Heart Valve Replacement Improves Life

Heart Valve Replacement Improves Life
“Just because you have a congenital heart valve problem doesn’t mean an end to living your life.”

People tell Melanie Messick she looks too healthy to have had heart trouble, but for most of her life, her heart valve was not working at full speed.

Melanie was nine years old when her parents learned she had a congenital heart problem – aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve).

From then on, she was monitored and tested every year. “I could do any normal activities – just no competitive sports,” Melanie said. “I didn’t faint or have shortness of breath. I just rested when I got tired. Doctors said that in my 60s or 70s I would need surgery to replace my valve.”

Surgery was needed sooner than Melanie expected 

Dr. Neal KonWhen Melanie was just 38, Dr. Neal Kon, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist, told her, “It’s time.” An echocardiogram (echo) showed that her aortic valve had become more constricted and was leaking.

She agreed with Dr. Kon’s recommendation for a Ross procedure. Melanie’s aortic valve would be replaced with her own pulmonary valve, and her pulmonary valve would be replaced with a homograft (preserved human valve).  “I have what I call my red badge of courage,” Melanie said. “It’s a six-inch scar down the front of my chest.”

That was five years ago. “I don’t have restrictions,” Melanie said. “As I’ve become more comfortable, I’ve pushed myself a little more, doing light weight training and cardio. In the summer I walk four to five miles four or five times a week.” And, she is an art teacher at an elementary school in Winston-Salem, NC.

Melanie felt she was in the right place at the right time. “I was so blessed to have Dr. Kon as my doctor. I’m so grateful. I think that I am an example of being able to benefit from the technology we have available.”

She has faith in her doctors who still watch her closely. “Dr. Kon monitors my valves, and my cardiologist, Dr. Gretchen Wells, checks on my heart function. Just because you have this doesn’t mean an end to living your life.” 

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Last Updated: 04-09-2014
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