Cecilia Owen’s Story

Published On: 26 March 2016Categories: Aortic Valve, Open Heart Surgery, Patient Stories

As Cecilia from Clitheroe approached her 70s, she was still enjoying long walks with family and friends. After a series of chest infections and medical tests, she was eventually diagnosed with heart valve disease. Her story is a poignant reminder of why it is important to get your heart checked sooner rather than later.

I have always been an active person, and used to enjoy going on long weekend walks with the local club. I have an interest in photography too, so that was always a motivator to get me out of the house and capturing my local landscapes. When I was 68 I developed a chest infection so visited my GP. She listened to my chest, and informed me that there was a rattle. This was attributed to the infection and I was prescribed antibiotics. Eventually that infection cleared but the following year I suffered from a few more chest infections, each one taking longer to shift than the last. I began to slow down, though I was still determined to get out and about. Then, just before I turned 70, my left eye began to bleed. I visited various medical specialists, and was tested for several things including strokes and heart attacks. Eventually, after two years of testing, the doctors concluded that I had an issue with my aortic heart valve.

The summer before I was due to have my surgery, I visited Ireland with my daughter and walked around mountains. Upon my return, I caught another virus, which took a long time to clear. After this, I kept getting one infection after another. I began to feel very weak; I felt breathless; I wasn’t getting proper sleep, and even walking was painful. Looking back now, I realise just how ill I was. It was a worrying period of my life, but my GP supported me very well.

I was taken into Blackpool Hospital in May 2012 and was given a replacement heart valve. The specialist explained everything before my surgery, drawing pictures and talking me through the procedure and aftercare. He even showed me the images that had been taken of my heart. The calcium build up on my aortic valves looked like blocks of concrete! The valve replacement went well, but prior to stitching me back up, the anaesthetist noticed that my aorta had split due to the pressure build-up in the heart muscle. My surgeon had consulted with a specialist from Liverpool Hospital, who advised him not to interfere. Operating further would have been a huge risk. I was kept asleep, under anaesthetic, for two days. After this, I recovered well but was kept in the emergency ward for monitoring.

The cardiac nurse called to see me at home during my aftercare process. She was very helpful, and I was able to make contact at any time. The staff at my GP surgery were excellent and the home care services supported me too. I must also thank my family, who have been wonderful. My youngest daughter gave up two years at university to help me. I think the work Heart Valve Voice is doing to provide information and support for families of patients is very worthwhile.

One huge benefit from having my valve replaced is that my breathing is much better. I could barely breathe before and it was preventing me from doing the things I loved. I am now able to go for short walks, take the dog out and spend time with my family. I really enjoy spending time with my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and I am still able to pursue photography.I am very thankful that I’m still here today.

Before I was diagnosed with heart valve disease, I knew very little about it. I was a nurse for many years and never came across anyone with heart valve disease. My sister passed away at the age of 55 from a mitral valve issue, but no-one really spoke about heart valve disease back then. I am very pleased to see that there is a group taking action, raising awareness and bringing heart valve disease to the fore. Had the ‘rattle’ that my GP picked up on been dealt with sooner, I perhaps would be more active today. What happened to me could happen to anyone and getting my valve replaced saved my life; without the operation, I wouldn’t be alive today!

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