On-X valve patient grateful for second chance at life

In April 2012, at 33 years old and happily married with 2 children aged 2 and 4, I was diagnosed with severe aortic regurgitation. My name is David and I am from South Africa. As I knew nothing about heart valve problems, I just simply assumed I could take a few pills and all will be fine in no time. Well, I was mistaken….I was told that I would need my aortic valve replaced and I had to do it in the next few weeks.

The procedure involved “open heart surgery” and while statistically there was a good track record for these kinds of operations, it was all very over whelming and an emotional time for me. It was really a scary thought that they would crack me in half, stop my heart, fix it and then put me back together again! I remember being in tears at home one morning with my family, weighing up the whole situation and talking through the matter with my wife Tracy. She was wonderful throughout the experience and gave me all support I could have wished for including the following; she reminded me how lucky I was that I had some time to prepare myself for this ordeal. Most “open heart surgery” patients don’t even get a few hours, let alone a few weeks! She was 100% right and I jumped into action researching and reading everything I could get my hands on. I was not going to let this get me down, I was going to get through this…

After a few days and nights glued to the internet, I could have passed as a par-qualified cardiologist! The first thing I learn is that there are a lot of decisions that need to be made and not easy ones at that either. Decisions that will be with me for the rest of my life. One thing was for sure, whatever decisions I made, I would have to support them 100% til the end. The biggest decision was to choose the type of valve, biological or mechanical. Due to my young age, all the advice I received pointed towards having a mechanical valve inserted. However, the thought of being on Warfarin and having regular blood tests for the rest of my life, scared the daylights out of me. So I spent a lot of time looking at the different types of biological valves and the advancements that have been made with them. The problem was, that although some biological valves can last up to 20 years, some can also start deteriorating after 5 years. This is quite a gamble, especially when you consider the increased risks of re-operation. I was not going to go through this operation again in my life if I had a say in the matter!

So, mechanical it was to be… now which make of valve? I researched about 6 different makes and statistically the On-X valve was the most impressive. It had the lowest overall failure rates and appeared to be more technologically advanced. This coupled with the fact that the valve is the only one undergoing an FDA approved trial for lowered anticoagulation treatment called “PROACT”. This was really a big deciding factor for me as I knew there was a possibility of life without Warfarin with the On-X valve. I also found the On-x website very helpful in my research and surgery preparation.

The next step was to find a surgeon that would insert an On-X valve for me. I found a great surgeon who agreed with my assessment of the On-X valve and had gained a lot of experience inserting these specific valves. I think this was a very important point, besides the fact that my surgeon was extremely good at his profession, his experience with the valve really put my mind at ease regarding the procedure. He was truly brilliant throughout the process.

So in June 2012, I had my aortic valve replaced with an On-X valve. The operation went perfectly and I spent 3 days in ICU/CCU and a further 4 days in the general ward. The operation is tough, especially the first few days in ICU, but every day the improvement is dramatic and soon the hard times in ICU are forgotten. I went completely off painkillers about 2 weeks after the surgery. My wife often has to remind me of how hard it was as it is a bit of a blur to me now. Even if your pain threshold is very low, just about anyone can do it.

It is now 7 weeks after surgery, I am feeling absolutely fantastic and as strong as ever. I am attending a cardiac rehabilitation classes and feeling fitter than I did before the operation. Life on Warfarin is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, in fact it doesn’t bother me that much at all. Life for me is definitely better than it was before and I have changed nothing except that I am exercising more now days and trying to spend more time with my wife and children. Sometimes you have to go through an experience like this to be reminded of how lucky we are and how much we have to be thankful for. The incision scar is fine and actually quite cool, in fact my kids love it! As well as the ticking sound in my chest, which is just a comforting reminder to myself and my family of the 2nd chance at life I have been given.


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