Tag Archives: aortic valve replacement

Kintsugi: The Art of Embracing Damage

A new fellow valve replacement surgery friend (“Valver” as we say) emailed me to tell his similar story to me. One thing he said stuck out to me, and reminded me of something that I have thought about quite a bit, but never wrote about here. He wrote,

I think of myself as an analogy…I feel like a broken plate that’s been glued back together…in one piece, but it won’t take much to break me again.”

kintsugiThis describes Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi), the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. What my new friend doesn’t realize, is that although he feels fragile now (he is still only 5 months post op), when the lacquer dries, he will feel more beautiful, and stronger than before. I can speak to this from experience. The speed and volume of personal and emotional growth that I have experienced since my heart surgeries has been incredible. I am a better, kinder, more honest person now, because this experience has unlocked something that was laying dormant inside me.

Please watch this very informative and poetic explanation of what Kintsugi is. When I watch this video, it brings me to tears because for someone who has been through a traumatic experience such as open heart surgery, Kintsugi is more than an analogy.

Some quotes from the video:

The art of Kintsugi became famous for turning broken objects into pieces more beautiful than the original product.

The fractures on a ceramic bowl don’t represent the end of that object’s life, but rather an essential moment in its history. The flaws in its shape aren’t hidden from inspection, but emblazoned with golden significance. 

The pristine is less beautiful than the broken. 

Tooth Care for the Prosthetic Valve Patient

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That’s the best fake smile I’ve got

My 2nd open heart surgery was 3.5 months after my initial aortic valve replacement, and was due to Bacterial Endocarditis (BE). BE is an infection along the lining of the heart tissue, and usually involves the valves. It is fatal if left untreated and often involves replacement of the infected valves and hefty doses of antibiotics. People with Bicuspid Aortic Valve or a prosthetic valve will sometimes get BE. They will try to identify the organism by testing the patient’s blood. In my case, they were not able to identify what it was. Because of this, after the surgery, I was given a 6 week course of 2 different types of wide range antibiotics.

BE can occur AFTER Bacteremia takes place in the bloodstream. Bacteremia is when bacteria enters the bloodstream. It can be the result of any cut. Intravenous drug users will sometimes get BE from using dirty needles. People like me are often told to take good care of their teeth, and to avoid gum bleeding because bacteremia can occur from any bleeding in the mouth, inflicted by yourself or a dentist. Though the recommendations have changed recently, people with prosthetic valves or a history of BE will usually take a dose of amoxicillin before a visit to the dentist.

My infectious disease doctor explained a method that might help prevent bacteremia from occurring from gum bleeding during normal daily tooth brushing. The idea is to kill the germs potentially opening up the gums with a brush/floss. The method:

1. Swish Listerine/ antimicrobial mouthwash for 30-60 seconds. Sometimes I mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 1 part Listerine. 
2. Wait 3-5 Minutes
3. Brush thoroughly with a soft bristle toothbrush
4. Mouthwash again (I added this step myself for redundancy. I know, I use a lot of Listerine)
5. Floss gently and correctly

6. Mouthwash again

Another tip given to me by another patient: Clean your toothbrush every now and then by soaking it in Hydrogen Peroxide overnight.

I understand that this is redundant and excessive. This was recommended to me after my horrific battle with Endocarditis, to avoid getting it again. 2 years later, I have loosened up on this method (I usually skip step 4).

I would definitely recommend this method to anyone recovering from valve surgery, because the first year after valve replacement surgery is when you are most susceptible to BE.

Other Links related to BE:

The 2007 Revision of the AHA Guideline for Preventing Infective Endocarditis (read the Conclusion at the top of page 2 / Table 3 at the top of page 10/ Table 6 at the top of page 13 )

PREVENTION OF INFECTIVE (BACTERIAL) ENDOCARDITIS Wallet Card