ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Monday morning at the Carolinas HealthCare System's Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, Broncos Head Coach John Fox underwent successful aortic valve replacement surgery.
Dr. Eric Skipper, the Medical Director of Adult Cardiac Surgery at the Institute, said Monday afternoon on a teleconference that the surgery, which he described as a "common procedure," takes about three-and-a-half to four hours and most patients stay in the hospital about a week. Skipper was not a part of the team that performed Fox's operation.
"Every patient is different," Skipper said. "Most patients are in the hospital five-to-seven days, but exactly when someone returns to work varies quite a bit between patient to patient – from a matter of a few weeks to eight-to-10 weeks."
Skipper later said that patients sometimes travel very quickly after having the surgery.
"You have to keep in mind that patients oftentimes fly into institutions to have procedures," Skipper said. "And then they will oftentimes leave and go back home after their procedure. So there really isn't a hard and fast time lime to say, 'Well, you must stay local to that institution for two-to-three, four weeks. It really depends upon how the patient is doing and patients very commonly will be able to return to their home environment – be that several hours away, be that an airline flight away – very quickly."
The symptoms that get people's attention in regards to the necessity of a valve replacement, according to Skipper, are chest pain and "passing out or near-passing-out episodes." The more common symptoms include shortness of breath that progresses over time.
There are different options for how to replace the aortic valve, and sometimes the valve doesn't need to be replaced – only repaired. But if the valve is replaced it could be with a biological valve, which Skipper said is more common, or a mechanical valve.
"There are time limits on anything that we, as physicians, put in the body. But in general, the valves that we have today are very well-made," Skipper said. "They have excellent long-term durability records. But, as they say, it's hard to beat the original equivalent."
Skipper noted that each patient's recovery has a different timetable so putting an estimate on Fox's potential return to work is "virtually impossible."
"Just speaking in generalities, once you're able to fulfill the requirements of the job, you're able to go back to work," he said. "Our general recommendations to patients after cardiac surgery, such as aortic valve surgery, would be that they take it easy for a short time after the surgery and then gradually increase their activities avoiding any heavy lifting for a period of about 10 weeks. But the heavy lifting restriction is pretty much the most stringent long-term restriction."