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What should I expect from bypass surgery?

What should I expect from open heart surgery? I am sharing my experience with you after surviving not 1 but two at age 40!

What should I expect from bypass surgery? Many of you don’t know this but I have recently just had my 2nd open heart bypass surgery!  Yes, I am a 40-year-old who just had her 2nd open heart surgery (CABG – Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting).

In 1984 I was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease.  There was no treatment available when I was diagnosed however thankfully today there is.  Without treatment, about 25% of children diagnosed develop acquired heart disease.  At age 11, I had multiple coronary aneurysms at diagnosis. At age 20, the majority of my aneurysms had disappeared on their own, but one located in my left main coronary artery, had calcified and I began having reduced blood flow as a result.  I felt tired and lacked energy.  I did not have any other symptoms.  My artery was obstructed and without surgery I would suffer a heart attack.

What should I expect from bypass surgery?

I had a heart stress-echo that I didn’t “pass” which resulted in an angiogram.  I survived my first open heart surgery on December 13, 1993.  After a quick 6-week recovery I went back to college and led a normal life.  I graduated in 1995 and immediately began teaching.  I married my best friend in 1998 and in 2000 we struggled with infertility.

After coming to terms with our fertility issues, in 2004 we knew our baby was not going to be conceived “naturally” so we began our International adoption process. In June 2005 my son was placed in my arms forever and my life was complete.  I left my teaching career and became a stay at home Mom.  In 2009 Shelley and I started Stockpiling Moms and the rest is history…

In late 2012 I began feeling extremely tired – thinking it was just a vitamin deficiency from my Celiac Disease I let it go.  I went to get some testing in 2013 and my Vitamin B12 was extremely low, that had to be it!  After a few months on the B12 I was still really tired and I noticed that when I walked for exercise I would get out of breathe.  Rocky had an “incident” where he was attacked by another dog in July 2013 which caused me great stress and as a result I suffered angina. Angina for many women feels like a sharp pain, throbbing or burning in your chest.  However you might feel it on your neck or throat.  For some you will lose your breath and have anxiety.

In July of 2013 my husbands job was eliminated after 19 years with the same company.  He came in and told me and I called the next morning to get an appointment with my cardiologist.   I knew my time with insurance was limited (he had a 9 month severance package).  I met with my cardiologist, Dr. Kevin Miller on 9/4/13.  We decided to go the same route as before.  Heart Stress Echo.  I had the Stress Echo on 9/19/13 and did not pass the test.  Since it had been 20 years since the original bypass I was not “surprised” but of course still hopeful.

On 9/25/13 I had an angiogram and found out that my bypass from 20 years ago was failing but luckily other veins and arteries were “stepping up” and performing in its place with collateral flow (yes and I co-hosted our conference 3 days later).  I did not need an “emergency” surgery but I decided to get it done as soon as possible and before year end because of insurance purposes.  My cardiologist insisted on Dr. Raymond Will for my case as it is a little tricky with the placement of aneurysm and because it was a re-do.  He is the best of the best however he was semi-retired and because there was no emergency concern I waited for him. (Update – I was one of Dr. Will’s last patients before full retirement).

I chose to have my second bypass surgery on 10/30/13 at St. Elizabeth Hospital.  I am so thankful I did.  Dr. Will was the most amazing surgeon and on the morning of my surgery I found out he is retiring on 12/31/13!  There were so many ironic things that occurred through my surgery.  I had amazing nurses, two of my nurses had family members with Kawasaki Disease and one nurse who has Celiac Disease.

My anesthesiologist was named ROCKY!  While I was anxious, my faith in God and belief in my team of doctors and nurses provided me peace and comfort every step of the way.  The nurses held my hands and understood it was scary.  I knew I was going to make it through this surgery.  Thankfully I was right.  It was really a great experience at St. Elizabeth with fabulous care and I only spent 3 nights in the hospital!  The average stay after bypass is 5 nights.  Some stay 3-7 depending on complications.  I can’t say enough about the care that I received at St. E from beginning to end!

My parents and husband were there with me every step of the way and so was Shelley and my former student whom I call daughter, Brittney.  I was OFF of prescription pain medication on day 6 post op!   I did not use morphine at all during my hospital stay because I am allergic to it. Without their support through this process I don’t know what I would have done.  I am back to blogging but my recovery will last through the end of the year.   was once again released from my surgeons care 6 weeks post op.

My heart is strong and my future is bright.  i know another open-heart surgery is in the cards for me and maybe more.  I share my story to urge you to be aware of your own heart health.  Heart disease is the Number 1 killer of women, and it is more deadly than all cancers combined.  The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women and men, and are often misunderstood or overlooked.  Taking small steps to better heart health and overall wellness is so important.  Education and awareness are critical steps in helping prevent heart disease.

Open Heart Surgery Recovery

You will go into the hospital and should be wearing no deodorant, lotions or nail polish of any type.  You will be required to shave your body (not your head or arms but your stomach and pubic area) prior to surgery and if you don’t a nurse will do that for you.  You will then take a shower to be sure you “sanitized” and put on your gown and slippers.  After that you will get your IV and “happy” juice.

You will get time to say goodbye to your loved ones and then be taken to the line room where you will get several lines placed into your cardioid arteries. At that point you may or may not get to see you family again (I did).  Then you will be taken into surgery and from that point forward the next thing you will remember is when you start waking up again.  You will be on a breathing machine (ventilator) and won’t be able to speak until they remove the breathing tubes.  I had my surgery at 8 am and my tubes were removed at 7 pm.  It is very uncomfortable but once they are removed and you can speak it will be better.

After the breathing tube is removed most doctors will have the nurses get you in a chair within 3-4 hours.  My surgeon normally does not get his patients up for 24 hours however I got up at 4 am.  I was walking by 11 am that morning!  It is “normal” to have a lot of pain and my suggestion is to keep the pain at bay and take the pain medication as often as possible.  You will have to do a breathing apparatus hourly and that will be really helpful in keeping your lungs clear – be sure to do it!  It is normal to have nausea from the anesthesia for some.  I did but they were able to give me medication to help with that. I can’t say it enough – get up, get moving and use the breathing apparatus!

open heart scar leg resigned

What you need to prepare for is that your leg incision may actually hurt more than your chest incision (that is the case for me) and it is normal to have back and neck pain too. In addition you will need help for the next 2-6 weeks as you will be limited in terms of what you can do. You can’t lift anything larger than a gallon of milk and I can’t reach for items or raise my arms above my head – even to dry my hair! You have to wear TED stockings to be sure that you don’t get blood clots for the first 2 weeks after surgery and you can not put those on or off yourself. I would suggest that you have help for at least 2-3 weeks almost around the clock.  You may need to hire a nurse or nursing student to help you if necessary.

A great idea is to prepare freezer cooking recipes in advance to help with meals while you recover.  Here are 8 freezer meals you can make in 2 hours.  You will need a digital thermometer, a scale and blood pressure cuff to monitor yourself daily after surgery.  I suggest purchasing pajamas a size larger than normal because it is normal to be swollen after surgery.  In addition, you need to wear nonskid slippers all of the time to help prevent falls.  I did not need to worry about dietary changes because my bypass was Kawasaki Disease related however you may need to transition to a low-fat diet. I had very little appetite when I first got home.  I would suggest some soft foods at first as you transition including Jell-O, Soup and higher fiber foods to help your bowels regulate.

What I learned from bypass surgery:

My Mom stayed with me for the first 10 days of recovery and I am so thankful for the time we had together.  My Dad is amazing and brought me an electric recliner which has made my recovery so much easier.  If you have access to rent one or borrow one for your recovery I highly suggest it.  I have been really blessed with amazing friends and family who have provided me meals and sent lovely gifts and cards!  You can see the gorgeous roses above sent to me by one of our PR agencies and a fruit arrangement by a close friend.

The great news is my surgeon said I have a beautiful and healthy heart!  I have NO atherosclerosis or heart damage at all!  Hopefully this bypass will last a long time to come!  I will take the time to see the signs though that is for sure!

What I have learned from this experience is being a Mom prepared me for the surgery and gave me the strength necessary – I was not afraid.  I have a very loving support group of close friends and family.  I am so blessed to have my best friend as a business partner!  I don’t know what I would do without Shelley.  Her support the past two months has helped me more than she will ever know. Daily texts, calls, messages and holding my hand the morning I had surgery – even her messages while I recovered that I read later. She is truly a sister friend.

The love that I have for my husband is strong.  It is amazing that 15 years later I am even more deeply in love with my husband than even the day we married. It takes a wonderful man to hold your hand and nurse you back to good health, he stayed with me all three nights in the hospital (in a waiting room on the floor the first two nights when I was in ICU), he dries my hair, puts on my TED stockings and makes me laugh. A love that I have never known before and I thank God for him every single day. Now maybe a little more so the gift that comes from bypass surgery is life is too short – enjoy every single minute with no regrets and it is OK to say NO (thank you)

I hope this posts helps someone else prepare for open heart bypass surgery!

Heart Health Posts:

What is Kawasaki Disease?
February is American Heart Month
It is OK to say NO (thank you)
Ways to Save on Healthy Foods
How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
How to shop at Whole Foods without spending your Whole Paycheck

Heart Healthy Weekly Menu Plans:

February Heart Healthy Menu Plan – Week 1

February Heart Healthy Menu Plan – Week 2

February Heart Healthy Menu Plan – Week 3

February Heart Healthy Menu Plan – Week 4

Other posts you may enjoy:

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10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol

3 Key Tips for Weight Loss

3 Frugal Exercise Tips

8 Foods That Help Fight Cellulite

Detox Water

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  1. Best wishes for a full recovery! You and your family are in my prayers. Thank you to you and Shelly for all that you do to help all of us save money!

  2. So glad that you are doing so well!! I am a cardiac RN and thrilles to kmow your nurses were top notch! Prayers for your continued recovery!!

  3. Thank you for sharing. My daughter at age 14 months had KD, she is now almost 18 years old. You really gave me some things to watch for. Thanks!!

  4. Glad to see you are recovering well and that you have a beautiful heart! As if everyone didn’t already know that 🙂

  5. Wow….thankful you are able to share this with us…I know God has walked with you during this whole time and Your faith in him….this is amazing story you have shared. Thanks….

  6. So glad you are willing to share your personal health challenges. I am glad you are recovering. You will be in my prayers for continued healing+vibrant health. I learned a lot about celiac disease from you being so kind to comment about your own struggles+triumphs! Thank you!

    1. Thanks Margie – Shelley always says I am an open book 🙂 I love to help others and if I can through sharing my life then I am glad to do it!

  7. I’m so glad to hear of your “easy” surgery and recuperating—it sounds as if you were well prepared and well taken care of. Your whole family and your friends network is simply wonderful—I especially love your Mama, and have come to think of her as a friend as we drop in on each others’ blogs.

    All best thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery and a long, healthy life with your beautiful heart.


  8. What Melissa didn’t mention is that as soon as she stopped the pain meds she wrote a story for the next issue of Gluten-Free Living. I had no idea what she had been through and when she told me she had just had heart surgery I said we could wait for the story for a future issue, but she was determined to get it done and sent it in a few days. That’s sheer force of will. With that strength and all the family support, Melissa, I expect you will have a quick and thorough recovery. I am in awe.
    Sending good wishes,

    1. Amy,

      Thanks you so much for sharing this 🙂 I am a really strong woman that is for sure 🙂 It is my honor to write for Gluten Free Living Magazine!

  9. I’m so happy you are doing so well! I’m a tea blog friend of your mom and was praying for all of you when you had the surgery — so grateful she thoughtfully posted updates too. Hope you are up and at ’em in time to enjoy the holidays with your precious family!

    1. Thanks Angela! Doing better daily. I walked to the end of the street and back both yesterday and today! I appreciate your prayers!

  10. Melissa,

    Thank you so very much for sharing your experience, My son is 10 years old and has 3 giant aneurysms, 1 large aneurysm and areas of stenosis. It’s the collaterals that’s keeping everything going right now. Christian had KD as a baby but it was misdiagnosed. We see drs at the KD clinic at Boston Children’s every 6 months.
    We are hoping to put off his CABG until at least 11-13 years old.

    I’m so very scared about his impending CABG. It calmed my soul to read about your experience. I have not met anyone who has had a CABG due to KD except for you. Thank you again got sharing!



    Mom of Christian the Courageous

    1. My prayer for him is that he can hold out as long as possible! I am always here if you want to talk! Email me through the blog! HUGS!

  11. Glad to here everything went well! I too had Kawasaki at age 6 in 1988. I too had a double bypass at age 12 in 1994 for one “leftover” aneurysm. I hope to not ever have it again! You are very brave for going through two!!! The worst thing for me was that darn breathing machine right after surgery. I was so glad when those tubes came out. Of course I imagine a lot has changed in almost 20 years. Thanks for your story! Speedy recovery and many years of good health!!!

    1. It has changed a lot in 20 years! This round was so much easier than the 1st. Of course I am older and wiser and have been through it before. My prayer for you is that you never have to go through it again too!

  12. thank you for sharing your story! my son had kd three times over two months 5 years ago but was treated quickly each time. did your aneurysms occur as a result of limited diagnosis & treatment in 1984? what treatment if any were you given?

    1. Connie – there was no treatment at that time. Yes, my coronary aneurysms were “acquired” as a result of KD.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. I had no idea you had heart surgery. I have scoliosis and my whole spine is fused with now broken rods. I know what a challenge recovery can be and so glad you are doing well! Wishing you continued good health! 🙂

  14. I had no idea you had bypass surgery. So glad to know you are back to your “normal”! You are an amazing woman Melissa ! Thanks for sharing your story!

  15. Heart felt story and pretty amazing if I may say!! So glad your doing well. Hard stuff and your smiling away so I know you felt peace with what you were going through. Pretty amazing!!!

  16. Thank You for sharing your story! I’m glad your doing well. Your an inspiration to other Heart Bypass Surgery Patients.

  17. I just stumbled across this and I am so glad I did. I am 5 weeks out from my CABG surgery at the ripe old age of 42. It was a complete shock and I am still quite emotional about it. I am so glad to see you did so well and am amazed you have had to go through this more than once.

    1. Please email me if you have any questions! I know what it feels like x 2 to go through this at such a young age. Hugs!

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