Elizabeth Slough: My tissue valve replacement story

Published On: 13 May 2020Categories: Aortic Valve, Patient Stories, Tissue Valve

Elizabeth Slough is a retired member of Brighton’s Alzheimer’s Society, where she worked in the Carer’s Support Department. Liz is an outgoing personality, a dedicated volunteer and a brilliant advert for the power of positive ageing. She has two married stepdaughters and a sister, who shared her heart valve disease story with her. Here is Liz’s story.

“I am, by nature, outgoing. I enjoy gardening, crafts, cinema, and theatre – I love to be entertained!! I love my allotment and go there as much as I can, you have to wrestle me away from it – especially when it’s sunny.

I was diagnosed with valve disease and atrial fibrillation about 35 years ago after a fainting spell. I had no other symptoms before this to alert me to any problems. It was my GP who referred me to the cardiologist after a fainting spell – which retrospectively was not an isolated incident – but girls are expected to pass out in assembly, I think!

I don’t believe that the heart valve disease has had any effect on my overall fitness throughout my life. I expected to be short of breath after a 45-minute Zumba session – I think that’s allowed.

However, the TIA I suffered after a blood clot went up to my brain has had more of an affect on me. It affects my ‘sequencing’ skills, so numbers, and catching buses to meet friends on time can be stressful, but I get on with it, and if I’m late, they’ll have to wait.

Having lived with heart valve disease for so long, it is in your mind but then maybe you become accustomed to it and stop asking the right questions about your body. I was probably too busy enjoying life to think about my body and how it was changing.

My cardiologist – with whom together with my surgeon I have always had a very good relationship – diagnosed a modest degree of mitral valve disease. Retrospectively I was a little taken aback to find that I was imperfect as there is no heart disease in the family.

He said that in another lifetime it might have been the result of rheumatic fever, but this only now exists in the third world. However, on my return from Papua New Guinea, where I lived for a year, I had gone down with what I presumed then was ‘flu, so maybe ……? (but probably not)

I knew nothing of heart valve disease before my diagnosis and was unaware that such a thing existed. As the years went on I received sufficiently supportive information through the cardiac department, and I found some booklets which were fairly instructive. It would have been nice to find some former patients I could talk to for advice, but I just wasn’t thinking that widely at the time and the opportunity never presented itself.

Test-wise I had an angiogram and a cardiac catheterization, prior to the surgery. I had a tissue valve replacement about three years ago. Before the surgery, my concerns were entirely natural. I was about to have major surgery, and I think it’s ok to be a bit nervous and scared.

Before the operation, I just tried to keep doing the things I always have. I like to stay fit, stay healthy and stay active – that felt like proper preparation for my mind and my body.

About a month after the surgery I felt much better, and really I felt no appreciable difference – apart from the inconvenience of a large scar and staples down my chest. A month on, and I just got on with getting on with life. I love life, and I didn’t want to lose too much of it recovering, I needed to get out and see my friends and my allotment. I took my time, as instructed, and used my appetite for life to push me.

Concerning my now quality of life, I feel the same youthful exuberance as I did before, just with a bit of time away from Zumba classes, but I’ve plenty more time to make up for that!”

Thank you Elizabeth, that’s quite a story! You won’t find many better adverts for the power of positive ageing than Liz. She’s been a joy to talk too, and we look forward to seeing her at Heart Valve Voice events in the future.

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