RESEARCH AND UNDERSTAND YOUR TREATMENT OPTIONS

There are many factors that go into the decision of when and even if to have surgery.  I’d been watching my heart closely for over twenty years, with regular echocardiograms and cardiologist visits.  And when the time came, it was still a choice.

Begin by understanding your specific condition and what makes you exceptional.  Ask questions, research, research and research.  Be open-minded about possibilities.  What are the typical treatment options?  What about the not so typical?  Don’t forget to ask yourself how you want to live after the surgery.  The answer to this question could play a big role in what you decide, especially when considering different types of implantable devices.

The big question for me was whether I should get a mechanical or tissue valve.  Mechanical valves typically last forever but require anti-coagulation therapy.   Tissue valves allow for broader lifestyle choices but could require another surgery down the road when the valve wears out.  Pictured are a flap-type mechancial valve (left), and two tissue valves, the Medtronic Freestyle valve (middle) and Edwards Perimount valve (right).

I spoke with as many surgeons, cardiologists and valve surgery patients as I could, and I strongly recommend doing the same.  Even when the different opinions contradict one another.  Different surgeons will draw different conclusions about your case based on their experience.  For example, one surgeon recommended a mechanical valve because he perceived re-operation down the road on a tissue valve would be more difficult.  A different surgeon recommended a tissue valve because re-operation would actually be easier!  The differences in their two recommendations had a lot to do with their experience and comfort level with your specific conditions.

Get as many opinions from potential surgeons as you can.  Be sure to fully understand the basis for their opinions and be knowledgeable enough to have confidence in challenging their assumptions.  Favour a surgeon who has performed MANY similar surgeries.  Insist on a second, third and fourth opinion if necessary but seek out a surgeon that you feel will get a result you can be excited about.