At 8am on Thursday 27 April 2023, Gemma McCalmont, a structural heart specialist nurse at The James Cook University Hospital telephoned to say that they had a cancellation for a heart valve replacement by TAVI (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation). Would I like to fill the spot that afternoon? Delighted that I should have so little time to worry about it, I accepted.
At 10am, my wife and daughter delivered me to the cardiology admissions and day unit. After filling in myriad forms I was then stuck with lots of needles for cannulas, blood samples and injections so that I was starting to feel like a pin cushion, followed by blood pressure, temperature and ECG tests. I was also visited by a surgeon who poked and prodded at various parts of my anatomy.
I was then dressed in a surgical gown and provided with some fetching little knickers which, fortunately, stretched to accommodate the equipment!
Then, in the afternoon, the big event. I was wheeled in my bed to the reception to the operating theatre where another charming nurse wanted my d-o-b and address (I think they are actually running a dating agency – good luck with that!) I was then wheeled into the theatre. Sacré bleu, a cold, gloomy cavern with massive machinery like a scene from “Brave New World” looming over everything and all covered in polythene sheet.
There I was flipped across onto a narrow little bed, giving the surgical team easy access to all parts of me. They then took scissors and cut away my knickers but covered me with a sheet with an access hole, through which they could see the site of their work, my right groin. Having injected a local anaesthetic into the area, I felt nothing more until after the procedure.
Nurse Gemma had explained this to me previously. The new valve (from a cow) is enclosed within a delicate metal mesh cage about 25mm (1”) diameter. This is compressed to the diameter of a pencil which is then inserted into the artery. It is pushed through inside of the artery, up to and above the heart before turning down to come to the damaged aortic valve, attached to the heart. The cage and new valve are then expanded to “swallow” the damaged valve and take over its function.
Then came the only painful part. Stopping the blood from leaking at the groin proved difficult. The surgeon had to press down very had on it which has left me with considerable (but, I hope, short term) pain in the area.
Now, I hope for a better quality of life.