No More 'ER'

When a loved one is diagnosed with heart valve disease, it can be a frightening experience for all who care about them

Robert Epps, heart valve replacement survivor & CEO of the National Organization for Aortic Awareness

Miriam and Robert Epps had been married eight years when Robert was diagnosed with aortic regurgitation and required valve replacement surgery. In those eight years she had never seen him sick. “I was scared and stressed by the diagnosis,” she recalled. “He was healthy and always ate properly. I did not know what was going on. And he didn’t talk much.”

“I was always athletic,” Epps said. “So when she saw me in ICU, with all the tubes and everything, it scared her. All these years later she still blocks a lot of it out and tries not to remember. To this day she does not like to talk about it. She told me, ‘You made me stop watching ER.’”

Once home, Epps was incapacitated and needed a lot of help. His parents were there for the surgery, and his youngest sister came to help Miriam, as did a few colleagues from work. “But mostly it was all on her,” he said. “It was a lot because she had just moved down from New York and we had just bought a house, and then her husband gets sick. It was a lot of stress.”

It was about five weeks before he recovered.  “I don’t know if it was because he was in a lot of pain or the realization that he needed help but Robert made it much easier,” Miriam said. “I would have liked to have had more help, but I gave it all I had and everything worked out for both of us. I was not sure how to do everything, but with the nurses’ and the other medical professionals’ help, we made it through.”

It’s been almost 20 years since the valve replacement surgery. “My advice to others in this situation is talk to someone who has been through it,” Miriam said. “It will help take away some of the anxiety that you’ll face and give you a feel for what’s coming next. No two patients are the same but it helps to have a general idea what’s coming. Find someone to talk to – it helps just to get out some of what’s on your heart. 

“And find some assistance. It was just me most of the time and I had to grab sleep where I could. And lastly, pray. Not everyone believes in prayer, however, I would not be here today without the Lord’s help!”

Editor’s Note: The AHA/ASA’s Support Network for heart patients and their families is an free online community where you can meet others in, or who’ve been in, similar situations. Join today to connect with other patients and family caregivers. 

See also: 

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