Wendy McCarthy, 82, talks about the importance of seeking help from healthcare professionals when symptoms progress and how the transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) procedure has given her a new lease of life.
After leading an active life into her early 80s, enjoying her garden and spending time with friends, former schoolteacher Wendy McCarthy found that she was increasingly feeling unwell.
She was becoming breathless, and as her symptoms persisted, she had tests with her GP and was given an inhaler at one stage. Then, one evening, she was particularly ill and called her daughter Lucy and an ambulance.
Wendy found herself in the A&E department at her local hospital in Peterborough. As she drifted in and out of sleep, she turned to her Christian faith and asked her family to read from the Bible, fearing her life was nearing its end.
Further heart investigations
At the hospital, Wendy was offered palliative care, though her brother felt there were other options and pushed for further investigation.
They found that she had aortic stenosis, and her heart valve needed replacing. She was moved to the cardiology ward; however, she suffered a further setback when she contracted pneumonia and had to recover before the heart procedure could resume.
After spending four weeks in hospital recovering, she was transferred to a specialist cardiac hospital, Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Cambridge – just before Christmas 2021.
TAVI heart procedure
Wendy had a history of heart problems as she had a heart attack in 1998 after losing her husband to prostate cancer.
After that, she had regular checks on her health including cholesterol readings but led a full and active life. When she fell ill again, her family provided support.
Once she came under the care of the cardiology team at Royal Papworth Hospital, they decided that she was suitable for a TAVI procedure, which went ahead just before Christmas 2021.
Wendy wasn’t afraid of getting the procedure done. Expecting the procedure to take place at 14.00, she was pleasantly surprised that it was moved forward to the morning. “I was excited, I was desperate to have the procedure and get better,” she recalls.
I was excited, I was desperate to have the procedure and get better.
Building strength back
Having been conscious throughout the procedure, Wendy was well enough to be discharged on December 27. Patients can usually go home after 48 hours, but Wendy stayed in hospital a few days longer as her procedure was over the festive period.
While her recovery from the TAVI procedure was quick and easy as expected, she needed a bit more time to get back to her fullest after being bed-ridden due to her pneumonia.
“My daughters got my house ready for my return home, but I needed lots of rest to recover,” she says. “Basic tasks like filling the kettle were a strain on my muscles, but later, I was able to begin rehabilitation in order to build strength back.”
With her family living close by, they were able to offer her continuous support, but now, Wendy is well on the road to recovery and was even able to drive to her final rehabilitation session.
New lease of life
Only a short time after her TAVI procedure, Wendy says she’s been given a “new lease of life.” She drives, visits her church again and has been able to regain much of the joy and energy she lost due to the illness.
With a love of gardening and meeting up with friends every week, a positive attitude has contributed to her recovery. “Life is for the living,” she says.
Heart care advice she would give to others is: “Be very careful about what you eat; avoid fats; and eat chicken, fish and vegetables; eat wisely and exercise.”
She insists that people should not worry about having the TAVI procedure. “It’s not scary, doctors know what they are doing,” she adds. “I would not be here if I had not had it done.”
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