“[My pillow] was a badge of honor. It symbolized everything I’d been through.”
Sometimes heart failure is not a result of lifestyle choices; in fact, a fluke outside your control can cause it. In Brandi’s case, an infection from a brief stay in a hospital settled in her heart, causing damage to her valves. She had enough time before her scheduled valve replacement surgery to research the process and recovery. So Brandi knew going into surgery that her Shumsky Therapeutic Pillow was a key to her recovery. Here’s her story.
Back in 2002, Brandi had a brief stay in a hospital for a miscarriage. After she got home, she started feeling bad, with pain in her arm and violent chills. Her bloodwork showed an infection somewhere in her body, but they weren’t able to find where it started. It took doctors about three weeks to determine it settled on her heart’s tricuspid valve. An infectious disease doctor inserted a PICC line and sent her home with a home health nurse.
One day, when the nurse came to check on Brandi, she was alarmed at the fluid Brandi retained and took her to the hospital. The cardiologist confirmed it was endocarditis. He suggested surgery, but the surgeon had other ideas. He gave Brandi a 24-hour course of intravenous antibiotics, and when she showed progress, he called for another 24-hour course. While several sets of 24-hour treatments killed the endocarditis, it had already damaged her heart.
In 2008, after the high-risk births of both of her children, her heart condition worsened. Brandi had a team of cardiologists and surgeons who monitored her heart closely but wanted to put off valve replacement surgery as long as possible.
Brandi dealt with years of tests and therapies until August 2017, right around the time Hurricane Harvey was whipping up chaos. Her team of cardiologists and surgeons agreed: It was time. They scheduled her for tricuspid valve replacement surgery.
She was in good hands with Dr. Lawrie at Houston Methodist Debakey Heart & Vascular Center, who was also Barbara Bush’s surgeon. Thanks to years of research and asking the right questions, Brandi knew exactly what she faced and how she could help her recovery. She’d already seen heart surgery patients use their therapeutic pillows that helped them move more with less pain.
Brandi’s valve replacement surgery went well, and when she woke up, the nurses explained how to use the therapeutic heart pillow to help her move. Since movement is important for recovery and to keep fluid from building up, she found the heart pillow helped her manage pain better.
“Heart surgery makes you feel really fragile,” said Brandi. But the pillow helped her work hard at cardiac rehabilitation, and she’s proud to say she can now do pushups without pain. She credits how easy pain management was with her Shumsky Therapeutic Pillow. “Hugging that pillow was like closing the wound.”
Thanks to the time she had before surgery to research, she knew about the heart pillow in advance. Brandi can’t imagine not having one after open heart surgery.
“The symbolic notion of having a heart pillow is one of emotional support. And still to this day, I bring it with me even though I don’t need it.”
Her advice to others
“You have to use the pillow. It’s a big part of your recovery from the physical impact of having your sternum cut open.”
She said the pillow has just the right amount of firmness, and the shape is a perfect fit in your arms to support alignment. Of all the pillows she had access to in the hospital and those she had around her home, she always turned to the heart pillow first.
Brandi feels like whenever she sees someone with their therapeutic heart pillow, she understands them better. It’s a rite of passage, and it’s a token of accomplishment.
“I think using the pillow should be mandatory. I can’t imagine what [hospitals who don’t offer the pillow] use to teach people afterwards how to move.”
“I still have my pillow right here. It’s very sentimental to me. It’s a sign that I’ve recovered from heart surgery.”
Is your surgical unit taking advantage of this important comfort care measure? Patients like Brandi from around the country are earnest about the Shumsky Therapeutic Pillow’s huge impact on their recovery. It’s an inexpensive and easy-to-customize way to support your patients after surgery and make them feel special.