong enough to go home. Day 11: Cardiac Floor Journal posted on February 26, 2015 My Afib spontaneously converted to normal sinus rhythm last night so I didn't need the dc cardioversion. May enter acute rehab tomorrow or Saturday. It's been a long, tough haul. Day 10: Cardiac Care Journal posted on February 25, 2015 Spent some time with physical therapy today. Bowels are working finally. Afib and high heart rate are issues the doctors are working on. Will be making arrangements to go to a rehab facility upon discharge. Sorry I cannot be as actively supportive of everyone here but you are all in my thoughts. Day 9: ICU Journal posted on February 24, 2015 Well,.tubes are out and I am medically stable, I think. The Afib that I developed when they took me off Amiodarone due to liver concerns continues to rock the boat and is very noticeable. I have zero strength and get winded at any activity. I met with physical therapy today and they are recommending discharge to a rehab facility. I know I can't go home in my current state if extreme weakness. Thanks everyone for the continued love and support. I am glad this thing is not ad bad for most of you as it has been for me. Day 8: ICU Journal posted on February 23, 2015 Thanks everyone for all of the support. My numbers are improving. Two chest tubes were removed this morning...two remain. My swan neck arterial line from Fridays second surgery is supposed to be removed today also. No appetite and taking meds to get my bowels to move. But slow progress is being made I think. Patience is necessary. Update Sunday Feb 22 Journal posted on February 22, 2015 Still in ICU day 7...trying to get heart function improved...outlook trying to keep positive...at least one more day then maybe I can try to sit again...thanks for keeping me in your thoughts Journal posted on February 21, 2015 Still in the ICU since Monday. Had a second full steroenotomy Friday to relieve fluid backup behind heart Original surgery was 7 hours valve, root, ascending and two cabg...been a tough week...hope I have turned the corner

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Well, It's Time

PHOTO: Happy listening to the Wanamaker Organ

My surgery is tomorrow. It's been a long time coming. People often ask me "how do you feel?" Or they ask "how are you handling this?" Or, "how do you keep your spirits up, stay positive?" I usually respond that I feel fine and that having a wonderful husband, pets and a great life keeps me positive.

Dan points out that this whole thing, finally getting to the point of needing surgery, hasn't happened the way we thought it would. We figured I'd get progressively weaker and symptomatic, and that one day I would collapse like a friend did when his aortic valve went bad. But that didn't happen in my case. I think of my experience as more than a little surreal. This is because, with the exception of my serious episode last December 9 and a few lesser episodes over the moths and years, I usually feel just fine with minimal symptoms. I can still lift heavy things, walk five to six miles a day, and in short, do just about everything I want. I get a little winded once in a while climbing steps, but other than that I feel perfectly normal. So yes, it feels like I'm in some sort of surreal dream wherein I'm fine, a dream that never ends ... but I have to get this heavy duty operation anyway, that will rob me, (hopefully only temporarily,) of the strength and conditioning that I've worked so hard to maintain into my senior years.

There's a hill that I climb every day on my morning walk on my way back to the house. I've always said to myself that the day I can't climb this hill will be the day that I need to have surgery. But that's not the way it worked out. I can still climb the hill today but I won't be able to do it (for a while) after surgery. So now I say to myself, the day that I'm able to once again climb that hill...that will be the day when I'll feel recovered.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Made The Top Of The List!

All by myself...scheduled for Monday. The other photo shows the hand shower device and shower seat that I got to make life a little easier during recovery.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Eleven Years After Diagnosis: I'm Still Here!

PHOTO: Underwater selfie in St.Barth

I am in a great place (mentally) all set for Monday...no worries, bring it on. I have a busy weekend with a social event Friday evening, and Saturday and Sunday performances to attend. And I can drink my Sake until Saturday evening, how great is that? Finally, my weight...194.2 down 2.0 since last week and I made my target weight for surgery of 195.0. I have asked Dan to take many photos on Monday and Tuesday and to bring me my laptop as soon as I am out of the ICU. But who knows what condition I'll be in or whether I'll want to deal with it. We'll see. It's been quite a ride these past 11 years since my diagnosis. But like Sondhiem wrote ....I'm still here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Household Preparations

We've tried to prepare for the next month or so by stockpiling groceries, especially heavier items that I won't be able to lift for a while after surgery. I also rented a power lift medical recliner to rest and sleep in. I won't be able to use my arms to push out of a chair, so the chair lifts you up half way to where you can stand without using your arms. Having the reclining function should aid with rest since I won't be able to sleep in my side, my usual sleeping position. Dan has also arranged for animal care help and he is looking into hiring a housekeeper so that the household burden will not be on him alone. It won't be a picnic but we should be able to manage the situation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Intense, Busy Day With Pre-Op Testing

PHOTO: "Sternal Lok Blu" Rigid Sternal Fixation

Today was pretty intense. First I met with my surgeon's right hand man, a nurse-practitioner named Bill. Bill has been very helpful since I first met with him. Today he answered the follow-up questions that I had such as about the total number of incisions I would wake up with post surgery (7 or 8 including three or four drainage tubes, two regular IVs, an arterial IV, and a neck incision for a cardiac catheter!), what medications I would be on, probably at least six including a water pill, something for my bowels, a pain killer, a beta blocker for blood pressure medication, aspirin, and coumadin. I also asked Bill about the relative complexity of my procedure. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being highly complex, my procedure a "Button Bentall" is an 8 or a 9. That's why you go to a major university center like Temple or Penn, a heart center of excellence, to get this type of surgery. Bill also explained the timings that my husband Dan can expect for my procedure. The operation will last between six and eight hours including prep time and post surgery housekeeping before I will be transferred to the ICU. If my procedure starts as scheduled early Monday, Dan can expect to get a report from my surgeon Dr. Wheatley sometime between about 1 PM and 3 PM. Bill also commented on the general anesthesia used. Two different agents are administered. One knocks you out and the other paralyzes you.

After meeting with Bill I met with my surgeon Dr. Wheatley. By this point in the process most of my questions had already been answered. I did disucss the possibility that I might require a permanent pacemaker post surgery. Dr. Wheatley told me that there is only about a 10 percent chance of that. Since I blog about BAV disease and aneurysms and my own situation, I might want to write further about it at some point. In this connection i asked Dr. Wheatley if he planned to take photos of my procedure. He indicated that he did not do this routinely but he would try to make some media available for me.

After meeting with Dr. Wheatley it was time for pre-admission testing. This included an examination by a nurse-practitioner, blood work, and chest X-rays. I got anti-bacterial body wipes that I must use the night before my surgery and also on the morning of the surgery. I also asked if I could see the cardiac intensive care facility and the step down unit, but apparently Temple Hospital does not allow casual visitors to these facilities.

Finally, Dr. Wheatley asked me if I would be interested in participating in an evaluation of an alternative sternal closure device, "Sternal Lok Blu," which are metal plates screwed to the sternum instead of wires. Dr. Wheatley feels that this method is superior to the wires. I agreed but since it is a study only half of the participants will receive the rigid sternal fixation devices and the other half will get the usual closure with wires. I'm hoping to be one of the lucky recipients of the Sternal Lok Blu closures. I won't know until after the study ends, though, in about a year.

So now I have only four days before surgery happens. The train has left the station and I'm on board. There's no getting off now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Health And The Weather

One genuine concern leading up top surgery is how to keep healthy and avoid getting a cold, or worse, the flu. So I wear a face mask at cultural events and wash my hands so often that they are dried out. The weather is another concern, Luckily, the most severe weather seems to have headed well to the north of Philadelphia.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Busy Last Week Before Surgery

Got a good view of the Philadelphia skyline from the Camden, NJ Adventure Aquarium on Sunday. This final week before surgery will be busy. I'm meeting with my surgeon Wednesday followed by pre-admission testing. Having a medical recliner delivered this week. Dan and I will be attending two performances over the weekend, and we will be going out with friends for dinner on Friday evening. In the meantime I have to finish getting organized for my anticipated one week post surgery hospital stay.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Getting To Fighting Weight Pre-Surgery

Photo: no scar...yet!

My current weight: 197.0

From the internet:

Based on the Robinson formula (1983), your ideal weight is 185.8 lbs

Based on the Miller formula (1983), your ideal weight is 176.7 lbs

Based on the Devine formula (1974), your ideal weight is 196.4 lbs

Based on the Hamwi formula (1964), your ideal weight is 207.0 lbs

Based on the healthy BMI recommendation, your recommended weight is 156.0 lbs - 210.8 lbs

Monday, February 2, 2015

Two More Weeks Until Surgery

Many people say that the waiting is the hardest part. I know what they mean. I would really rather have the surgery over with and be starting recovery. It's exhausting just waiting and thinking about it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Last New York Trip Pre-Surgery

I'll be walking to the train station along the beautiful Schuylkill Banks walkway this morning. Then it's off to New York City via Amtrak for a performance of the New York City Ballet. I'm still walking outdoors and enjoying each walk very much. I'll miss them post surgery.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Waiting For Surgery Is Tough

My date for surgery, February 16, was set on January 7. I wanted an earlier date but my surgeon felt the need for me to wait to insure any brain injury from my incident on December 9 is fully healed. But the waiting is tough on me and on Dan. We can't have a normal life with the surgery hanging over us for so many weeks. I sure hope there is no further delay or postponement.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Medical Coverage Approved For Surgery

Got my approval letter from Independence Blue Cross yesterday submitted by my surgeon, Dr. Wheatley. Things are moving inexorably forward.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Trans-catheter Re-Ops: The Wave Of The Future

According to my surgeon, Dr. Wheatley:
With regard to the tissue valves, there is growing evidence that a TAVR inside a tissue valve is a very realistic and safe option in the future. New data suggests that you do not decrease the size of the valve with the TAVR valve in valve, and can put multiple TAVRs inside valves over time as needed. This is all preliminary work but the evidence is mounting.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Committed To A Tissue Valve

I had a valuable exchange of emails with my surgeon, Dr. Wheatley in regard to the choice of valve prosthesis for my aortic valve replacement. Dr. Wheatley is confident that, if I were to need another replacement in the future, it will be possible to to have it done via the new trans-catheter (TAVR) method. So, while it remains a gamble on the future against the possibility of having to undergo another open heart procedure, this seems to be a reasonable course for me to follow. The other option, selecting a mechanical valve combined with the need for lifelong anti-coagulation therapy, has faded as a viable option in my mind. With about two and a half weeks until my surgery date, I am becoming sanguine about my situation.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Daily Medications Organizer

I'm anticipating being on more than a few medications immediately post-surgery. This organizer ought to help keep everything on schedule.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Modified Bentall: Low Incidence Of Complications

The Modified or "Button" Bentall is a relatively complex surgical procedure wherein the aortic root is replaced with a graft. This necessitates removing the coronary arteries and re-atttaching them to the aortic graft. Complications can arise particulalry at the sites where the coronary arteries are sewn into the graft, known as the coronary anastamoses. However, this study notes that the incidence of such complications is extremely low.

Ann Thorac Surg. 2003 Jun;75(6):1797-801; discussion 1802. Fate of coronary ostial anastomoses after the modified Bentall procedure. Milano AD1, Pratali S, Mecozzi G, Boraschi P, Braccini G, Magagnini E, Bortolotti U.

CONCLUSIONS: The modified Bentall operation is associated with an extremely low incidence of anastomotic complications particularly at the coronary ostia. More extensive use of new imaging techniques is desirable to assess the true incidence of such complications in patients receiving a composite aortic conduit.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Aortic Valve Replacement: St. Jude "Trifecta"

So this is the valve prostheses my surgeon recommends. It looks good to me. Thank you Dr. Wheatley! I especially like the low pressure gradients that this valve can deliver to the patient. From the St. Jude web site:
Designed for outstanding performance in all three areas of hemodynamics, durability and implantability, the Trifecta valve demonstrates our passion for putting more control into the hands of physicians.

When the Goal Is Hemodynamics Created exclusively for the aortic position, the Trifecta valve delivers larger EOAs, resulting in single-digit pressure gradients.1 The Trifecta valve is designed to mimic the flow of a natural, healthy heart valve and offers excellent hemodynamic performance, which may provide patients with an improved quality of life.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bears Repeating!

From the ACC/AHA 2014 Guidelines:
Patients who have undergone valve replacement are not cured but still have serious heart disease. Patients have exchanged native valve disease for prosthetic valve disease and must be followed with the same care as those with native valve disease.

Age And Reoperation Risk Graphic

From the 2010 study referenced in my post the other day:
Reoperation after bioprosthetic aortic valve replacement (AVR). The freedom from reoperation was determined for patients according to the age at initial AVR. These patients did not receive concomitant mitral valve replacement. A, 294 reoperations for the 3152 patients who underwent bioprosthetic AVR. B, 46 reoperations for the 2158 patients who underwent bioprosthetic AVR with contemporary, stented bioprostheses.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Senseless Death Of A Fine Doctor

This fine surgeon was gunned down yesterday inside his Boston hospital by the son of one of his elderly patients. The gun lobby, the NRA and anyone who champions guns all have his blood on their hands.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tissue Valve At Age >60: The Excellent Outlook

A 2010 study contains the following statement:
One of the main observations of this study was that reoperation following bioprosthestic valve replacement is influenced by patient age. Fifteen-year freedom from reoperation was 78% following AVR and 62% following MVR in patients more than 60 years of age.

A tissue valve seems like the only way to go for me at age 66.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Surgical Preparation for Cardiac Surgery

Well, if you have any shyness about your body you'd better leave it at the door when you go in for open heart surgery!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Unique Aorta Procedure

I suppose this procedure is used if the aortic tissue is too diseased for the Bentall Procedure. Diagram shows the Cabrol procedure, in which a composite aortic graft and a prosthetic conduit that connects the coronary ostia are anastomosed to the aortic graft. Blood flows (arrows) from the aorta into the right and left coronary limbs and, eventually, the coronary arteries.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Surgical Q & A

Here's an interesting Q & A exchange that I had with my surgeon's assistant.

1. During my surgery, will Dr. Wheatley be performing a "button" Bentall procedure or using some other technique to re-implant the coronary arteries?

A. If the coronaries need to be reimplanted, they are done with the button technique. If your aneurysm does not involve the sinus segment (where the coronaries are located) he’ll be able to replace the aorta above the coronaries – negating the need to reimplant. This final decision is made at the time of surgery.

2. Can you outline the surgical steps during my procedure once my heart is exposed? Since I agree with Dr. Wheatley's recommendation to select a St. Jude Trifecta bio prosthesis, is the valve sized first then sewn into the Dacron ascending aorta graft before being sewn into the aortic annulus all during my time on the pump? Or do these valves come in different sizes already sewn into a conduit?

A. You’ve done some good homework. This is an excellent question. Currently a “biologic composite graft” does not exist. This is a device where the valve is pre-sewn into the aortic conduit. The answer to this question depends upon the extent of the repair. Regardless of the method, the aorta is first transected (cut open) to expose the aortic valve. The damaged aortic valve is removed and then sized at this time. If the aortic root (sinus segment) is enlarged enough necessitating replacement, then this is done with a composite graft. Dr. Wheatley will sew the valve into the Dacron aortic conduit (replacement aorta) and then implant this unit into the aortic root and then reimplant the coronary buttons as in question #1. If the sinus segment is not dilated, then the valve will be sewn in the aortic annulus (into the heart) first, followed by replacement of the ascending aorta. There are three general techniques used to complete this procedure – revolving around the extent of aortic root involvement – Full root (with a composite graft), Wheat procedure, AVR/ascending repair with retention if the native sinus segment.

3. Can you estimate the total time on the pump and total time in the OR for me? I know I asked this of Dr. Wheatley but I'm a bit confused about it.

A. There are various times we record for cardiac procedures such as this – Cross clamp time, bypass time, operative time. as with any “plumbing repair” (and valve surgery is essentially a plumbing job), the water (in this case blood) needs to be turned off. To “turn off the water” we clamp the aorta (ie cross clamp). We then need to stop the heart in an effort to fix it. Once your pump (your heart) stops, we need to substitute in our pump (the heart bypass machine – also known at the heart lung machine or simply “the pump”). The length of time you are on the pump is recorded. I suspect you’ll be on the pump 2-3 hours. I usually quote the total length of surgery as 4-5 hours and total time out of Dan’s sight about 6-8 hours. I always build into this estimate an hour at the beginning to set you up and an hour at the end to dismantle the equipment: (1 hour set up) + (4-5 hours surgery) + (1 hour dismantle) = 6-8 hours.

Friday, January 16, 2015

It Could Have Been Much Worse

According to my cardiologist:

The good news is that unlike other aortic aneurysmal pathologies (Marfan Syndrome, Ehlers-Dahnlos Syndrome, etc), where aneurysm formation THROUGHOUT the aorta is a risk at all times… the bicuspid aortopathy is limited to the root and proximal 1/3rd of the ascending aorta only. The rest of your aorta is normal, and is not at any increased risk of aneurysm formation beyond that of the general population.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Great Explanation From My Cardiologist

I posed a question to my cardiac care team at Temple University Hospital asking why it will be necessary to replace my entire aortic root and ascending aorta. My cardiologist, Dr. Martin Keane responded with this comprehensive explanation:

You have a bicuspid aortic valve (“congenital anomaly” - most common one - present in about 2% of human population). It turns out that not only does having a bicuspid aortic valve result in early valve disease (stenosis, regurgitation or both), but it is also associated with an abnormal weakness of the most proximal portions of the aortic “root” and ascending aorta. It’s known as “bicuspid aortopathy”. It is a form of annuloaortic ectasia, and any dilatation of the proximal aorta is usually associated with sinotubular effacement (that’s just a descriptor, not a pathology). After much population-based research, it has been determined that an aortic root or proximal ascending aortic diameter of ≥4.5 cm portends elevated risk of further dilatation and aneurysm formation over the long term. Thus, it is recommended that in bicuspid aortic valve patients whose aortas are larger than that, the proximal aortic root be replaced as well. It’s more of a gray zone below 4.5, but I’ve cared for patients who’d had smaller aortas at the time of bicuspid aortic valve replacement, and then a few years later, needed to go BACK to the OR for replacement of an ascending aortic aneurysm. That is clearly a sub-optimal situation. With you proximal ascending aortic measurement of 4.6 on your recent CTA, it is most prudent to replace both the valve, root and proximal-most portion of the ascending aorta."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Responsive Medical Team At Temple Hospital

Dr. Grayson Wheatley

After I thought about the discussion I had last week with my surgeon, Dr. Wheatley, I had a few questions so I emailed Dr. Wheatley and my cardiologist, Dr. Keane. Dr. Keane responded immediately with answers to my questions, and Dr. Wheatley confirmed the information. Later in the day I posed a few more questions to Dr. Wheatley's assistant and once again I got an immediate comprehensive response. I am very with this team that I have selected for my cardiac procedure and care.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Excellent Article On BAV Disease

From the Journal of the American College Of Cardiology, February 2013.

Bicuspid Aortic Valve and Aortopathy: See the First, Then Look at the Second

Rosario V. Freeman, MD, MS; Catherine M. Otto, MD

Bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) disease is the most common congenital cardiac anomaly, with a prevalence in the general population between 0.5% and 2% (1). There is significant cardiac morbidity associated with BAV disease, predominantly due to progressive valve dysfunction (stenosis or regurgitation) that requires surgical intervention for symptom relief or prevention of left ventricular dysfunction, or less commonly, for complications of endocarditis (2,3). We now understand that BAV disease is more than simply having 2, instead of 3, aortic valve leaflets. BAV disease encompasses a spectrum of phenotypic manifestations that not only includes valve dysfunction, but also abnormalities of the ascending aorta. Less common cardiovascular abnormalities may also occur, such as aortic coarctation, atrial septal defects, and ventricular septal defects.

. Long-term cardiovascular outcomes in adults with a BAV were defined in 2 recent clinical studies. In a series of 642 asymptomatic adults with a BAV, most (63%) had normal or mildly abnormal valve function at baseline. Over an average 9 years of follow-up, about 25% required surgery for symptomatic valve disease, left ventricular dysfunction, ascending aortic dilation, or endocarditis. Independent predictors of adverse cardiovascular events were age >30 years and at least moderate aortic valve dysfunction at baseline (3). Similarly, in another series of 212 asymptomatic adults with a BAV and at most mild valve dysfunction, primary cardiac outcomes were frequent over follow-up, occurring in 42% of participants. In this study, independent predictors for primary outcomes were older age (>50 years), presence of valve degeneration at baseline, and a baseline aortic dimension of >40 mm (2). Importantly, these studies demonstrated that although the cardiac morbidity associated with a BAV is significant, overall life expectancy is not shortened relative to general population estimates. In the Olmstead County study, survival was 97% and 90% at 10 and 20 years, respectively, from diagnosis (2). Similarly, in the Toronto cohort, 10-year survival was 97% (3).

. BAV disease is not confined to the valve leaflets; the aorta also is abnormal. Compared with normal adults with a trileaflet aortic valve, BAV patients have larger dimensions of the aortic sinuses and ascending aorta, abnormal aortic elasticity, and are at risk for progressive aortic dilation and dissection (4). In the past, aortic dilation was thought to be primarily a hemodynamic consequence of the eccentric ejection jet created by the bicuspid valve. However, histopathologic studies now support an underlying connective tissue disease process with elastin fragmentation, irregularities in smooth muscle integrity, and increased collagen deposition (5). Dilation is often progressive, with an average annual change in diameter ranging from 0.2 to 1.2 cm/year (6). Risk factors for more rapid progression of aortic dilation include hypertension, male sex, concurrent valve disease, and older age. In the study by Tzemos et al. (3), 280 patients (45%) developed dilation of the aortic sinus, ascending aorta, or both at follow-up. In a subsequent publication from the Olmstead County cohort, which included 416 patients, although 53% of patients eventually required aortic valve replacement, a significant portion of patients (25%) also ultimately required surgical intervention for aortopathy (6). Because not all patients are at risk for progressive aortic dilation, the clinical challenge is in identifying which patients are at highest risk for aortic complications and might therefore require more frequent imaging evaluation.

. In this issue of iJACC, a study by Kang et al. (7) focuses on the potential value of computed tomographic angiography (CTA) to more precisely define BAV phenotypes and to characterize the associated aortopathy. Typically, bicuspid valve cusps are asymmetric with fusion along a commissural line, which creates 2 cusps of unequal size. Similar to other series, this study found that fusion of the right and left coronary cusps (anterior–posterior [AP] leaflet type) was the most common pattern, occurring in 56% of patients, with fusion of the right and noncoronary cusps (right–left [RL] leaflet type) seen in the remaining 44% of patients. Although the study suggests that the RL phenotype is associated with valve stenosis and the AP phenotype with regurgitation, this should be considered a hypothesis, not a conclusion. All the subjects in this study were referred for preoperative CTA; thus, all had significant valve dysfunction and/or aortic dilation and should not be considered representative of an unselected group of BAV patients. Kang et al. (7) also found that leaflet phenotype was associated with different patterns of aortic dilation. Normal aortic shape and dimensions were seen more often in BAV patients with an AP leaflet phenotype, whereas those with a RL leaflet phenotype more often had aortic dilation extending to the arch. These findings parallel a study from our group that demonstrated larger and stiffer aortic sinuses with the AP phenotype and larger aortic arch dimensions with the RL leaflet phenotype (8,9). These differences in aortic anatomy and valve function associated with different valve phenotypes support the possibility that BAV disease is not a uniform disease process.

. Despite the insights into the disease process provided by this study, which was performed with computed tomography, from a practical point of view, echocardiography remains the key imaging approach in adults with BAV disease. CTA is only an adjunct in selected patients. BAV disease is usually asymptomatic, often incidentally diagnosed on echocardiography obtained for other indications or suspected on physical examination with auscultation of a murmur or a mid-systolic “click.” Transthoracic echocardiography has a high sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of a BAV. Characteristic findings include an eccentric diastolic leaflet closure plane and systolic doming of the leaflets in long-axis views. The number of valve leaflets, the type of leaflet fusion, and the presence or absence of a raphe can be reliably determined in short-axis views. Doppler echocardiography allows accurate measurement of the severity of valve stenosis and regurgitation. If transthoracic image quality is not adequate, transesophageal echocardiography often provides improved visualization of aortic leaflet morphology. Three-dimensional imaging of the aortic valve may further improve the accuracy of echocardiography for diagnosis of BAV disease.

. Echocardiography allows evaluation of the aortic sinuses and, by moving the transducer up 1 intercostal space, the proximal ascending aorta. Because of the low cost, lack of ionizing radiation, and wide availability, echocardiography is often used to evaluate and follow the aortopathy associated with BAV disease. However, for a more comprehensive evaluation of aortic anatomy, CTA or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) both provide comprehensive tomographic evaluation of the entire aorta, and are particularly helpful when visualization of the ascending aorta by echocardiography is limited. Our approach in patients newly diagnosed with BAV is to obtain an index tomographic (CTA or MRA) imaging study of the aorta to determine the pattern and severity of aortic dilation. If there is no significant dilation or if echocardiography adequately visualizes the aorta, then serial routine CTA or MRA imaging is not indicated. In patients who have disease progression necessitating aortic valve replacement, aortic surgery, or both, pre-surgical CTA or MRA imaging provides a better understanding of the extent of aortic involvement to aid in surgical planning and graft choice.

. A majority of patients with BAV disease will have disease progression requiring surgery over the course of their lifetime, most often for valve stenosis or regurgitation, with established clinical guidelines providing recommendations on optimal timing of intervention (10). Clinical recommendations for surgical intervention for the aortopathy associated with BAV disease are less well defined, but most centers recommend intervention at an aortic diameter greater than ∼50 to 55 mm, independent of valve disease. Aortic graft replacement may also be considered at a smaller aortic diameter (45 to 50 mm) in patients who are otherwise undergoing aortic valve surgery or if there is evidence of rapid disease progression (interval increase in aortic diameter >5 mm over 6 months.)

. Although adults with BAV disease can have excellent clinical outcomes with appropriate disease monitoring and with correctly timed intervention to prevent adverse events, our current approach is largely pragmatic with little understanding of the underlying disease process. Several studies, such as the one by Kang et al. (7), suggest that there is more than 1 BAV phenotype with different clinical associations. Do these different phenotypes also have different genetics and different clinical outcomes? Until we can identify which patients with BAV disease are at risk for aortic dissection and would benefit from prophylactic aortic intervention, we will need to continue serial imaging of all BAV patients to detect the few who have progressed to surgical disease.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why Is My Surgeon Replacing My Aortic Root?

I forgot to ask a very important question when I met with my surgeon, Dr. Wheatley. His treatment plan calls for the replacement of my aortic valve, root and ascending aorta. This means that I will need a Bentall Procedure, where the coronary arteries are grafted onto the dacron replacement lower aorta. Since the measurements of my lower aorta do not seem to indicate that is is aneurysmal, I'm wondering why it needs to be replaced. One reason could be Annuloaortic ectasia...a dilation of the proximal ascending aorta and aortic annulus. Here are three views of the aorta...the first is a healthy aorta, the second is one with annuloaortic ectasia, and the last is mine. Look at the difference at the level of the annulus (circled in images 1 & 2), where the aorta joins the heart, then compare that to mine in image 3.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bentall Procedure

I was shocked to find out that my surgeon will be replacing my aortic valve, aortic root and ascending aorta. But if it's necessary then I'm fine with that plan.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

We Have Game Plan For Surgery!

This afternoon Dan and I met with a surgeon at the Temple University Heart and Cardiovascular Center in Philadelphia. This surgeon was recommended by my cardiologist. This was my second surgical opinion. I did some research on the surgeon I met with today and I was impressed with his credentials. Our meeting was intense, with a bombshell surprise: I would need a Bentall procedure, involving composite graft replacement of the aortic valve, aortic root and ascending aorta, with re-implantation of the coronary arteries into the graft. This complex and long operation is used to treat combined aortic valve and ascending aorta disease, which I have, apparently. This treatment plan was radically different from the first opinion that I got on Monday, where the surgeon suggested that my aneurysm did not need to be replaced, let alone the aortic root. The first surgeon wanted to do an isolated replacement of the aortic valve via a mini-sternotomy, and agreed to address my aortic aneurysm only after I insisted. The second surgeon today indicated that the valve and aorta needed replacement from the outset. The first surgeon suggested the need for circulatory arrest during the procedure, but the surgeon today stated that this would not be necessary. I find it interesting and a bit troubling that such divergent therapies can be suggested for the same pathology. But in fairness the first surgeon stated that he preferred a conservative approach. Today the second opinion surgeon seemed to want to correct as much as possible during open heart surgery. I come down firmly with the latter approach. I want the valve and the aneurysm taken care of, and if the aortic root needs replacement then so be it. Get it done. Therefore, I have opted to go with the approach outlined by today's surgeon and I have scheduled my procedure for February 16.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mini-Sternotomy for Ascending Aortic Aneurysm and Bicuspid Aortic Valve ...

This is exactly the procedure that I need, with the exception that I need a replacement aortic valve rather than a repair. I would think that replacing the aortic valve would be even easier than repairing the native valve.

Surgical Consultation No. 1

On Monday, January 5, I met with a cardio-thoracic surgeon at Penn Presbyterian Hospital, a branch of the Penn Medicine health care system in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, my husband and I were forced to wait over two hours past our appointment time before we finally got a chance to talk to the doctor himself. While the consultation was valuable in terms of adding to the information we need to make decisions about my surgery, we both felt that this particular surgeon would not be the best choice for me, and we were disappointed in the way we were treated at the facility. Unlike my meeting with another surgeon back in 2009 at a different branch of Penn Medicine, this doctor was at least personable, honest and sincere. He was also willing to listen to our concerns and to try to accommodate my wishes in terms of how I view the procedure I need. In particular, while he initially indicated that his conservative approach would be to not address my 4.6 cm aortic aneurysm at the time of AVR, he agreed to replace it after I indicated that I wanted it addressed. At first he told me "I don't think it will give you any problems." Perhaps not, but who wants to have open heart surgery and not see the surgeon correct an aneurysm that could potentially dissect in the future or require another operation? This captures the difference between the approach of this surgeon and the approach that I need. I don't want a conservative approach. I want a surgeon with a proactive approach willing to fix as much as possible as long as he is in there. So Wednesday we meet with another surgeon at a different facility. Hopefully, the experience will be better and the surgeon will prove to be more in line with my needs and expectations.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tomorrow It Starts

Photo: Holiday greeting from my friend Wolfgang in Leipzig.

Tomorrow Dan and I meet with the first of two surgeons that we will see this week. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Two Surgical Consultations Next Week

Photo: Philadelphia's Newly Re-designed Dilworth Park at City Hall

I'm meeting with two different surgeons next week. One is associated with the University of Pennsylvania hospital and the other with Temple University hospital, where my cardiologist works. I'm compiling a list of questions to ask. But first I will give each physician a chance to propose a course of treatment. I think I have to listen closely first before peppering them with a lot of questions. I've sent my records to both so they should have a pretty good idea of what they would do before I get there. I'm taking my husband Dan with me so we'll have four ears and two heads to process the information. The obvious questions are about AVR, (prosthesis type, etc.) and what to do about my aneurysm. Also, how quickly can surgery be scheduled? Other questions have to do with the surgery itself, but I don't want to get too far out ahead of things, like I was six years ago when I first met with a surgeon. It wasn't time then I was told, but I think it is time now. How many more heart attacks and strokes do I have to have?