Life After Heart Surgery

High-profile patients are living full, rich lives.

By Erin Gulden, Editor

Heart disease is responsible for nearly a quarter of all deaths in America. Earlier this year, "American Bandstand" host Dick Clark and Davy Jones of "The Monkees" died of heart attacks.

But there are plenty of celebrities who have survived heart scares. They’re demonstrating how to live full, busy lives, even after heart surgery.

Celebrities who have had surgery for certain valvular disorders include:

Celebrities who have had bypass surgery include:

Post-surgery rehab

People who have had a variety of heart events may end up in cardiac rehabilitation. Those include heart attack, coronary bypass, valve repair or replacement or other heart procedures, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Your cardiac rehab team may include a family doctor, heart specialist, surgeon, nurses, exercise specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians and mental health specialists, according to the NHLBI. You may also have a case manager.

According to the American Heart Association, a supervised cardiac rehab program can:

What you do in rehab depends on your situation. If you’ve had major heart surgery, you may start by sitting in a chair or taking a few steps. Then you’ll work on range-of-motion exercises.

Over time, you’ll increase your activity. Typically, your team will ask you to do 20 to 45 minutes of aerobic activity three to five days a week, the NHLBI says. They may also ask you to do strength-training exercises two to three days a week.

For the first two to three months, you’ll have a regular schedule of rehab visits. After that, your team may recommend fewer appointments. Overall, you may work with your team for three months or more. It’s important to work closely with your doctor.

“People who have had bypass surgery or a heart attack can run a marathon if they want, as long as they work closely with their physician,” says cardiologist Dr. Christine Lawless.

But the AHA stresses that most people who had open-heart surgery or a cardiac event need to make some changes, especially to prevent future heart problems.

Celebrity success stories

Celebrities are showing that they are living full lives after their heart scares.

Robin Williams, the comic known for his boundless energy, cut his stand-up tour short in 2009 after experiencing shortness of breath. He had a stress test. Doctors determined that he needed a new aortic valve. His surgery was a success.

“I am much more grateful for everything,” Williams, 61, told Barbara Walters, a fellow heart-surgery survivor, in 2011. “I’ve been given a second chance.”

Williams returned to the stand-up stage three months after surgery. And now he’s ramping up his movie roles. The surgery also did not stop Williams’ love of biking. The avid cyclist says he “still bikes everywhere, only a little bit slower.”

Heart attack warning signs

Each year, about 1.2 million people in the United States have heart attacks. Coronary heart disease, which often results in heart attacks, is the leading killer of men and women in the United States. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Do not wait.

The most common warning signs are:

Other possible symptoms include: