I had open heart surgery in February 2019 just short of my 60th birthday. This is my story.

In 2009 my GP noticed a heart murmur while listening to my chest. After an echocardiogram at St Helier’s Hospital, I was told I had mild aortic stenosis and that my valve would need replacing at some point in the future. How long in the future? They could not tell me, but I was monitored with annual echocardiograms from then onwards.

The first time I actually noticed anything out of the ordinary was in October 2016, while on holiday in Athens. We were doing a lot of walking and I noticed tightness across the chest, not pain or discomfort, just enough to tell me to slow down a bit.

Two years later, on holiday in Santorini, there were over 100 steps from our room up to the entrance to the hotel and I noticed this discomfort again. That December during my annual check-up, my aortic stenosis was re-classified as severe. I started on beta blockers, which slowed the racing of my heart, was told to avoid strenuous exercise and was referred to Royal Brompton for a coronary angiogram. It was time to replace my valve.

On January 17 2019, I went in for my pre-assessment appointment at Royal Brompton. I bombarded the nurse with question upon question about aortic valve replacement. I asked: “Should I cancel a sailing holiday I had planned for July?” She said no (she was right about that). She also thought I could go to see Mastodon (US hard rock band) at the Roundhouse in the evening of my first angiogram (she was wrong about that!)

The following week, I had the angiogram in the cath lab. Local anaesthetic was administered to my wrist then they fed a catheter into an artery that fed a dye into my heart. The team could then see how the blood was flowing through it. It didn’t feel too bad.

It was fascinating lying right by the big screen with the consultant directing his team about what readings he wanted and where he wanted the catheter to go next. All the while I could see the insides of my heart.

My need for aortic valve surgery was confirmed. At the beginning of February, I went in for more tests. A CT scan, an echocardiogram, and an x-ray later, my surgeon told me of my two options, either open heart surgery (OHS) to install a surgical valve or a transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

With a TAVI, a new valve is guided into the beating heart through a small tube (catheter) inserted into a blood vessel. The doctor uses imaging technology to see the valve as it is guided into place. At that time, the main drawback for younger patients (yes 60 is young!) is that OHS would be required if the TAVI wore out and it might not last as long as a surgical valve. I chose full OHS.

Then we discussed valve choice. My choices were animal tissue, a new engineered tissue or a mechanical valve. Each had its pros and cons, but I chose the Inspiris Resilia; the engineered tissue valve. The valve would last well into my 80s and if it needed replacing, it could be done with a TAVI procedure. Inspiris Resilia was a new type of valve and in 2019, Royal Brompton was one of the few UK hospitals using them.

In the following days I visited Royal Brompton for even more tests.

I remember seeing these guys in their gowns with their sternum scar stickers, not accompanied by anybody, sitting there nonchalantly waiting for their Echocardiogram turn. I thought: 'That’s going to be me in a week or two’s time.

Following one last angiogram, it was decided I needed a single bypass of this artery as well. Tuesday February 12 2019 was surgery day. I spoke to my wife before going into theatre. The anaesthetist engaged me in a conversation about catheterisation to distract me while she administered the anaesthetic. I was out for the count mid-way through!

I woke up the next morning in a recovery unit. It was light and my wife was on the phone with a nurse standing opposite who waved at me telling her I was fine. Once I was moved onto ICU, I kept thinking of my pilates trainer saying “melt your ribcage into the mat” to help me stay reasonably comfortable on the bed. I soon was able to walk around the corridors in the unit with the aid of nurses, trailing the trolley with drips alongside me. I did not feel anything like as bad as I anticipated.

The next day I was moved off the ITU and had my drainage tubes taken out. Soon enough, I could get myself out of bed unaided, stand up and walk to the bathroom, wheeling along the trolley with all the things I was plugged into. For those first few days, whilst I was in ICU, my heart was being paced at 120 bpm (quite fast). It was then adjusted so that pacing only kicked in when my heart rate dropped below a certain level.

Then pacing was stopped completely, but they left the wires with terminals in for a bit just in case. Before I could get discharged, I would need these wires taking out, another chest x-ray, an echocardiogram and other tests. By that Friday, I’d fully got my appetite back. The food at Royal Brompton was not bad at all!

Now I was one of those guys sitting in the Echo waiting area in a gown with my sternum scar sticker. I walked up and downstairs on my own and after eight days in total, I was discharged.

The next step was rehabilitation. I would take daily short walks to help keep my heart ticking over. It was great to manage a few nights out and to get around town without too much difficulty over the next month.

On April 1, I had my first cardiac rehabilitation clinic and with advice and guidance, started Couch to 5k; a nine-week programme to get me running. Unfortunately, this plan was aborted in week three. My running shoes weren’t up to scratch, and I ended up with some serious calf pain. A month later, and with some better shoes, I was back on track and back at pilates too. To set myself a goal, I signed up to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon, the last time I had run any kind of marathon was back in the 80s, so it was going to be a challenge for me and my mended heart.

In October, I ran the half marathon and completed it in 2 hours and 20 minutes. I was proud to raise £1,370 as a thank you to John Foran's cardiology team which sits across several hospitals across the south, including Royal Brompton and St Helier, and to Cesare Quarto's surgery team at the Royal Brompton.

Inspired to follow in Mike's footsteps and run the Royal Parks Half Marathon? Join our team and make a difference for those living with heart and lung disease.

Take on the Royal Parks Half Marathon