This Astrophysicist Blogged Her Open-Heart Surgery

Summer Ash

Photo: Defective Heart Girl Problems

On April 19, Dr. Allan Stewart told Summer Ash that she needed open heart surgery. Summer is a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University in the Astrophysics department.She blogs at Newtonianism for the Ladies, tweets as @Summer_Ash, and is the in-house Astrophysicist for The Rachel Maddow Show.

When she found out she would need major surgery, she started blogging at “Defective Heart Girl Problems” to document her experience. You can see her whole journey there.

She underwent a successful surgery on July 18, and armed her surgeons with her iPhone to take pictures of her during surgery. Be warned, some of the images in this slideshow are quite graphic. 

The diagnosis.

Summer was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, which is when one of the major blood vessels leading away from the heart gets stretched out. It was caused by a physical abnormality with Summer's heart: her aortic valve has two instead of three flaps. Many people live their entire lives without having problems from this abnormality, but Summer wasn't that lucky.

Headed in.

In this image, summer's about to go into surgery. The surgeons went in and replaced her aorta with one made of a man-made 'dacron graft,' which should last the rest of her life.

The heart of the matter.

This image is of her heart when they first opened her up. From Summer's blog post about her surgery day:

'To get to this point, my surgeon has cut the skin directly down the middle of my chest over my sternum, used a bone saw to cut my sternum in half, used a scalpel to open the sac around my chest cavity, and then used a scalpel again to open the pericardial sac that holds my heart. You can see a flap of the pericardial sac to the right in opening.'

Replacement parts.

Here's the doctors putting in the graft, after putting Summer on a heart-lung bypass machine and stopping her heart so they could take out the stretched out area. You can see how much smaller the heart is when it's not full of blood.


Here's the scar one week after surgery. Everything went well, but as you would expect there's a lot of pain, because the doctors had to completely crack her sternum to access her heart in that way.

Headed home.

Summer left the hospital five days after surgery, and has been recuperating at home since. See more about her experiences in the last few months on her blog: 'Defective Heart Girl Problems'

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