How do Heart Surgery Survivors view their scars?

Written By Steve an an Adult Congenital Heart Defect Survivor from Adventures of a Funky Heart!

The small, short item I posted yesterday (Overheard) led to a lot of comments and discussion on my Facebook page, much more than I ever anticipated. With that in mind, I did a little research to see if there were any studies of attitudes of Heart Surgery Survivors toward their scars.

Minimally invasive surgical techniques are still being developed, so the overwhelming majority of us have a scar. The two most common are the Sternotomy scar, which is the traditional scar in the center of the chest, and the other one is the Thoracotomy scar, which begins in the center of the chest, curves under one arm, and ends near the center of the back.

A 2005 study done in the United Kingdom asked patients with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) surgical scar to take part in a structured interview that would explore their attitude about their scars. 201 patients took part: 105 of them had a Sternotomy scar; 36 had a Thoracotomy scar; and 60 patients had both.

The study showed that roughly the same percentage in each group “reported that they did not like or hated their scar”: 22% disliked their Sternotomy scar, 25% their Thoracotomy scar, and 28% of those with both scars disliked them. 56% of the respondents said that their scars affected their choice of clothing but unusually enough, further study showed that a Thoracotomy scar was looked on less favorably by the patient. I found this unusual, as the Thoracotomy scars under my arms are easier to conceal. I rarely think about them – I am much more likely to button one more button of my shirt to hide the scar down the center of my chest. The study does not provide information about the male/female breakdown of the study, so I have no idea if that may be a factor. (UPDATE: A female survivor on Facebook commented that Thoracotomy scars affected her choice of bras. Obviously a male would never consider that!)

A 2006 Canadian study of adults with Congenital Heart Defects established a similar result. 58% of the respondents saw themselves as “disfigured,” but 60% said that the scarring did not bother them as much now (At the time of the study) as it had during their younger years. 19% felt negatively about their scar, 22% felt positive, and 58% were neutral. And 61% of the participants “reported a positive effect on appreciation of health.”

Heart Surgery survivors – and everyone else – fall into the “Beautiful = Better” trap when we are young. But as we age, we seem to be able to come to grips with what we’ve been through and what those gashes on our chests really mean. We may never have the attitude of the soldier mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry V – “Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’”

But we know who we are, and we understand what we’ve been through. We are, literally, a Band of Brothers and Sisters: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”

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Adventures of a Funky Heart! is written by an Adult Congenital Heart Defect Survivor

Adventures of a Funky Heart!