In December 2017, aged 37, I underwent open-heart surgery at Royal Brompton Hospital for a Bicuspid Aortic Valve, or BAV for short. Basically, my aortic valve was split in two instead of three. This is something that I was unfortunately born with and over time meant that the valve was put under a lot of pressure and stress, leaving it weaker and creating a build-up of fatty tissue to protect it, thus meaning the heart was working twice as hard to push the blood to the rest of my body. I am told this issue only affects around two percent of all males around the world and 1.7 percent of all females. The most famous person to have had this and undergone the surgery, twice now, is Arnold-Schwarzenegger. 

It’s important for me to raise awareness of BAV and to share the struggles and trauma of not only what you as the individual goes through but also the impact on the whole family this kind of issue can have.

I have a wife and 2 children (who were aged 4 and 1 at the time) who saw the effects of this every day. It has been a very stressful time but I would also like to share the story to allow younger people with similar issues to have hope as it can feel very bleak at times. 

Although I was very fortunate and trusted the doctors, cardiologist and surgeons and had a lot of family support, you go through a lot of trauma along the way and I hope sharing my story can help and support people going through similar issues.

My initial symptoms were a long, drawn-out affair and were very hard to notice early on. I was unable to run like I used to and was unable to do exercise at the level I was before, but also started feeling faint on a regular basis. I ignored the symptoms for a long time, assuming that my fitness was deteriorating due to lack of fitness since having our first child (a none sleeper) and exercising less. Fortunately, my heart was checked on a random doctors trip when I had the flu and they flagged that something was not right (a loud and noticeable murmur) and I needed further investigation.

When I found out that I had BAV and was told I had a least 5 years before thinking about surgery we assumed this would be years away and not worth thinking about but as my condition deteriorated it became clear that surgery was imminent. At 36 this isn't something you are ever quite prepared for but I tried to do as much as I could to get my body and mind in the right space for it. Good or bad, I wanted to get myself in the right shape for the operation and started hitting the gym pretty hard, to the point of almost fainting every time I went in a bid to stay healthy and then almost fainting on my bike cycling back from work one day.

The mind was something I wanted strengthen as I've suffered from depression before (when my step-brother passed away at only 26 from cancer and I had a hard job getting over it). I started to read books on mindfulness and came across a book called 'The Little Book of Clarity' by Jamie Smart and straight away bought into its theory on how the mind worked, so I started to go to a clarity coach to further the thinking. Preparation was key in my head but this didn't stop me stressing, grinding my teeth every night and cracking two of my molars in the process! Also, work began getting tougher with the build-up of stress getting to me.

After a pre-surgery angiogram, I was told to bring the surgery forward as the valve was in a pretty poor state and I was booked in five days later on the 6th December 2017 for open-heart surgery to replace the valve with a tissue valve (pigs valve). This seemed the best option for my age and lifestyle I wanted to live e.g. to still play football, go skiing with the family and so on. But post-surgery was possibly the toughest. Seeing the impact this had on my family as I was unable to pick anything up for three months, meaning caring for the children was out of bounds. Also, I had not realised what impact this would have on my mental well-being and how I was struggling with stress and anxiety due to the trauma and drugs. 

The recovery generally has been pretty good, as I'm nine months post-surgery and back playing football, training "slowly" to run in the St Albans half marathon next June, back to the gym and after three months off work, I've been back to a four day week for four months now. On my working from home day, I join a cardiac rehab class along with men and women twice my age, which is also something I've had to come to terms with. Wherever I've gone for recovery or consultation I've always inevitably been the youngest person in the room.

I think this is another thing people believe when they hear they are about to have heart surgery, is that it’s the end of having a normal life and that just isn't the case at all. Mine is a little extreme in a sense what with having to have open-heart surgery but along the way, I met so many amazing people who have mostly had stents that have changed their lives for the better in one way or another and living a better, healthier life than they were before.