Marina McGrath’s Heart Valve Story
Monday 3rd July 2017
Having lived with a heart murmur that was the result of rheumatic fever as a child, Marina never noticed it having an effect on her life until she reached her 50s. It wasn’t until a visit to her GP with high blood pressure that she found out she had aortic stenosis (AS). Marina has since had treatment for her AS and is now back to work at her busy job as a Midwife. This is her story.
Marina had always been conscious that she had a heart murmur after being diagnosed when she was a young child, but she never felt that it slowed her down and she had always kept herself busy being active and working full-time as a midwife. Not long after her 50th birthday in 2005, she attended a Well Woman Clinic, as many women do, to look into having Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It was during the routine tests at the clinic when she first discovered that her blood pressure was quite high. On the clinic’s recommendation, she paid a visit to her GP. Thinking back, Marina also had begun to notice that she would sometimes feel shortness of breath when she exerted herself, but simply thought it was all part of being in your 50s!
Her GP listened to her heart and immediately suspected aortic stenosis so he referred her to the the cardiologist. This suspected diagnosis came as a shock to Marina and she was sceptical of the doctor’s insistence that it was AS. However after an echocardiogram her cardiologist was able to confirm that she did in fact have mild AS. Being a fellow clinician, Marina wanted to find out all that she could about her diagnosis and asked as many questions as she could think of. She was told that her symptoms would most likely worsen over time and that she would probably require an aortic valve replacement in the future. Not the news she was hoping to hear!
As her AS was only mild, her cardiologist arranged for her to visit him once a year to see how it was progressing. Each year she would go for her check up and each year she began to notice herself slowing down and her symptoms becoming worse. She once again put this down to the ageing process and continued to lead a very full life doing all of the activities that she loved like hillwalking, skiing and horseback riding. It was however becoming more difficult to ignore the fact that she was more breathless than her older peers but she found ways work around it and she resorted to doing things at a much slower pace than before. At the same time, her yearly echocardiogram began to show her AS progressing from mild to moderate.
Things took a turn for Marina in 2010 when she went through a very stressful period at work. The high stress environment began to take a toll on her heart condition and her latest echocardiogram was now showing she had severe AS. This news, coupled with the fact that Marina’s symptoms seemed to be getting worse was very upsetting. As a result, she was referred to Dr Anita McNabb, a heart valve specialist who was able answer all of Marina’s questions which also helped to provide some much needed comfort. She informed Marina that her need for surgery was getting closer and that she had to prepare herself for that.
Finally on 7 June, 2014, Marina was admitted to have her aortic valve replacement surgery. Her surgeon, Paul Waterworth, did an excellent job on the procedure and was very supportive during her recovery.
Since her surgery, Marina’s life is finally back to normal and she is feeling much more like her usual self. She took six months off to recover and get herself back into shape before returning to her work full-time. She has been able to continue with her active lifestyle as well and still finds time to do her favourite activities, especially her hillwalking. In fact, just over a year after her treatment Marina went on a walking holiday to Turkey with a group of walkers called Explore who ventured our for walks ranging anywhere from three to seven hours each day - something she would have struggled with the year before. She has also decided to retire from full-time work to part-time work so she has more time to enjoy the things she loves.
“While my experience with aortic stenosis has been a rollercoaster ride, I am so glad that I finally went through with my treatment.” said Marina, “I am now able to keep up with all of my friends on our walks and I still have the energy to work in a job that I get so much out of. I have a new lease on life and plan to make the most of it!”