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

At the heart of Mother’s Day

At the heart of Mother’s Day

At the heart of Mother’s Day

Three people living with heart disease share how their Mums helped them face their health challenges....

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

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

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. ...

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor...

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. ...

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Dan was six minutes into his treadmill session when his heart stopped beating....

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David's heart failure diagnosis led to significant changes in his life....

Debbie's heart story

Debbie's heart story

Debbie's heart story

Debbie decided to give cardiac rehab a go and hasn’t looked back since. ...

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...

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

A series of virtual events for young adults on managing emotional wellbeing. ...

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...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Heart Week

Heart Week

Heart Week

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm didn’t worry too much about his cholesterol problem – until an angiogram revealed he had an 80 per cent blockage in a major heart artery. ...

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Absolute CVD risk assessment is an integrated approach that estimates the cumulative risk of multiple risk factors to predict a heart attack or stroke event in the next five years....

End of Financial Year Tax Receipt

End of Financial Year Tax Receipt

End of Financial Year Tax Receipt

Looking to claim your donations in your tax return this financial year?...

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in South Australia

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in South Australia

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in South Australia

Heart Week

Heart Week

The NSW Cardiac Rehabilitation Working Group

The NSW Cardiac Rehabilitation Working Group

About the Lighthouse Hospital Project

About the Lighthouse Hospital Project

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Australia, but the burden of disease disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples....

Key Statistics: Heart Failure

Key Statistics: Heart Failure

Statistics and information on heart failure in Australia ...

Supporting Young Hearts Podcast

Supporting Young Hearts Podcast

Supporting Young Hearts Podcast

Supporting Young Hearts is a six-episode series interviewing young people with lived experience of heart conditions and talking through advice for supporting emotional health and well-being....

Workplace giving for employees

Workplace giving for employees

Workplace giving for employees

Your employer’s workplace giving program makes it easy to setup regular, tax-deductible donations from your pre-tax income. ...

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Ian “did not hesitate” to leave 100% of his estate to the Heart Foundation....

Dinner recipes

Dinner recipes

Dinner recipes

Search our heart healthy dinner recipes for tonights main meal...

How your heart works

How your heart works

How your heart works

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. The blood gives your body the oxygen and nourishment it needs to work properly. ...

Atrial fibrillation resources for patients

Atrial fibrillation resources for patients

Our supporters 

Our supporters 

Our supporters 

Working together to save Australian hearts...

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Search through our vegetarian recipes...

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Find heart healthy dessert recipes....

Find a cardiac rehabilitation service near you

Find a cardiac rehabilitation service near you

This cardiac services directory presents information on cardiac rehab programs offered across Australia....

Smoking and your heart

Smoking and your heart

Smoking and your heart

Understand how smoking can impact your heart health. ...

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...