A staff nurse in Anaesthetic and Recovery, Michele has an active, demanding job. So, when she began to experience initial symptoms of breathlessness and feeling faint, Michele assumed it was stress related. But, a year later, she was diagnosed with aortic stenosis.
When Michele began feeling breathless and lightheaded, she put it down to stress. And after a visit to A&E, an initial examination revealed no underlying condition. However, a year later, when she experienced chest pains a colleague advised her to visit her GP.
After more tests, an echocardiogram revealed a murmur and the results showed she had severe aortic stenosis.
Michele recalls how she felt on hearing the news:
“You’re being told you’ve got something and you want to know what it entails and you’re being told things and it’s not making sense. But, of course, that’s ‘shock’… I know that as a nurse.”
Being a nurse is both physically and mentally demanding. Michele explains how, on receiving her diagnosis, she decided to take time out to process the news and manage her stress levels.
“I could still physically care for patients, but you need to be mentally strong. So I needed to make sure I was mentally strong enough to go back to work.”
Michele decided that she wanted to take an active role in her treatment. She began researching heart valve replacement procedures and the types of valve available and shared her thoughts with her surgeon, Karen Booth.
Karen welcomed Michele ’s active engagement:
“Michele sent me emails of the research that she had done and said ‘I’d like to be involved not only in the type of valve but which one you’re planning to use and why.’ And that’s a fantastic example of what I’d like patients to do.”
Speaking to someone with a mechanical valve, Michele had concerns about how blood thinners and their associated side effects could impact her work as a nurse. With that in mind, she asked her surgeon about the possibility of a tissue valve. Michele explains how she was encouraged by Karen to investigate her choices.
“She said, ‘ it’s your choice, look into it.’ So I started looking into it.”
Michele felt a tissue valve would be better suited to her lifestyle. Before any decision was made, Karen needed to make sure that Michele had considered all the potential drawbacks; for instance, she might need another operation at some point in time and would require regular echocardiograms.
After a series of consultations, Michele still felt that a tissue valve was the most suitable option – and the medical team was happy that Michele had made an informed choice.
Possibly because of her nursing background, Michele was keen to get through all the stages of rehabilitation.
“I was thinking I wanted to get to cardiac rehab because the next step is rehab and the next step is going back to work.”
But she realised that what was important was to progress in her own time, and not feel pressured.
“It’s so individualised. It’s very common for people to feel like that and I think what people need to remember is it is going to get better – but it’s going to take time.”
Managing her recovery and mindful not to focus immediately on the big picture of returning to work in the hospital, Michele ’s goals were simple pleasure like singing and dancing and going out for dinner with friends – all of which Michele started to enjoy six weeks after surgery.
Having started cardiac rehab, Michele is now managing her own rehab – with the use of DVDs and online resources – at home, during the lockdown.
Michele’s advice for patients?
“Listen to yourself and what you want. Be well informed and look at what you feel is best for your lifestyle”
Watch Michele’s story here: