Going through a life-changing surgery comes with many risks and potential complications. To understand more about Aortic Stenosis, we sat down with Jennifer Michaud who had to make an overwhelming decision at just 29 years old. We were also joined by Dr. Marie-Annick Clavel to discuss the importance of filling the research gap in heart health and how you can support your loved one during similar situations.
Jennifer Michaud was born with Aortic Stenosis and grew up being told that things were going well for her situation. Aside from yearly check-ups with her cardiologist and minimized activity, Jennifer genuinely believed that she could continue living her life the way she always had. The impact of Aortic Stenosis varies on each individual but for Jennifer, it meant that her aortic valve had two flaps instead of the normal three.
At 29, she started to have brief moments of light-headedness as well as a racing pulse. Within five minutes, everything would return to normal. After discussing it with her cardiologist, Jennifer was told that there had been a further narrowing of her valve and that it needed to be replaced.
Leading up to surgery, Jennifer was faced with two options for her valve replacement, either a mechanical valve or a bioprosthetic one. For her heart to work properly with a mechanical one, she would have needed to be on blood thinners. Not only would this require a lot of maintenance and careful living, but it also had the potential to prevent any future pregnancies. At 29, Jennifer wasn't sure if that was the right avenue for her. On the other hand, a bioprosthetic valve is made from animal tissues developed in labs or donated and works the same as your original valve, but eventually needs to be replaced. After a lot of talking and researching with her husband, she decided that a bioprosthetic valve would better suit her priorities and lifestyle.
To say the least, recovering from any open-heart surgery is hard. The impact of it physically can be frustrating and painful, but the emotional aspects are often worse. "The idea that you’ve got to go through such a horrifying experience with the knowledge that it's not a for sure thing, that there are risks to the surgery, makes you consider your mortality," Jennifer told us.
Combined with lack of sleep, pain, and uncomfortableness the situation is far from ideal. However, Jennifer doesn't know if she would change any of it. "It led to self-discovery, a lot of healing and as many healthy eating choices as possible. I get the rest of my life which is the most incredible thing.”
Whether you have a partner, friend or family member going through a similar situation, being there at appointments can be a huge help. Jennifer recalls having her husband by her side throughout each check-up, making it a little bit easier to digest the heavy load of information being thrown at her. It's also important to do as much as you can for the person during the recovery stages as that is an extremely difficult time emotionally and physically for anyone healing from open-heart surgery.
February is Heart Month, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation is working to fill the research gap between men and women when it comes to heart health. To get involved, visit HeartandStroke.ca