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Michael Raff, Mississippi

by Elizabeth W. on Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Michael Raff Gulfport, MS

I am a recent survivor of heart valve disease and underwent open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve Nov 29, 2012.  Last October, I was physically unable to walk more than 100 yards without chest pain and being out of breath.

I am a non-smoker, avid runner and healthy eater but had been diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse with minor regurgitation in 1996 and high blood pressure in 2011.  In 2012, after several months of working out at the gym and on a weekly running schedule, I thought I was in "pretty good shape.”  Still, I went to the cardiologist for a routine check-up as a precautionary in May 2012.  I sailed through the stress test without feeling fatigued, but the doctor noticed some increased regurgitation.  I was told I would need surgery within five years.  I have a family history of heart disease, so I knew that I was at greater risk in spite of all my efforts to live a heart healthy life.

By mid-September, my energy level had decreased and I began having chest pain, heart palpitations and anxiety issues.  Extensive tests revealed a severely bi-prolapsed mitral valve and confirmed the need for surgery.  During November, my energy level and ability to do things greatly diminished.  Walking 100 yards was a tiring event and simple things like housework or cooking became great challenges.  I was unable to enjoy Thanksgiving with family because I was too ill to travel.  As a single parent of a teenager, it was difficult being a parent after a full day of work.  I did not have energy to be a good parent, and I would find myself being on the couch or in bed most of the remaining afternoon and evening.  This was one of the lowest points in my life, but my surgeons assured me that my chance for a quick recovery was enhanced because I was already physically active.

The first few days after my surgery were very rough.  I was in a lot of pain and any type of activity, even sitting up in a chair, was a challenge.  Thirty hours after surgery, I passed out after walking a short distance.  However, things quickly improved and  five days post-surgery, I was sent home with a rehabilitation schedule for six weeks of daily walks which gradually increased in distance.  Each day I felt stronger and more like my normal self again.  After six weeks, I began cardiac rehab three times a week.  Before my surgery, I was at my weakest and unsure if I would ever run again.

My cardiologist and surgeon had both said what saved my life was the fact I had been very active and physically fit at the onset of the diagnosis. I knew then that if running saved my life once, it would keep me alive for my second chance I was given. 

This year, I have logged in 650 road miles and have no plans of slowing down anytime soon.  It's amazing what a difference a  year makes.  A month before my one year post-surgery date, I ran my first half marathon and plan to conquer another one in February.  I have taken full advantage of my second chance in life and literally run with it! 

I have to thank the American Heart Association for working so diligently in their healthy lifestyle educational programs that are for all Americans.  They do a great job of making us aware of the simple ways we can improve our heart health on a daily basis.  I am also appreciative of the medical research funded by the American Heart Association, in order to make surgeries like mine possible.

Written by Michael Raff