A survivor’s advice for caregivers

Debra Becker is a heart disease survivor. Her guest blog will share her story and her advice for others in four installments. This is Part 4. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 hereand Part 3 here.


Debra Becker
Debra Becker

This past October I had unexpected open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve after several major cordae (chords) broke. Seemingly healthy with no known personal history of heart disease, I exercised regularly and maintained a healthy diet. Although everyone’s recovery is unique, there are numerous side effects you’ll likely experience after cardiac surgery.

You’ll require help from your family or an in-patient rehab program to heal from heart surgery after you leave the hospital.  This article focuses on suggestions for at-home caregivers.

  • You’ll be on-call 24/7, especially the first couple of months home from the hospital. Even for those with the best intentions, this can oftentimes feel overwhelming.
  • Since your “patient” will be medically unable to put pressure on the sternum, he or she will need consistent help sitting up and getting out of bed. A firm push on the back usually works.
  • Diuretics are often prescribed around the clock and will cause frequent trips to the bathroom, throughout both days and nights. Be prepared to help your “patient” out of bed often.
  • Be patient and tolerant. Your loved one has just undergone major surgery; recovery takes time
  • Get sufficient sleep yourself.
  • Prepare healthy, high-protein and whole grain meals. Include a variety of nutrient-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, too!
  • Serve healthy drinks, like water and colorful, fresh squeezed juices.
  • Encourage continued use of the Spirometer to strengthen breathing and clear mucus, preventing lung infections.
  • Arrange your schedule so that you or someone else are available to drive to doctor’s appointments. There will be many.
  • Patients receive a heart pillow from their hospital, which I preferred to call my new best friend. I carried it everywhere, and hugged it against my chest when I sat or stood up and in crowds, to protect my sternum. Until the sternum is healed, patients should sit in the backseat when riding in a car, with their heart pillow positioned against the sternum under a seat belt.
  • In-home visits by nurses to monitor vitals, aides to assist with personal care, and physical or occupational therapists may be ordered by the surgeon. Arrange for entry to your residence and instructions where to find the patient if you are not available.
  • Prescriptions must be dispensed in a timely manner, as ordered by the doctor.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. They are often happy to assist!
  • Ask the doctors if you need clarification of their instructions.
  • Alert the doctors to any concerns.

Thanks for reading my American Heart Association blog!


Leave a Comment