Heart Valve Voice Ambassador
Alison Banayoti has a new lease of life after treatment for an unsuspected heart condition. Now, she’s urging everyone to get a simple stethoscope check for the disease.
In May, Alison Banayoti, 59, abseiled down St Thomas’ Hospital in London to raise awareness of heart valve disease. Six months earlier Alison had surgery there for the condition. She now says: “I feel fitter than ever. I’ve been given a second chance at life and nothing phases me.”
She is not alone: heart valve diseases can mean the heart has to work harder. If the heart valve can be repaired or replaced, the heart functions more efficiently than normal.
Early diagnosis is vital for the best treatment
Alison considers herself lucky that her heart valve disease was diagnosed at an early stage.
Aged 45, she experienced a rubbery feeling down one arm and leg. A mini stroke was suspected, but a stethoscope check found a heart murmur, and she was diagnosed with bicuspid aortic heart valve disease. This can reduce or block the blood flow to the body, and can be present, undetected, from birth.
Alison had an annual echocardiogram to check the valve and, after 15 years, a replacement valve operation was recommended.
“I researched the replacement procedure, choice of valves and surgeons. I chose a new variety of valve that has been treated to extend its life to 25 years. If necessary, later on, a new valve can be inserted into it using transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), where the replacement valve is fed in through an artery.”
She also chose a surgeon who specialised in the mini-sternotomy – a less invasive procedure than traditional open-heart surgery.
It was only in the last two months before surgery in October 2018, that Alison got symptoms. “I got breathless more easily and was tired in the afternoons. At 58, many people would have put it down to ageing, she says.”
Life after diagnosis and raising awareness
After surgery and six weeks of cardiac rehabilitation, Alison now attends weekly cardiac exercise classes, goes to the gym twice a week, and walks her dog daily.
“Now, I want to raise awareness of the disease and urge everyone to ask their doctor to listen to their heart. A quick stethoscope check takes so little time, but it could save your life.”