Was heart valve surgery the only option?

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 Answer

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.