With all of this being said, my husband, Jim Wagner, and I met with
my surgeon, Patrick McCarthy also of Northwestern. After many questions
and answers, hesitations, fears of the unknown and all the “what if’s,” I
scheduled the surgery for June 13, 2013. I chose to have the traditional
open heart sternotomy incision even though I was an optimal candidate
for the robotic minimally invasive procedure. I was not overly concerned
about the cosmetic appearance of the scar post surgery as much as I wanted
to minimize any risk during the operation. In my opinion, sometimes the
old-fashioned ways are the best ways. Open-heart surgery has become so
advanced that I was comfortable with the traditional sternotomy being in
the hands of world-renowned surgeons and cardiologists at Northwestern.
On June 13, 2016, the mitral annuloplasty ring to repair the mitral valve as
well as repairs to the chordae were completed. (Visit Heart.org for more
information on treatment options for heart valves)
Preparing for Operation Backward Blood
“Operation Backward Blood” was the moniker that I chose for my
surgery. In preparation for Operation Backward Blood, I researched what
I could to dispel my anxiety, uncertainty and fears of what I was about
to encounter. Surprisingly, there was very little information available
on how to prepare for open-heart surgery. Looking back, I can truly say
that the anxiety of the surgery was the most stressful part, and I would
have been even more anxiety ridden had I not done my homework. With
this in mind, I would like to share with you some tips and tricks for my
preparation of Operation Backward Blood pre-op, post-op and recovery
from a woman’s perspective.
If you are fortunate, as I was, to have some time to schedule the surgery,
you should also be able to organize and delegate work assignments,
household chores and shopping lists. While I do not recommend
scheduling six months in advance as I did, because anxiety levels just
intensify, I found that it was extremely helpful to make notes and deadlines
for myself as the operation drew closer.
I also applied this tactic to my job. I took copious notes of where I
left off regarding my workload. I found this extremely helpful when
returning to work.
Additionally, I began to keep track of common items, as well as
favorites, that I buy so that my husband or caregivers would be able to
streamline their trips. I even made meals ahead of time and froze them
for when I would return home, with the intention to make cooking a
little easier for my husband and caregivers. There’s nothing quite like
homemade chicken soup to help you feel better instantly. I am fortunate
that I have a close-knit family and had fresh homemade “meals on wheels”
delivered by my parents and sisters.
Lastly, I scheduled a few days off prior to surgery to clean my house
from top to bottom one last time, make a final trip to the grocery store, pay
bills, organize my legal documents needed for the hospital, prepare for my
recovery, pack for the hospital and enjoy time with my family and friends.
(See Christine’s blog for more detailed pre-op packing list tips and tricks.)
The decision regarding if and
when to operate on errant valves is
complicated because it takes in many
variables. Robert Bonow, professor
of cardiology and director of the
Center for Cardiovascular Innovation
at Northwestern University Feinberg
School of Medicine in Chicago,
Illinois, and a past president of the
American Heart Association, outlined
some of these variables.
• Which valve is involved — aortic
• Is it stenotic (not opening normally)
or regurgitant (not closing properly)?
• Does the patient have symptoms or
• Are there changes in ventricular
function, pulmonary artery pressures
and heart rhythm?
• Can the valve be repaired or must
it be replaced?
• If the valve must be replaced, is
open heart surgery required, or can
the valve be replaced with a less
invasive catheter-based procedure?
• Other factors include the person’s
age, presence or absence of
coronary artery disease, other
associated valve disorders, the skill
and experience of the surgeon.
• Most importantly, what does the
“This decision cannot be reduced to
a simple formula and summarized in
simple terms,” Bonow said. “Every
patient needs individualized decision
making, which needs to be shared
with patient, cardiologist and
To Wait or Not to Wait