'I'm a young Irish man having open heart surgery: here's what you need to know...' 8 years ago

'I'm a young Irish man having open heart surgery: here's what you need to know...'

Seán McKiernan, 24, from Dublin has a rare condition that requires him to have open heart surgery this July.

He has started a blog in order to explain his situation to his friends and family.


In conjunction with JOE.ie, Seán has put together an FAQ for everyone curious about open heart surgery, or how they can help.

Why are you having open heart surgery?

The short answer is: I was born with a heart problem, and I had fairly major surgery in 2006 to correct it. Everything was grand until January of this year when I contracted an infection in my heart.

Against the odds, it looked like I had cleared the infection by April, but three nights ago I arrived into A&E with what turns out is a reemergence of that infection, and now I’m here in the Mater Hospital.


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When is the operation?

Monday week - that’s July 13th. Although there are a few unknowns here because the surgeon needs to be able to fit me into his schedule, we need a donor valve to become available and I need to get rid of (most) of the infection before they can operate.

A donor valve?


Unless you knew me before I was 14 you’ve never known 100% Seán. I had a valve put in from somebody "from the UK." As an ardent teenage nationalist my friends got a good kick out of the phrase “Irish Blood; English Heart”- that and making fun of my inability to clap to a beat. Neither issue has ever really been resolved…

Anyway, moral of the story...

Sign up to donate all of your organs. NOW.

Email: donor@ika.ie. Do it now, don’t even wait until you’ve finished reading - my life, and many other lives, depend on someone else doing this.


So what exactly is wrong with you?

The answer to that depends on how well you paid attention to Junior Cert biology. You better believe I was listening.

Basically, I have a condition called Bacterial Endocarditis (n-doh-card-itis), which means that bacteria has lodged onto my pulmonary valve. These voracious bastards are hungry and are essentially eating my valve, causing it to become leaky and inefficient, so it needs to be physically removed and replaced with a fresh, clean valve.

The original problem however, was actually with the aortic valve. That’s the most important heart valve (I think), as it is the gateway to the biggest blood vessel in the body.


Technically I had “aortic incompetent stenosis” which, I’ve gathered, means the valve was like a rusted door; hard to push open and slow to close. The consequence being my heart had to work extra hard to pump blood around my body. So when I was at rest, my heart was working as hard as a person doing a light jog. That always sounded like a healthy heart to me, but apparently such a strong heart muscle is a bad thing.

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How did you get blood poisoning/can anyone get it?

I honestly don’t know. Nobody’s been able to give me a clear answer to that. Some opportunistic bacteria had a lucky day I suppose. Doctors are more focused on the fact that I actually have the infection. (The medics) seem more concerned with dealing with the fact that actually I have it, rather than how I got it. Crying over spilled milk and all that, I guess.

Can you get it? Septicemia, yes - but again I don’t really know how; and the odds of it travelling to your heart are extremely low unless you’re a heroin addict.

How serious is all this?

Well, when I spoke to the surgeon before the previous operation, he basically said “this is as serious as it gets" which, as a 14-year-old boy, was an absolute goldmine of bragging rights. The 5% chance of me dying was also a fun statistic to throw out until my astute friend James pointed out that’s one-in-twenty. To my knowledge nobody’s actually ever died from the Ross Procedure and I have no intention of breaking that record, so that 1/20 seems more abstract - let’s keep it like that.


Are you in pain?

Not so bad now, but thanks for asking. In hospital they ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1-10, so now I’m at 1. Last night I was up at a 9 due to a complication and it took three shots of morphine to get it under control.

How are you feeling now?

It’s a strange mix: I’m worried and anxious, but I’m also really grateful. The staff here are amazing and keeping me well looked after. The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes on my behalf is crazy.

I’ve also received hundreds of messages: there wasn’t even enough time between notifications to even see who was writing to me. I can’t describe the difference in my mental state between today and yesterday, so instead, I just want to say thanks.

Special thanks to Seán McKiernan, whose blog can be found here.

Clip via rhubarbcream.