Barbara Walters' Heart Surgery
Heart Specialists Say Procedure Is Common, Outlook Good
Heart Valve Surgery: The Options
Heart valve replacement surgery can be done in the conventional way, in which the physician makes an incision, divides the breastbone to get to the heart, and puts the patient on a bypass machine while the heart is stopped and the valve replaced, DeRose tells WebMD.
''In general, most isolated valve operations [involving one valve and no other procedure] lasts four to six hours," DeRose says. Makkar says it could be less, perhaps two to four hours.
''The operation can also be done minimally invasive,'' DeRose says. This approach does not include dividing the breastbone, but making tiny incisions and inserting a telescope-like device between the ribs to insert the new valve.
''Both [approaches] require stopping the heart," DeRose says.
Another minimally invasive approach, still under investigation, involves inserting a stent with a valve inside, eliminating the need to stop the heart, says Makkar, who is studying this approach. The stent, once in place, pushes aside the native valve and the new valve starts to function.
The replacement valves can be mechanical (also called synthetic), or tissue, obtained from pigs or cows. With tissue valves, Makkar says, the patient does not need to be on blood thinners long-term.
"But if you put in a completely artificial, or mechanical, valve, you have to be on Coumadin for a lifetime," Makkar says.
The plus of mechanical valves, however, is that they last a lifetime, while tissue valves generally have a life expectancy of up to about 15 years, Makkar tells WebMD.
Heart Valve Surgery: The Recovery
After heart valve surgery, most patients stay in the hospital for about five days, recovering from the surgery and the general anesthesia, the doctors say.
''Most people will get back on their feet with routine activities in two to four weeks," Makkar says.
''There is a significant amount of fatigue after surgery," DeRose says.
Walters did say she will take time off over the summer to recuperate. What's a reasonable period to allow for return to work? That's individual, Makkar says, noting that "most 80-year-olds aren't working full-time."