Barbara Walters’ View from the OR

Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
Barbara Walters’ View from the OR

image by: Rubenstein

Barbara Walters’ condition, aortic stenosis, is the most common valve problem in patients over 70. Once symptoms develop the only effective treatment is surgical replacement of the aortic valve

Last Monday iconic TV personality Barbara Walters, 80, surprised her View co-hosts and her live audience when she announced that she would be having surgery to replace a faulty heart valve later this week. The notoriously healthy Walters said, "You know how I always say how healthy I am? I mean it drives you crazy. I never got a cold in 13 years. I’ve never missed a day's work. Well, I'm going to make up for it. Later this week, I'm going to have surgery to replace one faulty heart valve".

Walters revealed that she and her doctors have been aware of her condition called degenerative aortic stenosis for months. And she, along with her doctors, decided that now was the best time to proceed with the surgery since The View will be going on hiatus soon. “Since the summer is coming up I can take a nice vacation [and recuperate],” she said.  Walters will be in recovery for about 3 months and will call  The View periodically to scold her co-hosts.

Walters’ condition, degenerative aortic stenosis, is the most common valve problem in patients over 70 and is the most common valve problem in the world. The aortic valve is essentially the exit door of the heart. It is through this “door” that the blood is pumped to the rest of the body. Over time, the valve can harden and become less effective at keeping blood from flowing in reverse, or back into the heart. If left untreated the condition can worsen to the point that it severely affects one's health or worse can lead to early death. 

According to the American Heart Association, “In 2007, surgeons in the United States performed 17,592 aortic valve procedures. The risk of complications associated with this procedure, including death, is less than 5 percent and the average patient spent only eight days in the hospital after surgery.  Valve replacement surgery is the normal course of treatment for this problem and surgery generally returns the patient to normal".

For most people, aortic stenosis does not always cause noticeable symptoms at first.  But some of the most common are fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath with exercise or at night, and swelling in the ankles. Walters said that in the beginning, she did not notice any symptoms but recently began feeling pressure in her chest - a common result of the narrowing valve restricting blood flow to her heart.

Once symptoms develop the only effective treatment is surgical replacement of the aortic valve. During Walters’ surgery, her doctors will determine whether to replace her aortic valve with a mechanical valve made of metal, one made of biological tissue, a transplanted valve from a donor's heart or possibly her own valve from another part of her heart.

When asked if she was frightened of the procedure Walters said, "Nobody wants to have this kind of surgery.  It's not elective, like getting your face lifted. But it's an operation that's done so often and I have very good doctors and the support and love of my daughter. I'm glad it's going to be over with. It's going to be taken care of.”

In the United States, almost 700,000 people die each year from heart disease making it the number one killer as well as the major cause of medical disability in the U.S. The good news is that more and more we are aware of the causes, symptoms, conditions, and preventative measures for heart disease.

Stacy Matson is a health enthusiast from Southern California and regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.

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