Learning to love your open heart surgery scar

26 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Scar image: Defective Heart Girl

Each surgical scar on my body tells a story.  The big long one that tracks across my lower right abdomen tells of an appendix that ruptured on my 16th birthday – and the subsequent month I spent in hospital seriously ill with peritonitis and creepy drainage tubes.  Two scars on my right knee tell of surgery after an unfortunate slide down a big pile of gravel. Another meandering zig zag tells of a nasty piece of broken glass once embedded into my left palm, its evidence exquisitely masked by the skilled plastic surgeon who sewed my hand back up.

Women who have survived open heart surgery sometimes have traumatic stories to tell about their very noticeable chest scars, and mixed emotions about whether “to hide or not to hide” this evidence of their cardiac history, particularly in the early weeks and months post-op.

Consider, for example, 45-year-old Myra from New Jersey, who tells this story:

“I had a double bypass open heart surgery five months ago.  I feel so sad and stressed about my scar. Sometimes I cry when I’m in the shower, or if I try to wear a shirt and can’t wear it because it shows.

“I watch my friends at the pool wearing bathing suits while I’m sitting on the side watching them, wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I feel out of the group,  just don’t want to be there. I wish I could remove my scar. I’m so very stressed about it.”

Another heart patient observes:

“My illness has created more scars than just the physical ones, and these were far worse. I couldn’t – wouldn’t – believe I looked just fine.”

What these women have undergone is called a sternotomy (and keep on reading to learn more about how this surgical procedure works).

You might be surprised to learn that not all patients hate their scars.

One woman, for example, described the long sternotomy scar on her chest from her heart bypass surgery  as:

“A map of illness and recovery.”

Another wrote this:

My scar shows the world what I have survived and overcome. They say this body is far from perfect – but it’s mine.”

And another woman added:

“They are my battle scars earned and gloriously celebrated as such.”

Or this, from a 17-year old girl:

“When I was 18 months old, my twin brother and I had to have open heart surgery. As I grew up, my scar grew with me. It’s about six inches long and very noticeable with low-cut shirts.

“I have lived with the scar my whole life. I am now 17 and it is hard for me having to tell friends and boyfriends how I got the scar. But I’m proud because I am living, so it’s like a battle wound, and I know that it does not matter.

“Scar or no scar, it has made me the person I am today.  We should be proud of overcoming, no matter how we got these scars.”

I loved this story from a 44-year old bypass surgery survivor whose chest scar has sometimes attracted unwanted public attention:

“A gentleman walked past me at a local Target. He was staring at my chest pretty intently.

“Well, I ran into this guy at least another two times while shopping, with him walking towards me staring openly at my chest. I think he was trying to get a better look at the scar.

“By the third time, I pointed directly at it and said to him: ‘Bear attack!’ He was VERY embarrassed – and walked away quickly!”

Perhaps the longer we live with our battle scars, the easier it can become to accept them – no matter what the source of those scars.  For example:

“I have a scar on my chest from when I had heart surgery as a child. It saved my life. And I have stretch marks from my first pregnancy which I always hated until a friend told me: ‘Yes, but they were created by your son!’ It made me totally re-think my view on them.

“Years later I got a C-section scar after giving birth to Son #2. My scarred-up tummy is beautiful and a reflection of two wonderful little boys and a life saved to have them.

“I may not be wearing crop tops or bikinis now, but I love my scars!”

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 1.31.07 PM

Shell Williams, Valerie Johnson and Michelle Houston are not shy about their open heart surgery scars

This trio of U.K. heart patients (pictured above) have interesting stories to tell about how they managed to adjust to their own scars. Shell Williams (left) found that showing her scar in a fundraising calendar helped her come to terms with it. Valerie Johnson (centre) went from hating her scar to seeing it as a sign of the life she’s lived. Michelle Houston (right) had heart surgery in her 20s and learned to view her scar as a sign of bravery.

Now, I promised you an explanation of what creates those scars during your open heart surgery while you’re snoozing away in the O.R. – and here goes:

Your heart rests beneath the sternum – the organ’s skeletal chest armor and the central bone to which ribs are attached. Cracking this bone running down the centre of the chest requires pressure, power and precision, according to Popular Mechanics (yes, you read that right) and their very useful if unlikely guide Extreme How-To: Step By Step Heart Surgery one of the clearest explanations of this procedure that I’ve seen yet. 

The most common type of saw used in heart surgery is an oscillating saw, which moves up and down at a rapid speed and works like a jigsaw, enabling the fine blade to cut curved lines. Sometimes – especially on patients who have had heart procedures done before – surgeons will use a saw that’s like the one used to remove casts. It stops immediately when it senses tissue. Very comforting concept.

Surgeons cut through the sternum either completely or partially, straight down the middle, but they don’t remove it. They then slowly spread apart the cut halves of the sternum with retractors, something similar to a brace. This allows the entire chest and heart to be open before them.

The standard approach to open heart surgery means the entire rib cage is opened and the heart muscle beneath is fully exposed. The patient is then placed on a heart-lung bypass machine which allows oxygenated blood to circulate throughout the body while bypassing the heart, thus allowing the surgeon to stop the heart and perform surgery while the heart muscle is not moving.

In the modified approach, the cardiac surgeon performs the surgery on a beating heart without the use of the heart lung machine, using instead a stabilizing instrument – sometimes used even for multi-vessel bypass surgery – without the need of the heart lung machine. This is sometimes an option for a patient with a good, strong heart muscle because the surgery itself places stress on the heart.

A partial sternotomy can be performed when limited exposure is adequate, frequently used for heart valve surgery.  Or some heart patients may be good candidates for Minimally Invasive Direct Coronary Artery Bypass (MIDCAB), a surgical approach that involves a small incision usually on the left anterior portion of the chest wall between the third and fourth or fourth and fifth ribs. In most cases, this incision is made through, not under, the breast.

Once the surgical procedure is completed (replacing blocked coronary arteries, repairing or replacing wonky heart valves, heart transplant), surgeons use customized plates and screws (they used to use wires) to hold the sternum and ribs in place as they heal. Fortunately, because heart surgeons break more bone than even orthopedic surgeons do, repairing the sternum has been the focus of many surgical advances in the past few decades.

BEST RESOURCE EVER! Here are some practical tips from Elizabeth Dole on managing your open heart surgery scar once you get home.

Big or small, let’s let the last word on scars fall to a heart patient who said:

“A scar is never ugly. We must see all scars as beauty. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means: I survived!”.

Q: Have you been able to make peace with a major scar?

Scar image from Defective Heart Girl

I wrote more about adjusting to scars and other cardiac issues in my new book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University, November 2017). 

Britain’s Princess Eugenie shows off her back surgery scar on her Royal Wedding day (October 2018)

141 Responses to “Learning to love your open heart surgery scar”

  1. Sanitha February 18, 2019 at 8:55 am #

    Hi I had triple bypass surgery in early May 2018. After surgery i could count up to 10 cuts on my body from my chest to back of my ears. Below my breast and my legs and thighs. Fortunately with technology today a lot of scars have faded. Except for the chest. Also I have not allowed it to make me uncomfortable in the presence of people. I am very comfortable wearing strappy tops. For me my scar is a sign of positivity of life. Feeling more appreciative of life each day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas February 18, 2019 at 8:39 pm #

      I like your attitude!


      • Meridee Thompson February 19, 2019 at 7:22 am #

        14 months after emergency surgery. Bad GP did not keep me healthy as I had high blood pressure for months and she did nothing about it. Then I saw her the day I self directed to the ER, she did not want to admit me cause she was in the middle of a Christmas party in the office and also, surprise, the hospital we were two blocks away from she did not have admitting privileges to. That is a lesson right there. I was sedated immediately and told I would have open heart surgery the next afternoon. I had no emotional prep for that. I was terrified.
        The scar was very painful and last month finally the dermatologist took pity on me and injected it with steroids. That hurt a lot and I have two more sessions to go but it makes a huge difference in the sensitivity and thickness of the scar. Do that for yourself. I couldn’t even bear to have my breasts touched. My bra was a torture.
        I also attempted suicide after 6 months. I realize after surviving the surgery and not having to take any meds afterwards with a full life span predicted is good. My actual heart muscle and arteries are in great shape. No spare parts. But the depression is no joke. I am still depressed and seeing a therapist. I have been married since I was 21 to a man who is a complete narcissist. Or so my therapist says. But he did take good care of me in my recovery. We are retired so it helped.
        I told my husband that it was my time to go and that I should not have had the surgery I should have just died. I just turned 67. That was immediately after the surgery. It was a miserable time.
        This whole episode has made me think that I might have 20 years left in my life. I am married to an alcoholic who didn’t even get me a card for Valentine’s day. Not only does my physical heart affect me, my emotional heart was the part that caused the tear in the mitral valve in the first place. I was having a dreadful fight with my husband when it tore.I lived with the tear and got increasingly weak because my heart could no longer pump the blood out and was literally drowning in blood.
        None of the female practictioners I have spoken to doubt me on the cause of the onset of my heart issue. The male docs dismiss it. This makes me think less of them. I know how powerful emotions are.
        If you are in a bad relationship leave it. I don’t see how financially I can leave this one. I stayed for my kids, although it’s always been a heartbreaker. Husband cheated on me. I wish I had been smarter and left when I was much younger. I really doubt I’d have been in this boat today had I paid attention to my hurt feelings all these years and realized that a lot of men actually treat their wives nicely. Mine is totally practical and while he has always had a yacht, he won’t spend money on sentimental things, dinners out, anything like that.
        If anything I have learned since my heart surgery it is that life is short and leave bad situations if you are young enough. Breaking up this household now would be financial ruin.
        Yesterday I drove myself 2 hours to a museum show I have been dying to see. I could not get my husband to go with me. He only does what he wants to do which is work on his boat and drink. The show was great but it sure was lonely.
        My point, the heart and the soul (emotions) are inseparable.


        • Carolyn Thomas February 19, 2019 at 8:28 pm #

          Hello Meridee – I’m very, very glad you are seeing a therapist. After what you’ve been through (and I don’t just mean your emergency valve procedure – which sounds like it is actually the least of your problems), taking the time to sort this all out mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually can only help you gain some valuable perspective and make some tough decisions that will impact your future, no matter what you choose.

          I don’t know you or your hubby, but I’ve written a lot over the years whenever another academic study is published on how damaging staying in a bad marriage is for one’s health – both cardiac and in general. Read this or this, for example. My own opinions are irrelevant; I’ll just say you’ll get some idea if you read these articles (and particularly the reader comments in response to them).

          I’ll just say generally that you already know what is best for you and your heart to do, so taking your own wise counsel that you offer to others could be next on your list of important topics at your upcoming therapy appointment. You can continue to make yourself miserable by blaming him for things like refusing to go with you to special outings like yesterday, but it’s like expecting a blue-eyed person to suddenly develop brown eyes and be completely different. That ain’t going to happen. It would be a surprise if he DIDN’T behave the way he does, wouldn’t it? You know him. You know what to expect. Nothing about his behaviour should surprise or even hurt you as long as you keep volunteering to put up with it.

          Best of luck to you in making the decision, one way or the other.


  2. TaxLadyMel October 18, 2018 at 11:45 am #

    Hello fellow survivors (regardless of purpose for surgery)

    I am 33 and found out that I would need surgery earlier this year. It was a bunch of back and forth from my local cardiologist and my referred Cardiologist 2 hours away. So my local said I had a large hole (ASD) that was causing the right side of my heart to enlarge. He said I needed open heart surgery within the next year. I instantly felt dizzy and overwhelmed but I fought my tears and decided to research.

    I realized that it was like being pregnant, every person has a different perspective and a different story and outcome. But I am one that likes to know the good and bad, so I asked both Cardiologists a long list of questions.

    So upon further studies the prognosis changed to they could not find the holes. (Upon meeting 2nd Dr, he thought he had seen a second hole). He said I was one of his “complicated cases”, but he was almost certain I would not need surgery, but because my heart was enlarged he knew something was wrong.

    So after MRI/MRA the surgeon told my cardiologist it was in my best interest to have the surgery because it was only a matter of time before I had a stroke.

    They explained that in a sense it was exploratory surgery but my surgeon was confident I had an ASD that was rather large due to blood flow and size of heart.

    So on 8/27/18 I had open heart surgery (a week after being told “so again your case is rather confusing and complicated but it turns out we will be conducting surgery”). My spouse had in his head surgery was out of the question but I knew my heart was failing. My body was always tired, I could not be active without chest pain, constantly running out of breath and falling asleep for hours on end. People, including my spouse thought it was in my head or I was making it up.

    So long story short, I told myself when they fix my heart I will have a new start.

    My new Motto is “new heart, new start”. I thought I would have a hard time dealing with pain and the scar. When I woke up the only pain I felt was on my right arm, strange I know. But I guess it’s rather common in women and I was given nerve pain pills because my right arm was basically immobile. The pain and discomfort kept me up for many weeks and still does.

    But I told myself I cannot rely on meds to pull me through, I need to do it myself (addiction runs in my family and I did not want to join that club) so I only take meds if intolerable.

    Even upon returning home, I cut my dose in half and took as needed. Which was mainly at night, don’t get me wrong there was pain there were days or nights that it would hit out of nowhere and I would cry. My spouse would urge me to take pain meds as recommended but I simply couldn’t risk becoming dependent.

    I spent my mornings alone, sometimes the full day so I had to learn to fight the depression. Which for me was the hardest. No one in my family understood being alone made me feel hopeless and crippled. I couldn’t even comb my own hair, my son helped with that. My spouse helped me shower, I felt useless and would ask God why me? I would lie awake feeling empty and a bunch of nothingness.

    So I reached out to a blogger who had open heart surgery last year and she made me feel so much better and told me to speak up and tell my family I had the right to feel the way I did and that I needed them to understand that because I put on a good show, does not mean I am okay everyday. When I did they started including me in their day to day activities which was actually stimulating. It took my depression away immediately, I felt like I was part of the family again and not some charity case.

    When my scar started to keloid up, I was actually sad at first and cried, but my friend reminded me that the scar means I am alive and my kids got to keep their mother. I am blessed and know I will have my moments but I truly am a survivor in more than one way (domestic violence, rape, valley fever, open heart surgery, etc.).

    So I wear my scars with pride, people have been kind to me, some ask questions and I answer honestly. Maybe someone out there has the same issues and if I can help one person, why not?

    Reading a lot of these comments made feel I had to share so people know they are not alone and it’s ok to feel a certain way about your situation, we are all different and handle things in our own way.

    The one thing we have to remember is that WE define who we are, no one else. Don’t give power to those who don’t deserve it. Take control to the best of your ability and things will slowly improve. Most importantly never give up and if any one would like to talk or ask questions please contact me. I am here and would love to listen. Remember “new heart, new start!”

    Celebrate life and 2nd chances. Not everyone gets it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 18, 2018 at 4:26 pm #

      Hello Mel – you certainly are a survivor. Thanks for sharing your perspective as a person who has been through a roller coaster of physical and emotional reactions to this traumatic condition. The “situational depression” you describe is very common following a serious diagnosis, surgery or not, as you try to make sense out of something that makes no sense. The good news: this kind of post-event depression is usually temporary and treatable.

      Feeling like you’re “part of your family” again is probably the most healing treatment you could ever get at a time like that… Hang in there and celebrate your own second chances…


  3. Judy August 10, 2018 at 12:07 am #

    It’s a strange battle I have with this scar. I had surgery 2 years ago and admittedly I hate this scar. It took me 2 years to be comfortable with its appearance thanks to my dermatologist (they were keloid-ed). Now they’re flat (thank you, thank you, thank you), albeit darker than the surrounding skin. Afer 2 years of hiding it behind high necklines, I’m ok now wearing a neckline a little lower than the base of my throat. Here’s the newest batlle: the recuperation after the surgery caused a tremendous strain on my relationship. Although my boyfriend spent a good amount of time caring for me at home, I recently discovered he had strayed and is now in a full fledged relationship with someone else. We’re breaking up. And I’m surprisingly ok with it. I had given myself 60 days to get back into the working world (for those desperately needed medical benefits) and save a little to get an apartment on my own. After all, I’ve got a college degree and was a professional for almost 30 years at one of the largest banks in the country. Well I am about 120 days out, and I still have no job. I seem to pass all the assessment tests, and actually have managed to snag a few interviews. I seem to interview well, but eventually the neckline moves and their eyes catch a glimpse
    of the scar. Their smiles drop. The questions about physical endurance (sitting, standing, reaching, travelling, etc…pop up all of a sudden). And then omg..the ever dreaded pre-employment physical just kind of seals the deal. I am so frustrated. I am disillusioned. Probably close to 200 resumes out there.
    The hiring folks are making me feel like a sickly 55 year old who’s going to kick the bucket before my probationary period ends. I’m ready for my disability to start now, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 10, 2018 at 6:35 am #

      Hi Judy – I’m sorry to hear of these recent events (as if you needed one more thing to worry about). Your boyfriend’s behaviour is not in fact uncommon: a study on partner abandonment among couples conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle found that men are six times more likely to leave a relationship because of a partner’s health crisis than women are. Not all men out there are like this, however – you are well rid of your guy.

      It’s hard to feel optimistic after 120 days of job-hunting without results, but hang in there. If you suspect it’s your “neckline moving” that affects the outcomes of interviews (that might not be a factor at all – I’ve heard from a number of mid-50s women who don’t have a chest scar who report the same scenario so it could be due to the ageism that middle-aged women often describe). If you honestly believe your scar is the only reason, drape a nice scarf around your neck next time.

      Good luck to you, Judy…


    • Meridee Thompson February 19, 2019 at 8:00 am #

      Judy – The problem is that you are 55. No one wants to hire us cause we might have health problems that are hard to insure. This is unfair as young people have pregnancies, addictions and other issues too. But it is what it is.

      Keep trying because even if you have to go to work at a crafts store (I did with 3 teaching credentials!) and work with people who aren’t very professional which is such a disappointment but it will be a start. Then move on when the opportunity presents. Getting back in the swing of work will make you ready for a real job when it opens up.

      PS I never wear clothing that shows my scar. I had to gut my closet and give my friends my favorite shirts. I used to dress sexy but now not so much. I loved those clothes!


  4. Norma Loving June 4, 2018 at 9:00 pm #

    I don’t hate my scar from Open Heart Surgery, l feel very blessed to have survived such a serious operation.
    My problem is that it hurts so much & that most of the clothes that I wear that come in contact with the scar irritates it.
    I can’t reach for anything nor turn my upper body around without feeling that stretching pulling kind of pain.
    The keloids on my stomach where they put in tubes doesn’t hurt, they just itch a lot.
    I can live with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas June 6, 2018 at 8:05 pm #

      I’m so sorry to hear this, Norma… You didn’t mention how long ago your open heart surgery was. Scars are considered “immature” immediately after the procedure, and “mature” after about 3-18 months (depending on the wound). Please read Elizabeth Dole’s excellent advice for caring for scars here, especially for those immature scars. Best of luck to you…


  5. CG October 15, 2017 at 11:44 pm #

    NOTE FROM CAROLYN: * This comment has been removed because it was attempting to sell a commercial product *


  6. Samantha August 13, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    I was born with congenital heart disease; had my first operation at 18 months and another at 4 years old. Last year I turned 24 years old and went through open heart surgery to replace my valve. Straight away, I wore tank tops and on holiday wore a low cut bathing suit. I know I got stares, but it doesn’t bother me as I’ve always had them.

    In two to five months time I will have another to add to my collection as the hospital believes the valve is already narrowing. My scars are why I am here today and I wear them with pride, I will never hide them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 14, 2017 at 6:38 am #

      Great attitude, Samantha! I often wonder if those who have always lived with scars from childhood heart surgery might have an easier time adjusting than adults who become first-time open heart surgery patients do. What do you think?


  7. Tammy Laytham August 11, 2017 at 5:38 pm #

    I just recently had bypass surgery due to 4 bad blockages, one 80% and called the Widow Maker. I ask My husband if he was embarrassed by my scars, he said No Way Honey!!! They are Your Miracle Scars!!! I am a Miracle so I wear my scars proudly
    ~ tam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 13, 2017 at 5:18 am #

      Tammy, your hubby is a keeper! What a positive way to think of your scars…


  8. Nivia Bermudez February 20, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    Yes I have. It’s not pretty, I don’t like them on my body, yet I was ok with them really quickly after I realized what had happened to me. I’m not ashamed of my survival scars.🤗😍

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas February 20, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

      Thanks for sharing this, Nivia. It’s amazing how quickly our minds can do a quick turnaround once we realize the enormity of a medical crisis that caused those scars!


      • Brenda Atwell February 21, 2017 at 6:05 am #

        Today is my 2nd anniversary, I still can’t wear nice clothes or go in public. I can’t stand the stares and I will not answer questions. It is nobody’s business but mine and I think people who ask are either idiots or have very poor manners. I can’t be rude to people so I keep wearing t-shirts. Yes I have seen a few scars on others and mine is significantly wider and ugly. I have seen a plastic surgeon and it can’t be fixed. I will spend the rest of my life only going where I can wear t-shirts.


  9. Dépaysement December 15, 2016 at 5:29 am #

    Very interesting article! I feel so sad for the women who hate their scars or worry about people seeing them. I’m in the show it off category. I had heart valve repair on October 25th this year. I came to this site via Googling to see if a scar lasts forever. I’m perfectly happy with mine. It’s downright piratical. 🙂 It’s amusing watching blokes look at it and look hurriedly away. Good thing it lost the top bump swelling that looked like a cat’s bum! Now it just looks like my cleavage starts at my collarbone.

    Surgeons do still use wires to close the sternum, at least where I live. I had wondered if it was a bolt-and-plate arrangement, it seems to weigh a ton, but no, the x rays show the wires very clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 15, 2016 at 5:36 am #

      Hello Dépaysement! I’ve never heard anybody describe their open heart surgery scars as looking “piratical”! Great visual image there… I love your attitude towards your scar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dépaysement December 15, 2016 at 5:40 am #

        LOL thank you, Carolyn! I’ve had a bit of a thing for pirates for a few years, so the scar fits right in. You should have seen my husband’s face when I mused about getting a matching tattoo, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Shauna October 8, 2016 at 11:21 pm #

    Born with congenital heart disease, I’ve had 5 open heart surgeries, first 2 open heart surgery surgeries at 5 yrs old, scar under right breast, 4 scars vertically from top of sternum to the bottom U in ribs. Biggest thickest scar was third open heart at 10 yrs old, fourth at 19, and fifth at 42. I had my spleen removed at 16, scar connects heart scar and goes down to pubic line, scar on throat, tracheal hole scar, feed tube scar, lung fluid hole scar, 4 pacemaker scars, stretch marks from my miracle son, numerous more scars all as result of heart…

    I love everyone of my scars, wear bikinis, etc…I thank god everyday I’m alive. I am woman n machine! GIRL POWER!!!!! Your stories made me cry, tell you a little bit about mine…

    THANK YOU!!! Nice sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 9, 2016 at 5:16 am #

      Wow! Shauna, you are the poster child for GIRL POWER! So happy you weighed in here to share your considerable experience, showing all of us that no matter how many scars you acquire, you can still have a positive attitude towards each one. THANK YOU!


  11. Sammy September 22, 2016 at 3:35 am #

    I’ve had two open heart surgeries, one when I was 4 years of age. I grew up not taking much notice of my scar and eventually it faded. 7 months ago and at age 24, I’ve just had another to replace my valve. My scar doesn’t bother me, it’s my battle scar which allows me to still see my family every day, and I’m so thankful to be given that chance. I know people look and wonder but I refuse to hide it away under huge t-shirts. I’m a survivor and I’m very proud.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 22, 2016 at 5:33 am #

      Love that sentiment, Sammy: “it allows me to still see my family every day”. Keep up that positive attitude!


  12. Trina August 28, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    I had Heart Valve Replacement on May 3,2016. I’m not ashamed of my scar, it just means I have a story to tell. People are even curious when I tell them the valve ticks! I love my scar especially knowing I was close to getting a backpack with oxygen and sent home to die.

    I am lucky and yes people stare, they stop for a second and tell me I’m brave.. some just stare and get embarrassed that I saw them looking!

    I’m a proud open heart surgery survivor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

      What a terrific comment, Trina! You do have a story to tell, and your scar tells that story.


  13. Gayle August 21, 2016 at 11:29 pm #

    I had my aortic valve replaced and a triple bypass surgery on June 23, 2016. The first four weeks after surgery were really hard for me. I literally could not sleep. It was like my mind was chattering and I couldn’t relax and sleep. I sat up most nights and cried. Also, had outbursts, threw fits with my loved ones who were trying to help me and cried almost every day.

    I went for my eight week check up last week and I am doing much better. I am walking almost every day and will be starting rehabilitation classes next week. Even though this has been very hard for me to deal with (I think mine has been mostly emotional and mental).

    My eight inch scar down the middle of my chest has not been a concern. It doesn’t bother me if it shows. Swimming is my favorite form of exercise. My doctor says that I can begin swimming after three months. I will have no problem being seen in a swimsuit. I feel that I have had years added to my life and for that I am grateful to my wonderful surgeon. I am 71 years young. I love my scar because it reminds me that I survived and I am still enjoying life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 22, 2016 at 5:52 am #

      Thanks for this important reminder, Janice! How we feel in the very early days and weeks following treatment – no matter how emotionally traumatic that period may be – can and will change over time. Keep up with your walking, your cardiac rehab and your swimming!


  14. Carol Hall August 10, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    Its been 10 weeks since my surgery…I am just about ready to go back to work…Oh yea I a had aortic valve replacement…. My scar is my issue. It’s so sore lately and today I see a small pimple right on my scar. Strange and it hurts…. Should I call my surgeon??


    • Carolyn Thomas August 10, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

      Hi Carol – I’m not a physician but I think you need to see one. Scars should be getting better over time, not more sore. You are still in fairly early days yet, but ask your doctor to take a look just to make sure this isn’t an infection.


    • Cassandra Thompson August 17, 2016 at 9:02 am #

      Hi Carol,
      It’s normal to see ‘pimples’ during the healing of your scar. I panicked and became more depressed, because it continued to look worse. I had a tumor removed from inside my aorta in November 2013 and it still hurts (sometimes worse than before the surgery) almost every day. My cardiologist told me some people get over it sooner than others, but I had no idea it would take this long.

      I wish you the very best. Go back to work and try to find your new normal.


      Liked by 1 person

  15. Matt J Monteith June 30, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    You’re still beautiful no matter what, us heart patients have to stick together. I have plenty of scars myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Rod May 29, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. I see that all the women that I’ve heard about or have encountered with the trauma of open heart surgery have large surgical scar down the center of their chests.

    In 1985 my wife had open heart surgery and a pacemaker put in. Her surgeons had a very excellent approach to her surgery. They cut along the lower of the breast line then moved the breasts out away and then open up the center of the chest to do the surgery to me this was a much better approach. For her after surgery this allowed her to go on with life without the reminder of the surgery being broadcast to everybody no matter what outfit top she decided to wear, even with a 2 piece bikini it was almost undetectable. The other benefit with this method is also allowing the pacemaker to be tucked under the breast. I was amazed with the surgeon’s skills and consideration towards future life after surgery, I feel it made recovery after surgery emotionally beneficial. I thought by now in 2016 that this would be standard procedure for heart surgery on women. I thought I would just let everybody know about this so maybe it could be standard procedure by 2026.
    I write this in loving memory of my late wife.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 29, 2016 at 10:53 pm #

      Rod, my condolences to you on the death of your wife. It sounds like her surgical procedure back in ’85 was what’s called a Submammary Device Implant, which certainly does have cosmetic benefits. Pacemakers now are smaller and usually implanted in the upper chest via a relatively small (2″) incision). The longer central vertical scars you’re describing are likely from valve or coronary artery bypass graft surgeries. For some patients (if appropriate), there is also an alternative minimally invasive approach to bypass surgery that allows for smaller incisions which avoid splitting the breastbone. Thanks for sharing your wife’s experience here.


  17. No Ordinary Blogger May 18, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    I was 7 months year old when I had open heart surgery due to a large hole in my heart. I now have a large 6 inch scar running down my chest and three dash scars running horizontally below it.

    When growing up I did everything I could to hide it. I even found several swim suits which covered it. I had people ask me and look at me differently when I did tell them, not understanding what it meant. Only three people knew the real truth and non of them judged me any differently. It wasn’t until I was 13 when a friend told me to embrace the beauty of my body that I quit worrying about hiding my scar. Now almost everyone knows and nobody cares.

    My boyfriend likes them and says they make me who I am. Most of the time he hardly notices them, much like me. I even met a guy at a volunteer dinner who was well into his 70s and said after the waitress passed us..“that woman is part of the Zipper Club, like me. Now you probably don’t what that is, but when you have heart surgery…” understanding what he was saying, I pulled the top of my shirt down an inch and pointed to my scar, saying I think I’m in the Zipper Club too then. We both started laughing.

    I am 20 years old, and in the prime of my life and what I’ve learned is not to let a few scars get you down. In fact, I haven’t met one person who was disgusted by my scars. I’ve met and made friends with people with the same scars as me on trips all the way across the world. Yes, people will stare at your chest and yes it can get awkward and annoying but they are only curious. Next time tell them it was a shark attack, you wouldn’t believe how many people are that gullible.

    I am proud to be part of Zipper Club, it makes me stronger, brings people together, and makes me a more interesting person with the story and struggles I had to encounter because of my scars. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 19, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

      Hello No Ordinary Blogger! How lucky for you that at age 13 (such an impressionable age for young women!) your friend made that astute comment to you. She’s one smart cookie! Keep enjoying those Zipper Club encounters (or shark attack stories) with strangers – they make the world a much smaller and kinder place. Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective here…


  18. Grainne o Rourke May 12, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    I’ve had two open heart surgeries, one when I was two years old which left a scar on my back starting at the spine and running in a crescent shape stopping just before my left breast. The second was in January and left a ten inch scar straight down the middle of my cleavage. I can honestly say I love them, trust I am not a vain person but both of mine are beautiful, both were done by exceptionally gifted surgeons and both genuinely make me feel unique powerful strong and sexy.

    That’s how I choose to see them and if I was offered to have them removed tomorrow I’d refuse. I love them, they are part of me and remind me when I’m feeling low that I’m strong and I can survive almost anything. They’re inspirational 😘😘

    To anyone who is about to have the same surgery or just recovering, love your scar. It shows how strong brave and powerful you are and that you’re a survivor 😝😘😘❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Matt j Monteith May 10, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    I have plenty of scars myself. If you are a very strong person you don’t have to be afraid of people’s thoughts. You’re still pretty no matter what, that’s what counts. I have heart problems myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Brianna March 19, 2016 at 6:02 am #

    I’m 16 years old and I had a heart transplant five months ago. In the months before that I had two open heart surgeries when my doctors found out that I had cardiomyopathy that went undetected for years until I went into cardiac arrest.

    The hospital was my home for several months. For the first couple months I always had my scar covered and didn’t want to show it to anyone other than my nurses and Doctors because I had to. These past few months I’ve come to love my scars and I like to show them because they represent all that I have been through in this past year and I am proud of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 19, 2016 at 6:22 am #

      Thank you so much Brianna for sharing your experience here. You’ve been through an overwhelming range of medical crises so far, and at such a young age. You bring up an important point: how you feel about your scars can change over time (from being embarrassed or reluctant, to loving them!) Best of luck to you…


    • Cadibel March 19, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

      I haven’t had heart surgery but just had a sternotomy 2 weeks ago to remove a mass under my sternum. It turned out to be not malignant and I feel torn between feeling so happy that it turned out ok and angry that I had to have this surgery. I guess how I feel about my scar… sometimes proud and happy, other times sad or angry and wanting to hide it.

      I hope you don’t mind me posting here but hard to find people who understand what I’ve been through. I guess part of hiding my scar also reflects that isolation and now feeling different from other people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carolyn Thomas March 20, 2016 at 6:31 am #

        Cadibel, thanks so much for bringing up those happy/sad mixed emotions you describe. When I was in my 30s, I had to undergo breast surgery called a “quadrant resection” to remove a suspicious mass deep in the chest wall. Just as it sounds, 1/4 of my right breast was removed. Luckily, the pathology reports showed it was benign. I too felt so happy that it wasn’t cancer, but the downside has been living with the disfiguring results. Your example is interesting because although you share the same chest surgery scar with heart patients, you don’t feel part of that sisterhood of heart patients.

        But scars are still scars, no matter what’s caused them. You are still in very early days of recuperation – I hope that as time goes by and your scar begins to fade, you’ll have many more happy moments and far fewer angry ones. Best of luck to you….


  21. xitlaly February 1, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

    I’m a 14 year old girl. And I love my scar. It’s hard to fit in sometimes but I know that the scar is what has me standing today. So I’m grateful for having it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carolyn Thomas February 2, 2016 at 7:08 am #

      Love your attitude! It’s your badge of courage!


    • Ivette March 14, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

      Xitlaly, Does your scar effect you in any way?


  22. Kai December 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    I had one surgery when I was 5 days old and one when I was 5 months old, so I’ve had scars ever since the very start of my life.

    I’m now 13 years old. My scars run from the bottom edge of my collar bone area (for lack of better word) down to just under my breasts. And then there is a small scar at the bottom of that scar, I’m not sure why, and two scars that are on either side on that small scar. I’ve never felt like my scars were anything but normal. I’m lucky that they’re very pale colored and not very noticeable, but noticeable or not scars don’t detract from your beauty or worth. At least you’re alive, right? Your heart works better now.

    I’m glad I’m still alive, because the surgery I had at 5 days was really risky. Until the second surgery my skin was extremely discolored until the second surgery. I also wouldn’t eat on my own until I was 16 months old.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 15, 2015 at 5:01 am #

      Thanks for sharing that unique perspective, Kai: “I’ve never felt like my scars were anything but normal.” Great way to view that dramatic post-natal history!


    • Shana March 11, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

      The small scars are probably from a surgical drains that were taking out two to three days after our surgery….


  23. Paul Henry October 20, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    My scar is proof that God has a bigger plan for me. So many others that I have known didn’t get the extra chance that I have been given. All of my aunts, uncles, grandparents and a brother have died from heart disease. I had a heart attack at 49 and thanks to the paramedics, life flight, and all of the wonderful Doctors and Nurses that saved my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 20, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

      Great survival story, Paul – and a great attitude. Best of luck to you…


  24. Melanie October 8, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    I am 54 years old and when I was 4 years old I underwent open heart surgery to close one of two holes in my heart. I have a vague memory of the hospital room but that is all. I remember nothing else. I do have a large “Y” shaped scar on my chest, scars on my wrist and inner elbow area, as well as a half inch scar on my right side at my ribs, all from the surgery.

    Not one of these scars has ever bothered me. To me they have always been there and are a part of me. I love my scars. They tell me that my parents cared and fought for my life. I have never tried to hide them from anyone. I wear them proudly.

    Don’t be ashamed of your scars. They are a part of the story of your life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 9, 2015 at 5:44 am #

      Hi Melanie and thank you for weighing in here with your unique story, especially for your comment about your parents. As parents, we would all do whatever was medically possible to save our kids. When we talk about surgical procedures to correct childhood heart defects, we tend to focus on the little patient – not on the parents or family members who are worried sick as their little one is wheeled into surgery. Thanks for that reminder – helps to put scars into perspective, doesn’t it?


  25. Jessica September 9, 2015 at 3:38 am #

    I am amazed I’ve not found more pages like this. I am 22 and I have a large ASD (atrial septal defect) which is a hole in the septum (wall) in the upper chambers of the heart. It’s congenital so I have had it my whole life but I only found out in August 2014 because my symptoms were becoming more noticeable, because the hole is getting bigger and the right side of my heart is stretching.

    About a month ago now, I had keyhole surgery to try and close the hole. Unfortunately the hole was too big and also has a tear in the rim so the device that plugs it was unstable and it was abandoned. I am now booked in for open heart surgery on the 28th October; I don’t know all the details of the surgery yet but I will find out at the beginning of October.

    I prepared myself from the beginning of the possibility of having a open heart surgery scar. I’m nervous about the surgery and the recovery period, because I don’t like not being in control of my own body and I like to be busy. The main symptom I suffer from because of the hole is chronic fatigue. It is the most frustrating thing to suffer from. I regularly say I’m tired; nobody takes you seriously when you say you’re tired.

    Tired is something everybody understands but also something nobody understands in my world. Trying to explain that my tired is different from their tired is frustrating. I just don’t most of the time and just get on with things like everybody else and know when I’ve hit my limit. I am an ambitious and extremely social person but a lot of the time I have to take a break from everything, when I really don’t want to.

    When I finally rest and try to sleep, my heart feels like it is beating so loud and drives me crazy. My heart skips a beat regularly. I get sharp pains and trying to catch my breath when having palpitations can be very scary and my eyes even black out as if I’m going to faint occasionally.

    I am thankful they found it now and not later. I am thankful I am young and strong and have no other health complications. My recovery should be straightforward. I am thankful my parents made me strong and my mother taught me to love and look after my body. The only issue I think I will have with my scar is that it is new and not the me I am used to.

    I would have the same attitude and feeling towards having cosmetic surgery. If my nose or boobs were changed, it would unsettle me and so will my scar at first. This all be taken into consideration.

    I am excited, I am excited to have a scar instead of a hole in my heart. I am excited to be stronger and have more energy. I am excited to do all the things I want to do and not be exhausted before I even start.

    I am excited to meet my scar and welcome it into my appearance and my life. I may struggle at first, I’m not naive to that prospect, but I welcome this change with open arms. I hope to also help others with acceptance in physical change in the future. I am in awe of how my body has looked after me for 22 years. I am proud of my body for coping so well and I will wear my scar with pride.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 9, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

      Jessica, thanks so much for your comment. I hope the weeks will fly by for you before your October surgery date to address these distressing symptoms. I am so impressed by your comments and your attitude! I just sent you an email, citing so many of your “quotable quotes” – e.g. “Tired is something everybody understands but also something nobody understands” or “I am thankful my parents made me strong and my mother taught me to love and look after my body.” Beautiful. Looking forward to hearing back from you…


  26. Kendra Petty September 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    I am a 44 year old open heart surgery patient. Before the surgery I was scared as heck but knew I needed it. I am 7 weeks out of surgery and I have no problem showing my scar. I love every piece of it because it showed I went through something and couldn’t be stopped! Don’t feel bad about your scar – it is not that bad and hey if they don’t like your scar they definitely couldn’t like you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas September 5, 2015 at 8:09 am #

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kendra. I love that line “…it showed I went through something and couldn’t be stopped!” Best of luck to you…


  27. Jeniffer August 23, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

    Well, I read some comments and I cried a lot. It’s been three years I have my scar and I can’t get over it.

    After the surgery I’ve never shown my scar to anybody, just to my mom and my boyfriend (because I have no option). I gave up on people I thought were my friends and some of them gave up on me when I was in the hospital. I know it is sad to hear this but I truly believe that my life is over because of this scar.

    I can’t use the clothes I was used to using and I tell myself that this scar is nothing, it does not mean I am inferior, but seeing everybody with no scars in the chest makes me feel like trash and ugly. Everyday I say this scar shouldn’t mean the end, but I don’t want to leave my house, and don’t want to go to work, I just want to lock myself in my house and never leave. I feel happy for the girls who didn’t let a scar destroy them, but I am not still strong enough to get over it.

    My head knows it is just a mark, but my heart can’t understand. I wanna say I am sorry if I wrote anything wrong, I am Brazilian and don’t know English very well, but this is the first space I found to talk about this.

    Thank you so much Carolyn Thomas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas August 23, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

      Hello Jeniffer and thanks for sharing your story here. I’m glad you found this site, and your English is perfectly fine, far better than any of us can speak Portugese for sure! When feeling “stuck” in a place that feels bad, it’s often helpful to seek professional help to move forward in life. Please make an appointment today to talk to a pastor, counsellor or therapist. You deserve to be happy. Best of luck to you….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeniffer September 3, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

        Thanks again Carolyn. It was really nice to share and receive a feedback. I felt really good. Best of luck to you too.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Curious to the Max August 23, 2015 at 7:47 pm #

      Jeniffer, I am very touched by your honesty and expressing (in beautiful English) what many other people are afraid to say. You’ve already taken the first step toward the emotional healing of your wound by sharing your story publicly.
      Please, take Carolyn’s advice and continue sharing your story with a pastor, counselor or therapist. She’s right. You deserve to be happy. You are already brave.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeniffer September 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

        Curious to the Max, thank you for you kind words, You’re right I’ve already taken the first step, I just need to be strong and keep going ahead. Thank you so much for caring about me, it means a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Meridee Thompson January 29, 2018 at 9:53 pm #

      I am 6 weeks over my open heart surgery and angry as hell. All of my clothes show my scar, it’s sore and I feel so ugly. I think it shouts out – look, a defective person. I wish I had died.

      I am not normally vain but this sucks so much. My friends want to see it and go ewww. I hurt inside too. I don’t want intimacy with my husband. I am freaking out. I can’t seem to kick the pain killers when I try I get out of my mind, nasty, angry at my husband. I just feel utterly defeated.

      I had to order some tops to wear under my clothing that cover the scar but I really really hate it and feel really really ugly. I had a beautiful chest. My daughter says it shows I’m a survivor, yeah from being a defective person old before my time. People used to say I look younger than my age but this has aged my face tremendously. Pollyanna I am not.


      • Carolyn Thomas January 30, 2018 at 7:53 pm #

        Thanks Meridee for sharing your very honest personal opinions here. Every single person adapts differently. At six weeks post-op, you are still in very early days yet – and you’re still sore. That does suck!

        This doesn’t mean that you will suddenly wake up one morning and life will be all rainbows and sunshine, but it does mean that it’s remarkably common for heart patients to feel depressed and low in the early weeks, no matter what procedure they have just undergone, scar or no scar. It’s also very common to hear things like “the first few months were hell, but I’m much better now…”

        What I would not like to see (nor would you, I’m guessing) is that your reaction might get “stuck” here in this bleak place – just as Jeniffer described her own response three whole years post-op (above).

        My very strong advice to you is the same I offered to her: please make an appointment to talk to a professional therapist/pastor/or counsellor, and sooner is better than later, for the sake of your own mental AND cardiac health. I believe this is an important move for anybody who uses words like “defeated”, “defective”, “ugly”, “freaking out” and “I wish I had died”. You likely don’t believe me now, but it is possible, no matter what has dramatically changed in our bodies, to make peace with that dramatic change.

        I’d love to hear back from you in the coming months to let us know how life is going for you. Meanwhile, please take care of your precious self…


        • Meridee Thompson January 30, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

          Thank you for your advice. I have talked to a counselor that is on the ok list for my medicare provider. Rated in our medical community she comes in at 116 out of 136 available providers. She made me feel worse, she can’t relate at all. It helps to be reminded that i am just fresh into this and I’m being impatient cause it gives me hope that this will get better. But I am really a get things done dynamo and this has me grounded to the point where I wonder if it will ever get better. I am afraid of the damage my moodiness is doing to my marriage although husband has tried so hard.Mine was a sudden no warning straight to the ER situation with surgery the next morning.I had no chance to register what was happening until it was over and I was unable to move virtually for several days, only to the bathroom. I had no warning that this was the long played out recovery. I am not a couch potato don’t watch tv don’t sit down much person. This is hell for me. I am wondering if there is anything I can put on this scar to speed its healing. Anyway, thanks.I just never dreamed it would change my life forever. I had no chance to even consider it just whammo here you go.My husband and I lead a very active demanding sailing life where we often go on long trips that require a lot of stamina. my worst fear is that I won’t be able to continue and he will leave me cause he still will want to go. He is suffering as much as i am over this.


          • FrancesMcDonald December 16, 2018 at 11:03 am #

            Meridee, don’t think it will change your life forever. I had open heart surgery when I was 75 and the surgeons said they operated on me because of my resiliance, I am 79 and my heart is just fine. I do have arthritis & spine problems that keep me from walking, but if you are healthy otherwise and determined to walk, run, do whatever you will be just fine…

            My son didn’t think I would walk after surgery, I walked the next day. I had my ascending aortic valve replaced with a pig valve because I am a thin person. I could care less about the scar, I can barely see most of it and the rest is under my breast where they had drainage tubes; sometime they itch so I use aspercream/lidocream on those small ares…

            The surgeon said the pig valve should be good for 13 years, my sons said I am going to outlive them… I did go to the nursing home rehab for the first 3 weeks to get my legs back strong, the worst experience was eating enough because all food tasted rotten, even what my family brought in to me…. I do not have blocked arteries so I can eat anything, I just stuffed down the oatmeal with half & half and some fruit on the side to get strong again.

            The young staff at the rehab loved me, treated me like their grandmother and I loved them, except when they insisted I go for exercise, ride the stationary bicyle(boring), hand stuff, kick the ball, finally I was able to get on and off the bed unassisted and was released to return to my home..


    • Kim April 27, 2018 at 8:51 am #

      Love your scar! You earned it! Don’t let your scar define who you are! Live life! Love Life!

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Jillyn June 29, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Although I’ve not had heart surgery, I had a sternectomy when I was 23 to remove a pellet. When I was 8, I was shot in the chest with a pellet gun. At that time, the Dr’s thought it’d be best to leave the pellet in. Over the years, the pellet migrated in to my heart. I ended up having to have surgery to remove it at 23. I was more petrified of the surgery than when I was shot. I was put on the heart-lung bypass machine and my heart had to be removed to locate and remove the pellet. For a day or so, I was worried about the scar but after that, it didn’t phase me. I’d get stares and questions from complete strangers and would sometimes give bizarre answers or make silly remarks (breast implants gone wrong) but I’ve learned to accept it. I’ve never hidden my scar and am not ashamed of it. I look at it as me surviving not once (when I was shot) but twice (I made it through the surgery, too). 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas June 30, 2015 at 5:18 am #

      Wow! What a story, Jillyn! And double survivals, as you say. I loved your “breast implants gone wrong” response. Thanks so much for sharing your unique perspective here…


  29. Kathy April 2, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    This article had me in tears. For 22 years of my life, I thought I was the only one going through this. But after reading this article, I realized there are many more.

    I had my first heart surgery when I was 6 days old. At 22, I have had 5 heart surgeries. As a college student, it is very difficult for me to cope with this situation. Going to the beach/pool parties were difficult because I would see all my friends in cute bikinis and I am just covered up. Growing up, I was kind of ashamed of my scar, so I would always hide it. I would find dresses and tops with high necklines just to hide my scar.

    But as I am getting older, I am starting to realize that I should not be ashamed of my scar. This past spring break was the first time I wore a two piece bikini to the beach and I felt okay. Granted, there were moments when I started feeling insecure again, but I tried to push past through it. Maybe one day, I will be able to fully accept my scar and be able to wear v-necks and bikinis without even thinking twice about covering up

    Thank you for sharing this. I feel a little better knowing I am not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas April 2, 2015 at 10:46 am #

      Kathy, you were like a tiny cardiac warrior even as a tiny baby!! You are definitely not alone. Sometimes it’s a great comfort to remember that fact, isn’t it? And now you’ve managed a spring break outing in your bikini – congratulations to you!

      PS Remember that great “bear attack” story in the above post if anybody ever stares or comments! 😉


  30. Liliana Sanchez March 25, 2015 at 2:40 am #

    I just had heart surgery two weeks ago. It’s hard because I feel nobody really understands the mental pain that goes with it, reading your story sounded like mine with knee surgery, hernia surgery scar; my body has such a story of fight!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas March 25, 2015 at 5:18 am #

      Liliana, I think you’re absolutely right – few people CAN really understand unless they too have experienced this. You are still in very early days, and you might find the words of Dr. Wayne Sotile helpful as you recuperate (read this, one of his 4-part series for newly-treated heart patients). Best of luck to you…


      • Barry Smith March 25, 2015 at 6:33 am #

        Well I am 68 and 1.5 years past a 5 bypass surgery, and I did not have any emotional issues. It did take several months before I could look at it and touch it. Now I’m upset that the scar is blending into the surrounding tissue. The dr. Did a great job. I’m a man by the way and Proud of my new chest!


        • Carolyn Thomas March 25, 2015 at 7:09 am #

          Good for you, Barry. I’m not a physician, but it’s likely that if you could not even bear to look at your scar for “several months”, there were in fact some “emotional issues” at work.


    • Brenda Atwell August 8, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

      I had heart surgery February 24, 2015. I HATE the scar. I am not going to be proud of it! I had heart surgery because I smoked, didn’t control my diabetes well enough and took NSAIDS because I didn’t think this would happen to me. It’s not a badge of courage, it’s proof of a failed suicide! I cannot stand the stares of stupid people in public and I know a lot of women feel the same because I have been looking for scars for the past 6 months and have seen NONE!


      • Carolyn Thomas August 8, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

        Brenda, many people feel as you do, and make an effort to conceal their open heart surgery scars from others. But you might be surprised to learn (and this is also evident just from reading the many comments here from other patients) that many people seem to have no problem at all revealing their scars – and trust me, none of us ever thought “this would happen to me” either. Just a couple of weeks ago, I participated in a patient focus group at our local hospital where the woman sitting across the table from me sported a scar from her heart transplant in October – she wore a pretty cotton top with a low scoop neck, no attempt at all to hide her substantial scar. So even though you haven’t spotted any visible chest scars yet does not mean that they aren’t out there!

        You are in very early days yet (barely six months) when virtually all heart patients do feel quite self-conscious (for many different reasons) about their new scars. I hope that with time you’ll no longer think “failed suicide” whenever you see your own scar, as blaming yourself relentlessly is not good for either your emotional or cardiac health. What’s happened has already happened, it’s in the past and you cannot change that. What matters today is how you choose to move forward, not how you managed to get to this point. It can take time to arrive at acceptance (of all kinds of changes in life, not just scars!) – don’t rush it, just take one day at a time…


      • Jenny I'Anson January 27, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

        I have just been told that I need triple bypass surgery in about two to three months. I have been diabetic and not well-controlled for 51 years. I rather stupidly watched the video of the actual operation which was quite scary! I could have stents but they would probably need to be replaced in two years! The recovery time sounds longer than I expected as well for a bypass. Any thoughts on this?


        • Carolyn Thomas January 27, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

          Hi Jenny – I’m not a physician so can’t offer an opinion about your specific case, but I can tell you generally that there are good reasons cardiologists might choose one procedure over the other. Recovery time is indeed longer for bypass surgery, but many studies suggest that for patients living with diabetes, such procedures do show better outcomes, greater chance of survival, and fewer recurring cardiac events.

          It’s not stupid, by the way, to watch a video of whatever medical procedure you’re about to undergo – even if it’s scary. Although surgery scenes can appear shocking at first when we’re not used to watching them, they can also serve to inform and educate us. You have a few months between now and your procedure, so now is the time for you to do some homework and learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and all potential treatments. If you’re not 100% sure after discussing options with your physician, you can request a second opinion to help you decide. Best of luck to you!


  31. Kaye March 20, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    I had Quadruple Bypass in January and I’m only 51 years old. I am proud of my scar and will not hide it. It is my badge of courage and survival.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Hannah February 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    I have a scar from heart surgery at 4 years old due to a congenital heart defect and a 12 inch scar on my right side from scoliosis surgery at 12 years old. Growing up with these scars was very difficult. I hated them and my mother telling me to cover them up didn’t help either.

    But now at 26 years old I can proudly say I love my scars! I have no problem wearing low cut shirts or bikinis in the summer. And yes people do stare, but it really doesn’t seem to bother me. I didn’t accept my scars until I was about 23. Accepting my body as is, reading forums like this and meeting other people with similar stories has helped me tremendously! Now I honestly wouldn’t know what I’d do without them.

    They are a constant reminder that I survived what was suppose to kill me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas February 11, 2015 at 6:56 pm #

      You go, girl! I love that last line of yours: “a constant reminder that I survived what was supposed to kill me!”


  33. Simonne Barbeau February 7, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    My scar is my badge of courage…..

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Karen McCharen January 1, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    I have had heart surgery 4 times starting at age 4 months. I have a lot of scars! I have never been comfortable wearing clothes or bathing suits that show them because I hate the questions and staring.

    Since I have had to deal with them my entire life, I wish I felt differently. For some reason it is important for me to say it is from a congenital defect and not a bypass. I don’t know why.

    Now I am in my 50s and would like to say I earned them and if you don’t like them, too bad.


    • Carolyn Thomas January 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your story, Karen – you have indeed earned every single one of those scars! Many heart patients feel a bit defensive about their cardiac events (particularly heart attack), believing that others may assume their diagnosis was likely self-inflicted – unlike a congenital defect that “just happens” to an innocent baby. That may help to explain your preference to clarfy your own cardiac history with others. Not that it’s anybody else’s business – yours is the only opinion about YOU that matters.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Barry Smith January 1, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

        I like my scar. In fact a little upset that it is not as noticeable now as it was six months after surgery. Dr. did an excellent job and I enjoy every day that I have as extra life.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carolyn Thomas January 1, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

          Interesting perspective, Barry – disappointment as your scar is fading! But it sounds like your gratitude is not fading…


      • Karen McCharen January 1, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

        Thanks for your response. I bet we could make a lot of money designing attractive bathing suits for women with sternal incisions.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carolyn Thomas January 1, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

          I agree, Karen! One of my readers sent me this link to show a high-neck bathing suit she had just ordered. I think it’s gorgeous! Turns out there are lots of other gorgeous high-neck suits online.


    • Curious to the Max January 1, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

      Your comment moved me as it made me reflect: We all have scars, most of them are emotional. It’s part of the human condition which is congenital!

      I know that compassion is what heals but it’s been a lifelong struggle to be compassionate with myself.

      Thank you for sharing your own struggle.

      P.S. I’m glad you have the scars to prove that modern medicine – as primitive as it is – kept you alive to share your story!

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Reese October 20, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Hi! I’m 33 and have had 3 heart surgeries and a kidney transplant. And it’s hard. Not only do I have 7 inch scar from the heart surgeries, but I also have the smaller scars from the chest tubes that they put in, 9 in total. And the small little dots someone mentioned before. So my torso looks like a battlefield.

    I’m like most of you, I have good and bad feelings about it. But I am proud of it. I sometime consider myself a soldier for enduring and surviving all of those surgeries. I tend to still wear the low-cut shirts and dresses. I will put a camisole underneath or a really cool, chunky necklace. Or just go without and tell people my story.

    I think I will do like someone mentioned earlier and make up cool stories like being attacked by a bear. That was funny! And a great conversation starter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 20, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

      I love your attitude, Reece. You are indeed like a brave soldier who has emerged from what very few 33 year old women have had to go through. Your scars are your war wounds!


  36. Cookie September 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    I’ve had open heart surgery November 21,2013 (5-bypass). I went back to work February 7, 2014 (no choice there). I am 60 years old and the job is very stressful and I’m working since last August 2013, with 2 people short. I come home bent over and needing to use the heating pad because I’m in pain/discomfort. My scar has keloid and pulls from the swelling. Is there something I can use to help the swelling and redness go down? I’m using cocoa butter and wheat germ oil. Any ideas?


    • Carolyn Thomas September 10, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

      Cookie, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having such pain. If you haven’t done so already, see your doctor if symptoms continue or get worse – redness and swelling may be signs of an infection. Unfortunately, keloids tend to occur on “high tension” sites like the chest region. There have been some studies that suggest removing the keloids surgically along with steroid injections may produce promising results. FYI, for other therapies to help relieve discomfort, read “Managing the Open Heart Surgery Scar” at Rehabilitate Your Heart for several helpful tips. I hope that one (or more – combining two or more strategies seems to work best with keloids) will help you.


    • Julia November 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

      I had open heart surgery to have six blood clots removed from my lungs. My incision also formed a very painful keloid. I went to a dermatologist and had steroid injections. My incision is flat and painless now. Hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carolyn Thomas November 20, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

        That’s great, Julia – thanks for sharing your good results.


  37. Amy June 26, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    On some days I hate my scar – not only my scar but the four large dots underneath, other days I feel great, I get dressed up and show it…

    It doesn’t bother me but when people stare too much or are too sympathetic, I feel a bit odd… If I engage in conversation I say I’m ok (I used to make up elaborate stories just for fun). I know that’s lying but after my second recovery it kept me sane ha ha. I think for me anyway I feel self-conscious…. if I feel paranoid and aware but I won’t be upset if I remind myself. It’s just curiosity that’s it.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. CardioMom April 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    No, not yet. I have not made peace with my scar. I am 8 1/2 months post-CABG. As I unpack my summer clothes, I am sad that I do not want to wear my v-neck t-shirts and summer dresses. I am not ready yet. I do not think that others want to be exposed to my scar. I don’t mind showing someone if they want to see it, but I don’t want to force it on anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      CardioMom, you are not alone. Every person takes as much time as needed to make peace (or not!) with any type of scar. There is no timeline here except yours and what you are most comfortable with. Best of luck to you…


  39. Chris April 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    I had my second open heart surgery at 44. My first scar was from surgery at 2 and was very faded and unnoticeable. My second scar was in the same alignment and very thin. My problem is I was closed with sternum cables instead of wire so I have 6 bands that are extremely noticeable where these cables are. I think I may have some type of scar tissue also over these areas because they really ache and hurt. I haven’t gone back to the doctor since this doesn’t warrant the 5 hour one way trip. The largest bump where I really feel something kind of sharp and painful is at the very top of my sternum. Just curious if anyone else has experienced anything like this. Thanks


    • Carolyn Thomas April 26, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      Hi Chris – you didn’t mention how long ago your OHS was. The best resource for cardiac scar healing is this one from Rehabilitate Your Heart.

      And unless this is a fairly recently healed incision, pain along your scar is not “normal”, and is your body’s way of saying “This needs to be checked out!”


  40. Barry Smith January 23, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    I am 67 and for my birthday I got five bypasses. (nov 4, 2013) turned down rehab as I mall-walk four times a week, weigh 150 and watch what I eat. No recovery issues at all and for the most part I forget that I had the surgery! No heart damage just a very pretty chest scar that I love to show off. I went to a hospital that does alot of these procedures and not the local bandaid station. No regrets, hoping for a long life and continuing to prosper!


  41. Ophelie September 29, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I was able to make peace with my scar pretty soon after my open heart surgery. My surgeon tried to make it as low and short as possible (it’s about 6 inches) because I am still pretty young (26). The scar actually looked pretty good (except for the tube incisions, those do not look nice) until the wires started to show 6 months later.

    I had to have another surgery to get the wires removed but now my scar is wider (not the thin line it used to be) and I am struggling with it, some days more than others. But I know that once it will be fully healed, I’ll be able to look at the mirror and think ‘well that doesn’t look so bad, at least it gives me some cleavage’ 😉


    • Carolyn Thomas September 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      You are very young to have undergone heart surgery, Ophelie, and to have to go back to the O.R. to remove wires must have been so distressing for you. The only bright side of this picture is knowing that young skin will heal faster, since the cells in your epidermis (outer layer of skin) have a faster turnover rate than the skin cells of us older patients. Some studies even suggest that wound healing in young adults is up to 4 times faster than in older patients. I hope that your journey to being “fully healed” will be as short as possible! Thanks for sharing your unique perspective here.


  42. AlienRedQueen April 7, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Going to send this to my mom. Ten years later and I think she’s still disgusted with her scar. It hasn’t quite healed right, because there were complications.


    • Carolyn Thomas April 7, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

      Hi ARQ – this is such an individual response, isn’t it? To feel “disgusted” by any part of our body (especially one that is quite permanently a part of us now) is SO not good for our self-esteem.


  43. RehabilitateYourHeart April 7, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    Here is a piece I wrote about managing your open heart surgery scar – your readers might find it helpful.


    • Carolyn Thomas April 7, 2013 at 8:20 am #

      Thanks for letting us know – so many helpful tips in your article!


  44. Judy Spinney January 29, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    I had a triple-bypass on Nov 19, 2012 and I don’t know where I am supposed to be as far as recovery goes.

    My chest aches and I am so sensitive on my scar (which does not bother me in the least!), my left arm aches and in my mind I feel like it was a bad dream because everything happened so fast with the surgery.

    The one good thing that came out of this is I had my hair cut off (Jamie Lee Curtis cut) and I don’t have any highlights left in my hair so I have made the decision to go natural from now on – what a relief!!!

    Some days I’m good, other days not so good. I guess I think two months is time enough for me to be feeling better, but what do I know!?


    • Carolyn Thomas January 29, 2013 at 7:56 am #

      Hi Judy and thanks for sharing your story here. According to Mayo Clinic cardiologists, recuperation after bypass surgery takes up to 12 weeks on average, so you are still within those ‘early days’ time parameters. However, if your symptoms get worse, or if any new symptoms arise, see your doctor immediately. If you were not referred for cardiac rehabilitation immediately after hospital discharge, it’s not too late to request a referral now. Very useful program that has been shown to improve our longterm outcomes. And you might also want to talk to a professional therapist about this traumatic event you have survived. This wasn’t just a “bad dream” – go talk to a professional about what you’re going through. Good luck to you, Judy.


  45. medibird January 4, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    thanks for your informations.


  46. Holly Harrison November 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    Don’t mind my scars at all. Had surgery in the spring … out at the pool in the summer. I saw some people look at the scars… didn’t bother me at all. people are generally curious.


  47. MentalMakeovers October 28, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    My original thought, until I read the comment by the incredibly wise 17 year old, was that the older we get the more we accept our imperfections (man-made or otherwise).

    Now I’m wondering if for many of us the more distance we have from the surgery/event, we accommodate to what is now normal?

    I suppose that it is a combination of many factors, including our own sense of “self”.


    • Carolyn Thomas October 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

      I think you’re right, JudyJudith. And our sense of “self” may also be impacted by our culture’s focus on women’s appearance: we shave our armpits, tweeze our brows, dye our grey hair, put coloured polish on our nails – each of which basically says that we’re just not good enough the way Mother Nature made us!


  48. Martie M. October 28, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    I’m not a heart patient (but I do like reading your articles here regularly because they so often contain some gem that’s perfectly applicable to my life!) This article is a good example.

    I do have both (hidden) surgical scars and (very visible) burn scars. The more visible the scar (mine are on my neck and chin area) the harder it is to say something like “I love my scars!” I can’t say I’m there yet, the best I can say is that after years of being painfully aware of people looking at me and then quickly looking away, I’ve learned to try not to take others’ awkwardness or curiosity personally. Still learning every day.


    • Carolyn Thomas October 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      So true, Martie. Everything is relative. There’s a big difference in choosing not to hide a scar that is “hide-able” vs not being able to hide a scar that is always visible. Thanks for sharing a unique story about scars.


  49. Scottie October 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Hello Carolyn,
    It’s so sad to read some of the first quotes from women who feel so bad about themselves and their bodies and their scars.

    Thank you for sharing this kind of information here. It’s useful for ALL kinds of scars and “imperfections” we live with.

    Good stuff.


    • Carolyn Thomas October 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks Scottie. There’s no predicting how we will respond, positively or negatively, to the sight of something so shockingly new, is there? Everybody handles this perception differently.


  50. Sherry Michalenko October 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    I don’t have any feeling yet about my scar. I guess still in shock I had surgery maybe. I would like to know I can talk to someone when these feelings start


    • Carolyn Thomas October 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Sherry. Just take each day as it comes – you may be surprised at what kind of feelings come up as you recuperate – just remember that whatever you feel is “normal”!


  51. HateMyZipper October 26, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I guess I’m just not at the point where I can look proudly at my “battle scar” and feel anything but disgust and concern. I feel very self-conscious and wear only high-neck tops, yes even during the past summer on the hottest days. Maybe I will eventually get used to this like some of these other heart patients say, but right now I doubt it.


    • Carolyn Thomas October 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      Sounds like you are in fairly early days yet, HMZ. Remember that healing means both physical and psychological recovery as Calista mentions below. And getting used to this new look takes time. One day at a time. Best of luck to you.


  52. Calista October 26, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Thanks Carolyn for this important topic. Nobody warns you when you leave hospital how living with this new very visible scar will feel especially for women who let’s face it have wardrobes that generally tend to expose more skin than most men do. I experienced both ends of the extremes – from being embarrassed and horrified by my scar at the beginning immediately post-op, to being perfectly okay with it (sometimes even unaware!) today.

    But this is a long journey both physically and psychologically as you so wisely describe in your other Heart Sisters posts here. THX! 🙂


    • Carolyn Thomas October 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

      You are so right. I think we sometimes underestimate how long this journey will take, and nobody can prepare us for something we believe will never happen to us in the first place. Thanks for your perspective on this, Calista.


      • Mirjami October 28, 2012 at 10:24 am #

        My heart bypass scar was never a problem for me. Even the over 50 cm long scar in my leg, from where the vein was taken for the bypass. This vein was a good one. It serves my heart since 1983.


        • Carolyn Thomas October 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

          Thanks for mentioning the leg scar from the “harvest field” – yet another even more visible scar to be either hidden or celebrated! 1983 – You are a cardiac pioneer, Mirjami! 🙂


          • Mary Jo Alford April 23, 2019 at 3:45 am #

            I had open heart surgery for a thoracic aortic aneurysm 4 1/2 months ago, Dec. 6th 2018. I love my scar and show it off all the time.

            I’m proud I’m alive and doing so good. I call it my zipper. I’m thankful God gave me a 2nd chance in life.

            Sometimes it still hurts but I’m sure that will all go away with time. I was so grateful I had something that the doctors could fix. My surgeon was amazing and said an amazing prayer over me before they took me back for my surgery and all that fear I had lifted up out of my chest at that time.

            It was something that I had never experience before. God is so good. My life was important. Thank you,
            Mary Jo

            Liked by 1 person

            • Carolyn Thomas April 26, 2019 at 6:47 am #

              Hello Mary Jo – you are still in very early days, post-surgery and already your attitude is remarkably positive. I hope your healing will continue uneventfully over time.

              Your life is indeed important, just as all lives are (even of course the ones who don’t survive open heart surgery).



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