Was heart valve surgery the only option?

5 answers | Last updated: Oct 24, 2016
Rd1usa asked...

My grandmother died 3 weeks after heart valve surgery. She was always active but the last year had been fatigued, having swollen ankles and legs. She also had trouble breathing, passed out and was taken to the ER. They said she had CHF and a leaky valve.

She had been seeing a cardiologist after the ER. They scheduled a test in the hospital but they could not do it because she had too much fluid in the lungs. She was admitted and after a few days they were able to do the test. The doctor said she needed the surgery to replace the valve or would die.

She had the surgery almost died the same day. She was in ICU almost 3 weeks. At one point she seemed to be getting better. They put in a pacemaker but she was never able to get off the ventilator. She had to go on dialysis and also her intestines stopped working and they said her cells were breaking down. She had yellow fluid leaking from her skin. The doctor finally said she needed to go to hospice. My mother decided to disconnect the vent and she died about 15 minutes after it was disconnected.

I wondering if there was still a chance she could have gotten better. A few days before the disconnected the vent her heart had stopped 3 times and she had to be resuscitated.

I am still torn up about this and wonder if surgery was the only option. Can someone get better after multiple organ failure? Has anyone else had a similar experience? I also wonder if disconnecting the life support was the right thing?

Expert Answers

Carolyn Strimike, N.P. and Margie Latrella, N.P. are cardiac nurse practitioners specializing in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. They have over 40 years of nursing experience in Cardiology between them. The main goal of their work is to counsel, motivate and empower women to adopt healthy lifestyle choices.

First of all we are sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother. Unfortunately it sounds like your grandmother developed advanced heart failure over the last year of her life. This occurs when the heart muscle weakens and causes many of the symptoms you described your grandmother had. These symptoms were probably caused by the leaky valve which lead to the weakened heart muscle. When the heart valve weakens currently the best treatment option is heart valve surgery. From what you describe it sounds like heart surgery was the best decision to try to help relieve your grandmother's symptoms. I have worked for many years in the hospital and unfortunately have seen some patients develop the same types of problems as your grandmother's after surgery. From what you describe, multi-system organ failure and her heart stopping several times it does not sound like your grandmother would have been able to recover. I know it must have been a very hard decision but it does sound like it was the best decision for your grandmother, recovery sounds very unlikely.

Community Answers

Ccephus answered...

Only God knows who suppose to die or not.. But to answer your question do people get better after multiple organ failure.. i think they do to a certain point.. My brother has multiple organ failure.. he started out with double pnuemonia, kidney failure, had his heart valve replaced and has been in the hospital for over 6 months and a nursing home for 3 months... its been crazy.. just keep your faith and know that God makes no mistakes.

Rd1usa answered...

thanks for the replies

A fellow caregiver answered...

I agree with all the above but am sad to see what I think was also a major oversight -- you stated "A few days before they disconnected the vent her heart had stopped 3 times and she had to be resuscitated." Your grandmother should have had a "Do Not Resuscitate" form on file and considering her condition it would have been much easier on the family if nature could have taken its course and the difficult decision to disconnect the vent could have been avoided -- and it would have been easier on your grandmother as well.

A fellow caregiver answered...

my mother-in-law is now experiencing a similar organ failure in an ICU after heart surgery which repaired her heart. she was conscious for only 2 days and had some dementia like behavior, then her kidneys failed and she stopped breathing on her own so is on a ventilater and has a feeding tube. she has a DNR but her heart has not stopped as she has a pacemaker in and the heart surgery repaired her heart. she is not conscious and I don't believe she is really with us anymore. God does not seem to be available. they have a discharge order for her which means they want to put her somewhere else to be on machines to keep her alive but her wishes were to not be on life support so there are some decisions to be made soon. people do not recover from organ failure. generally when the body is shutting down, that's a sign the end is near or the person wants to move on. my mother-in-law was really too weak in the first place to have the surgery but wanted it and they did it anyway and now she is bedridden and unable to function normally. I would say it would be a blessing to let her go.