"I don't like to be idle. I like to be helpful. I wanted to get back to taking care of my family," says Adam Braun, who was able to return to parenting just days after arriving home from heart surgery. (Photo: Courtesy Adam Braun)

Few parents will tell you they savour the 2 a.m. feedings with their kids. Adam Braun is a rare exception.

Nearly a year after heart surgery, Adam cherishes the nights when he can tell his wife to go back to sleep while he enjoys a quiet hour with their son. 

Ten years ago, a routine check-up ended with a diagnosis of a severe mitral valve prolapse.

A prolapse of the mitral valve causes regurgitation, where blood leaks backwards into the left atrium of the heart, forcing the muscle to work overtime.

With no symptoms impeding his day-to-day life, doctors told then 25-year-old Adam it was something they would treat down the road – but the road turned out to be much shorter than expected.

My heart had grown 30 per cent in size'

While regular checkups had been part of Adam's routine since his diagnosis, the pandemic put everything on pause.

After a two-year hiatus, Adam returned to his cardiologist. He was sent for a series of follow-up tests, including his first ever angiogram.  

"When I was first diagnosed, I was surprised, not scared," says Adam. "But when I was sent for the angiogram, that's when I started to panic a little."

Concerned that his health was declining, Adam met with Dr. Piroze Davierwala, Surgical Director, Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery Clinic, at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

"Dr. Davierwala told me my heart had grown 30 per cent in size from the extra effort caused by regurgitation," says Adam. "It was working way too hard.

"Thankfully, he said I was a good candidate for minimally invasive cardiac surgery."

A minimally invasive approach

The conventional approach to a mitral valve repair or replacement requires patients to undergo a sternotomy, where the breastbone is opened to access the heart.

Had Adam required surgery 10 years earlier, when he was first diagnosed, a sternotomy would have been his only option.

Instead of going through the chest, minimally invasive cardiac surgery (MICS) – including mitral valve replacement and repairs – is performed through the ribcage, through a four-to-five-centimetre incision.

MICS procedures achieve similar or better outcomes to convectional sternotomies with some notable benefits, including a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, and minimal scarring.

Thanks to the expertise of Dr. Davierwala, the MICS Clinic at the Peter Munk offers the full spectrum of MICS procedures available today.

'It had to be now'

Being eligible for MICS was a relief, but the need for surgery couldn't have come at a worse time.

With an infant and a toddler at home, Adam wanted to be there to support his wife, Rachel. He asked if the surgery could wait – after all, he had lived with this condition for the previous 10 years.

"Dr. Davierwala said, if needed, it could wait until January," says Adam. "It was December. That certainly put things into perspective. It had to be now."

The two weeks prior to surgery were a whirlwind. Between Hanukkah, the ongoing pandemic, and the arrival of Rachel's parents to help with childcare, Adam barely had time to process his upcoming procedure.

"I was too concerned for Rachel," he recalls.

The greatest challenge in the lead up to surgery was explaining to his daughter that he would be in the hospital for a week.

"She's a smart girl, she doesn't miss anything," says Adam. "Some people might choose not to tell a two-year-old the truth, but we couldn't lie to her. She took it hard."

The day before his surgery, growing concern for the Omicron variant closed UHN hospitals to visitors.

"The no visitor policy made saying goodbye to Rachel and the kids that much harder," remembers Adam. "I didn't have any doubts, I was confident in Dr. Davierwala but it's still surgery. There are always risks."

More like vacation than recovery

The surgery went smoothly – so smoothly that Adam's stay at Toronto General Hospital felt more like vacation than recovery.

"I just spent five days in bed," says Adam. "I had food brought to me. I didn't have to be on duty for anyone. My wife definitely had it harder than I did."

Adam's hospital stay wasn't without difficulties. His roommate tested positive for COVID-19, putting Adam into isolation and delaying his return home.

Adam celebrated his 37th birthday watching a video of his kids, a poor substitute for the real thing.

"I really wanted to get home to my family, and it was scary being in isolation," he says. "But every doctor, every nurse, every physio and PSW – they were all fantastic, so reassuring.

"I was well taken care of the entire time."

When he finally returned home, Adam was shocked at how quickly his recovery progressed.

Within days, he could hold his son in his arms; within weeks, he was tobogganing with his daughter.

Adam was relieved to find the pain was minimal, and that he was able to do without painkillers shortly after arriving home.

"Ditching the painkillers was a relief," he says. "I don't like to be idle. I like to be helpful. I wanted to get back to taking care of my family."

With Adam's son approaching his first birthday, the midnight feedings are less frequent, but no less special.

"Pre-surgery, having that bonding time with him was sacred," says Adam. "I was scared to lose that, but recovery happened so quickly.

"Six weeks after my first meeting with Dr. Davierwala, everything was back to normal. It was like nothing ever happened."

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