Gerry Kijak’s Heart Valve Disease Story

Published On: 10 August 2016Categories: Aortic Valve, Open Heart Surgery, Patient Stories, Tissue Valve

Gerry Kijak is 63 and lives in Solihull with his wife. In February 2016, he underwent double heart bypass surgery and had an aortic valve replacement due to heart valve disease. His valve disease story is especially poignant and shows just how important it is to not ignore your symptoms.

I have always been fit and lead a healthy lifestyle. I don’t smoke, I exercise regularly, I eat sensibly and drink alcohol in moderation. For Christmas 2014 my wife and I, along with our two daughters, took a holiday to the Caribbean. On the first few days, I felt normal and found it easy to climb up a nearby hill, I was ahead of the girls on these walks initially. However, over the next few days, I found the hill climb more difficult than usual and I felt out of sorts. After the walk, I didn’t feel well at all so I took myself to bed. I felt too weak to walk up the hill again during that holiday. On our return home, I regularly felt breathless and experienced palpitations. I tried to ignore these symptoms but I found it really difficult to stay active. Normal activities like mowing the lawn became almost impossible. Eventually, my wife encouraged me to see our local GP.

At the GP’s office, it became clear things weren’t right. He listened to my heart with a stethoscope and said he could hear a heart murmur. I was referred to a cardiologist for further tests. A few weeks later, the cardiologist undertook an ECG and an ultrasound of my heart. He confirmed that I had heart valve disease and said I would need to have an aortic valve replacement. At the same time, I was also diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Being diagnosed with both conditions shocked me. Within four weeks, I had gone from having no known health problems to suddenly having two potentially life-threatening conditions. I felt completely helpless and numb. I wasn’t really aware of heart valve disease before my diagnosis so wasn’t sure what the implications would be on my life. My father had heart-bypass surgery years earlier but had never mentioned heart valve disease. The doctors advised me I would need to treat my heart condition first before I could undergo radiotherapy for my prostate cancer.

My operation took place in February this year. This was the first operation I have ever had so I felt scared and was unsure of what to expect. Dr Rooney was the surgeon taking care of me. During the operation, he performed a double heart bypass surgery and replaced my aortic valve with a tissue valve. When I woke up from my heart surgery, Dr Rooney told me the operation had been successful. I stayed in hospital for a total of four days before I returned home.

My recovery from the surgery was much quicker than I thought it would be. I felt tired and a bit sore. However, seven weeks later I began my radiotherapy for prostate cancer and I had my final session in early May. Having the surgery has made me understand how limiting my symptoms had been before the operation. Heart valve disease had reduced my quality of life and I didn’t even realise. I had experienced problems with simple activities like climbing the stairs due to shortness of breath. One of my daughters said it was like I had become an old man overnight. This made me realise my own frailty.

Since the surgery, I have a new lease of life. My daughters have their dad back and I’ve got my life back. I’m now active again and enjoying walking. I love to travel and regularly visit my holiday home in France. I’m really pleased I am still able to enjoy all the things that I did previously.

I would encourage someone who is feeling breathless or fatigued to not ignore your symptoms. Seeing your GP could really save your life, and I think Heart Valve Voice’s message of “the more we listen, the more lives we save” is very true! For anyone else who is diagnosed with heart valve disease, I would reassure them that surgery is important for a full recovery and a better quality of life. Just thinking about how I feel now compared to how I felt previously, I know having an operation was the right decision.

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