Heart valve….hubbuh..what?

Tens of thousands of visitors to my blog have asked me to say a little bit more about heart valve surgery. None of these people have left any comments on my site, which probably means that I have imagined all of them. I do remember Ken…and Clara, both very good people. A cute couple.

The human heart is simply put a pump. It is divided in four chambers. Two on the left side end two on the right. The right side of the heart pumps the blood out of the veins. This blood has been on a  journey (!) around the body delivering oxygen and has no oxygen left. The right side pumps this blood from the veins into the lungs where oxygen is added to the blood. The left side of the heart then pumps the oxygen rich blood from the lungs, through the heart and back into the body. The pumping happen as the heart contracts/squeezes. Every time it squeezes, you have a heartbeat. Every time the heart relaxes to get ready for another squeeze, the blood would wash back, in the opposite direction of where it`s supposed to flow, if it wasn`t for the valves that open to let the blood flow the right way and close to prevent the blood from washing back.

If the valves are not in perfect shape, they can prevent enough blood from going the right way and they can leak so that some blood does wash back the wrong way.

My defective valve was the aortic valve. This valve is the last valve the blood passes through before it leaves the heart on it`s way back out to the body. It`s supposed to open wide to let good oxygenated blood through and close tightly so the blood doesn`t flush back into the heart when the pump is in between heartbeats.

I was born with a valve that had an incorrect shape. Over the years it got gradually worse. Right before my surgery a mere 60% of the oxygen rich blood that was supposed to go through actually did go through the valve. The valve didn`t open all the way so not all the blood was pumped through the “door” and it leaked a little back into the heart as well.

The entire body, including all the organs and brain needs oxygen to function properly. Faced with that situation, my heart worked harder than a healthy heart for years in order to get enough blood through. As a result of that, my heart grew and because of that it moved a little bit away from it`s intended position in my chest cavity. It got twisted a little around it`s own axis.

The heart is a muscle. Knowing that, it might not sound so bad that it grew some. However, unlike any other muscle in our body, the heart does not add cells and grow from that, It uses the cells that are already there and stretches. It`s as if you have a certain amount of steel to build a car. You can build it at a certain size and maintain a good quality or you can build a bigger one from the same steel. The bigger one would naturally not be as strong.

In my situation I also had an enlarged aortic root. The aortic root is the beginning of the “tunnel” that transports the blood from the heart to the body. In other words, it is right outside the “door” that is the aortic valve. That too was enlarged. If only my biceps could enlarge as easily with no effort from me! I had to have both the root and the valve replaced.

With two parts in need of replacement I was given the choice of artificial parts or biological parts. The biological parts usually come from pigs , sometimes cows. The artificial ones come from Home Depot. At least that`s how they look. I think you can buy a valve and a root for $1.99 each with a coupon. I suspect they might be slightly more advanced than that, but they do look very simple. Not very high tech at all. I chose artificial.

The main difference between biological and artificial valves is longevity. Bio valves normally last 10-12 years. After that you need surgery and a new valve again. Artificial valves could last for the rest of your life. Artificial valves do increase the risk of clogging, the blood could coagulate and cause blood clots which in term might give you a stroke. All patients who opt for the cyborg version must therefore take blood thinning medications for the rest of their lives. Blood thinning medication increases the time it takes for the blood to coagulate and therefore decreases the risk of clogging. There are a few risks involved : You have to maintain a certain level of blood “thickness”. If the blood gets too thin, you can bleed to death from serious cuts or internal bleeding. Ulcers are a concern. If it gets too thick, you can have a stroke.  The “thickness” of the blood is affected (or rather the effect of the medication is) by a number of things. Especially diet. Vitamin K is the “enemy”. Eat too much of that and the medication loses it`s effect. Alcohol makes the blood thin. But I guess everybody knows that. Monitoring of the blood levels is something artificial valvists must do at least a couple of times per month for the rest of our lives. I go once per week for “a little prick”  in my finger.

I got used to it quickly, but I can imagine that it might be a little more difficult for others. Especially family and friends. I`m talking about the ticking. Every time my valve closes, it makes a relatively loud “tick”. I hear it all the time, people close to me hear it if we`re in a relatively quiet room. I can`t wait for the next time I go to an airport!

It`s been four months or so since my surgery. Except for some soreness and general stiffness in my upper body I feel great. I do not get tired from things that used to wear me out . I feel  I need to take advantage of my physical new beginning..I mean, new journey! Naah, that doesn`t work. I feel like I`ve lost some good years of feeling good and I want to make up for it. Returning to bicycling is therefore to me sort of like a revenge over the defective heart valve.

I`m hoping you thousands of thousands of readers..it must be millions by now.. got a little bit from that. You know a little bit more about heart valve replacement surgery now?

I`m gonna keep on ticking and hopefully start pedaling soon.

Don`t change the channel.

THE Bioniccyclist.