I never thought I would have much in common with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Let’s face it: actor; politician; muscleman extraordinaire; male; thirty years older than me; Austrian. Oh hey – we’re both European, and now U.S. citizens. Just a tad tenuous there, Ing. On March 29, Schwarzenegger was due to undergo a procedure, that aimed to avoid an Open Heart Surgery. I believe he was due to have a TAVR – Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. This procedure is done through an artery in the groin. Either his medical team decided it could not be performed successfully, and opted to crack his chest open, or there was a problem during the procedure, that required emergency Open Heart Surgery. Schwarzenegger also underwent Open Heart Surgery in 1997. He has said in the past, that he was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. There is a procedure known as The Ross Procedure, in which a person’s diseased (or structurally incorrect) aortic valve is replaced with their own pulmonary valve. The pulmonary valve is then replaced with a cadaver valve. This is likely the procedure he had nearly twenty years ago. Tissue valves last several years (around fifteen), as opposed to mechanical valves, which last a lifetime. The downside of mechanical valves, is that the patient is required to be on blood thinners for life – Coumadin (Warfarin). Bye bye contact sports, or anything else that has a high risk fir bleeding.Open Heart SurgerySo Arnie and I have a lot more in common that I thought! Probably not something to be celebrated – not my having commonalities with the man, just that they are sucky ones! My first open heart surgery was on November 29, 2006, in Northwestern Memorial Hospital, performed by Dr. Patrick McCarthy. I had my mitral valve replaced with a tissue valve. I chose a tissue valve (porcine) so I could have more children. The blood thinner those with mechanical valves are required to be on, is counter indicated in pregnancy. It is a Category X drug – Should never be used by a pregnant woman. There are five categories of drugs, with increasing danger in pregnancy: A, B, C, D, and X.

I had my second replacement on March 20, 2014, once again in Northwestern Memorial Hospital, by the same surgeon. They replaced my porcine mitral valve, and my native aortic valve, with mechanical ones. My mitral tissue valve only lasted seven and a half years. Schwarzenegger’s pulmonary lasted nineteen years. He had a good run. Arnold’s most recent surgery was four years and nine days after my last one. I was still in my reminiscing stage that each anniversary puts me in, when I heard news of his operation. No matter how little you know someone, how well you identify with them (or not), open heart surgery acts as a glue in a way. It is an extremely intense experience. Even those who nurse you back to health, and witness every excruciating step along the way, will never understand it, as well as a fellow survivor. I imagine if Arnie and I sat down for a chat, we would be able to talk for hours. Once we ran out of heart surgery talk, we would likely be dumbstruck, but that kinship would be there. I suppose it’s similar to being able to talk to fellow mentally ill patients, when you cannot talk to your loved ones, or friends. I don’t have a picture of Schwarzenegger post-surgery, so I’ll post mine again.

Ingrid, post-op. March 20, 2014

I wish Arnold Schwarzenegger every success on his road to recovery. It can be excruciating, frustrating, depressing, and absolutely Earth-shatteringly tiring. As he seems to face everything with bravery, and resolutely, I’m sure he will with this too.

*Any errors are my fault. No maliciousness or other negative intent is present.

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