Nicola and her family.
Tuesday 30th July 2019
Nicola Doherty, a working mother of a young son, was unaware of any issues with her heart. After a visit to the doctor’s office for what she thought was a simple chest infection, a stethoscope exam revealed that she had a heart murmur. At the age of 45, she was eventually diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis and received an aortic valve replacement.
Nicola had not experienced any of the tell tale symptoms of heart valve disease such as breathlessness and chest pains and had no idea that there was something wrong with her heart. Nicola and her husband James spent their days chasing after their young son Michael and Nicola kept busy with her part-time job.
It wasn’t until she visited the GP for a suspected chest infection that she found out that she had been living with heart valve disease. The doctor, a locum, took a moment to listen to her heart and discovered that Nicola had a pronounced heart murmur, “He asked me how long I had had a heart murmur, this was the first I was hearing about it!”
She was referred to a cardiologist at Monklands Hospital for an echocardiography scan that revealed that she had severely calcified aortic stenosis. She was shocked at her diagnosis, and had always put her tiredness down to being a busy mum and working part time rather than to a heart issue, “I was very tired I suppose but I put this down to being a busy working mum. I also recall that I did often feel breathless but figured this was down to to carrying a bit of extra weight."
Nicola’s cardiologist, Dr Colin Petrie from Monklands Hospital, was very helpful and he talked her through the disease. He took the time to explain everything she needed to know and talked to her about her treatment options. It was decided that for Nicola the best treatment would be a sternotomy, or open heart surgery. From there she was sent for a fitness test and an angiogram.
After the dust settled, Nicola had a moment to process everything, “I was absolutely terrified, I knew nothing about heart valve disease. I had my wee boy when I was nearly 40 and was scared that I wouldn’t live long enough to see him grow up,” recalls Nicola. “The thing that brought me comfort was that I had wonderful support from my husband who has been with me every step of the way.” Nicola found her cardiologist to be very helpful in explaining everything and she also took to the internet, “I googled heart valve disease and watched an operation on you tube. Crazy I know, but I needed to know what I was in for. “
On 9 February, 2017 Nicola received an aortic valve replacement at Golden Jubilee Hospital from surgeon Mr John Butler. He met with Nicola before her surgery and helped to explain what would be happening and advised her to relax and take things easy as she waited.
After her surgery, Nicola was very sore but happy her treatment went well, “I was very sore but so happy with the care I received. The golden jubilee were fantastic. I also had the district nurses visit me everyday to change dressings on my chest.” While she had some moments where she felt uncomfortable and down, her recovery was going well and she could feel improvements every day. One month after her treatment she could still feel herself getting stronger.
Nicola found the best way to get through her recovery was to listen to her body, take one day at a time and not to rush anything. Four months after her surgery she was back at work and back chasing after her son.
“I was terrified when I discovered I had heart valve disease, but I embraced the fact that I needed to be strong and be here to see my wee boy grow up,” said Nicola, “I feel blessed, I have a great family who supported me, including my husband and my mum, as well as my siblings Gayle, Michael and Michelle who gave me a shoulder to cry on when I was nervous about my surgery. Family is everything.” Nicola is very grateful for all of the amazing support she received from her family, and feels that this support is what got her through her experience.
And what would Nicola say to anyone who has been diagnosed with valve disease and is nervous about getting treated? “Get it done. You can do it.”