I am
The one that took Jan’s breath away
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

The one that took Jan’s breath away

Open heart surgery to treat damaged heart valves has improved Jan's overall health.

Jan Nelson thought she was having another asthma attack, but when a series of tests confirmed that her aortic valves were damaged, she had open heart surgery and is now walking and going to the gym three times a week.

Jan Maree, 55, was happily married with two grown-up children and was a long-term asthmatic who couldn’t walk down the street without running short of breath. After she had open heart surgery to replace calcified valves in her heart, Jan is now more physically active and even the asthma has gone. 

Jan’s heart story 

From the age of five, I was placed on a regimen of cough medicines and antibiotics after being mistakenly diagnosed with bronchial pneumonia. 

It really wasn’t until I married and changed my doctor that I was given the correct diagnosis. I’m an asthmatic, or seasonal asthmatic. At least twice a year, I’d get bad bouts of asthma – especially if the temperature was fluctuating or if there was heavy pollen in the air. Sometimes it could be triggered by a simple cold. 

But I learned to manage the symptoms – shortness of breath and sweatiness – with oral steroids and a range of puffers. Despite the medication, however, there was no improvement.

I thought I was getting an infection in my lungs because of my asthma, which caused the sweatiness. I had done all my normal steps but there were no improvements. In fact, I was getting worse and I just couldn’t understand why.

I went to my GP, who put me on a nebuliser, rather than a puffer thinking that would improve my asthma but a week later, I just felt ill. Then one morning when I was getting ready for work, I was extremely short of breath in the shower. My husband kept saying I shouldn’t go to work, but I insisted – even though I felt awful. I had only begun working as an admin manager for a private firm – in November of the previous year – so I hadn’t been working long at all.

Eventually, I did agree to drop in at a clinic on the way to work – not expecting anything grim – certainly not life-changing.  I still thought it was the asthma. At the clinic, I was placed in a treatment room and given an ECG (electrocardiogram), which registered my heart rhythm as normal even though I felt hot and clammy.

At that stage, they didn’t think I’d had a heart attack, but that I may have had a blood clot in my lungs. I was then sent to St Andrews hospital where I underwent more tests and scans but it wasn’t until the results of the first blood tests were received that we finally knew. The registrar in emergency told me: “You’re going to be here a while.”   

I was then admitted for a week and placed under a cardiologist. 

The CT Scans showed that my aortic valves were not functioning properly as they were heavily calcified. They initially tried to manage it with blood pressure medications so I ended up on 15 to 20 tablets a day in total. When the medications failed to work, I was scheduled for open heart surgery in July of last year, to have the damaged valves replaced.
I was told there was a 98 per cent chance I would make it. So – you get your house in order, you get your Will ready.
I had to deal with it, I didn’t have a choice.

I think it’s harder for the family; my husband is a bit of a worry wart and he was worried before the surgery, but he would never show it in front of me.

My children visited me. After the surgery, they brought their laptops and did their assignments next to me, they sat with me.

After the surgery, I was sent home but wasn’t allowed to travel to work especially as there were two flights of stairs to climb – and no lifts. I still worked – but I just worked from home. I just put a whiteboard up at home. My bosses and everyone at work were really wonderful.

Since my surgery, I have noticed a distinct improvement in my general health. Before the surgery, I couldn’t even walk down to the end of the street, 600 metres away, without going short of breath.
I go to the gym three times a week now, I see a cardiac physio who monitors everything.
The other day, my husband and I walked 5 km. Before surgery, I had also been gaining weight because of the steroids I’d been taking. Today is my first day without any steroids at all – and I’ve been losing weight again since I’ve been weaning myself off the steroids. And I’ve had no asthma at all. 

Jan’s one piece of advice  

 “I would like to encourage everyone to check with your doctor if you’re feeling unwell so you can get the treatment you need if something is indeed serious.” 


Discover more heart stories

 

 

You might also be interested in

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it. ...

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

Stories of hope from Australian men and women fighting heart disease....

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril suffered a heart attack in 2015. Cardiac rehab helped get his life back on track. ...

Exercising for heart and soul

Exercising for heart and soul

Exercising for heart and soul

Alicia Philipatos was three days old when her heart condition was diagnosed...

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. ...

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Thankfully for Grant Byrne, a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan, some quick thinking helped him avoid a stairway to heaven. Read Grant’s heart attack story now. ...

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

David reflects on how his life changed when he had a heart attack at 35 and how he got back on track....

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

Kim shares the emotional and physical upheaval experienced on her journey to diagnosis and recovery....

Maryanne was shocked to find she had a hidden heart problem

Maryanne was shocked to find she had a hidden heart problem

Maryanne was shocked to find she had a hidden heart problem

At first, it didn’t cross my mind it could be something serious. ...

My role as a cardiac nurse

My role as a cardiac nurse

My role as a cardiac nurse

Michelle shares her experiences working as a cardiac nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital....

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Information on how air pollution, heatwaves and bushfires can impact heart health, and what you can do to look after yourself. ...

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....

Atrial fibrillation resources for patients

Atrial fibrillation resources for patients

Clinical guidelines and position statements

Clinical guidelines and position statements

Clinical guidelines and position statements

We have developed a range of resources for you to use as part of routine care. ...

Mighty mango smoothie

Mighty mango smoothie

Mighty mango smoothie

10 minutes
Serves 1 - 450ml

For Professionals: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples information and resources

For Professionals: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples information and resources

For Professionals: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples information and resources

Resources for providing best practice cardiovascular care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples....

WEBINAR | CVD & COVID-19

WEBINAR | CVD & COVID-19

WEBINAR | CVD & COVID-19

Ask the experts: caring for people with CVD during COVID-19...

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) clinical resources

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) clinical resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

2022 Vanguard Grants

2022 Vanguard Grants

Key Statistics: Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease

Key Statistics: Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease

3 Minute Research Competition Terms & Conditions

3 Minute Research Competition Terms & Conditions

Moroccan spiced fish with couscous and raisin salad

Moroccan spiced fish with couscous and raisin salad

10 minutes
Serves 4

Our programs and initiatives

Our programs and initiatives

Our programs and initiatives

The Heart Foundation delivers innovative, evidence-based programs and initiatives to support and prevent heart disease in Australia...

Our history

Our history

Our history

For more than 60 years the Heart Foundation has been helping improve heart health across the nation....

For Professionals: Coronary artery calcium scoring

For Professionals: Coronary artery calcium scoring

The National Heart Foundation of Australia Position Statement: Coronary artery calcium scoring for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in Australia.¹...

Q&A with A/Prof Seana Gall

Q&A with A/Prof Seana Gall

Q&A with A/Prof Seana Gall

Improving the prevention and management of stroke...

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it. ...

Our strategy

Our strategy

Our strategy

Connecting Hearts Strategy 2021-2023...

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

10 minutes
Serves 2

WEBINAR | Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update

WEBINAR | Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update

A multidisciplinary panel of experts discuss the practical application of absolute CVD risk assessment through Heart Health Checks....

Snack recipes

Snack recipes

Snack recipes

Search for healthy snack ideas...

Exercise boosts artery health in middle-aged and older men, not testosterone therapy

Exercise boosts artery health in middle-aged and older men, not testosterone therapy

Exercise boosts artery health in middle-aged and older men, not testosterone therapy

Media Release - 22 February 2021...

WEBINAR | Pressure rising: Clinical controversies and updates in hypertension

WEBINAR | Pressure rising: Clinical controversies and updates in hypertension

WEBINAR | Pressure rising: Clinical controversies and updates in hypertension

Action Plans

Action Plans

Action Plans

Recovery is a long journey, so having a plan makes a huge difference. Using an action plan gives you a step-by-step guide to improving your lifestyle....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Jaxson skips through a bucket list of Sydney landmarks

Jaxson skips through a bucket list of Sydney landmarks

Jaxson skips through a bucket list of Sydney landmarks

Media Release - 15 September 2020...

Healthy Food Access Tasmania

Healthy Food Access Tasmania

Healthy Food Access Tasmania

We've been working on several projects with local governments across Tasmania, big and small....