Doctor Godby with group of Sutter RN nurses

Halfway point in recovery

Sacramento, Calif. – Lately, the most difficult thing about this open-heart surgery recovery is not the sternum pain but, surprisingly, it is the inability to help my wife with her extensive spring garden projects. I can, however, make icy electrolyte drinks for the workers! I’m at about the halfway point in my recovery from mitral valve replacement surgery. Patience is required.

Every minute, of every day, I have been trying to avoid putting any pressure on my broken and healing sternum. Any little pressure, whether it’s opening a door, sneezing, or walking by a floor fan with the breeze coming at chest high, is easily felt and uncomfortable. Lifting anything over 5 pounds is absolutely forbidden. After all, the nurse practitioner pointed out that it takes 6-8 weeks for the bone to heal.

↬ Summer Fun Starts Here ↫

⤥ Summer Fun Starts Here ⤦

⤥ Summer Fun Starts Here ⤦

⤥ Summer Fun Starts Here ⤦

Exercise continues

I’m now walking about 10,000 steps per day (about 4.5 miles), but slowly. I’m not breaking any walking speed records! It feels great to walk and is both a stress-reducer, and a beautiful way to enjoy my Northern California springtime! It does not seem to be depleting the energy needed for healing.

At a recent appointment with a nurse practitioner to check how my wound was healing, Joanie, the nurse practitioner, said that my sternum healing was on the correct side of the Bell curve – that the wound was healing wonderfully. During our visit Joanie mentioned the organization, American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and I was pleased to hear her talk about it, as I had just joined ACLM a couple of weeks ago. She, like myself, is all about lifestyle change. How refreshing! I continue to be impressed by the compassion, caring, and concern from both nurse practitioners I have seen.

Blood Tests

Dr Dennis Godby

Because of some fatigue a couple of weeks ago, which could at least be partially explained by my poor sleep quality and quantity, I asked my nurse practitioner to run some blood tests, especially iron since my wife thought I may be anemic after the surgery. It turns out I was anemic. My serum iron was only 31 (should be above 75) and % saturation was only 9 (should be above 30), and CBC markers did indeed show iron deficiency. Men typically don’t have iron deficiency anemia. Since I was not going to my Naturopathic office regularly, I made the mistake of purchasing iron in a retail store. Then, just this past Friday, I noticed my BMs were very black, like I have never seen before – the color and consistency of charcoal. I called Joanie and asked her if black stools could be normal, post-surgery. She said, absolutely not! So, before panicking, I began reviewing what food and supplements I was taking that may have been causing the blackness, and realized it was probably the iron tablets I was taking. So, I stopped the iron, and my BMs have returned to normal!

What has been incredibly interesting, but also a little alarming, is that my heart seems to be having a hard time regulating itself after the surgery. My fasting heart, the month prior to surgery, ranged from 53-63, but my May average, not including the time in the hospital, was 48-78. Yesterday, my heart rate, according to my watch, went all the way down to 33, and went as high as 160, without interval training. The formula for maximum heart rate is 220-age. My maximum heart rate for my age is only 153. Prior to the surgery, my high intensity training level would be only 140-150.

The last few days, my VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen one’s body can consume during exercise, also called cardiorespiratory fitness), has dropped to its lowest point, 31.6, since January 2021, when I started wearing the watch. My highest VO2 max has been 41, which is considered to be a high level of fitness. The day before the surgery, May 2, my VO2 Max was 40.1 and it has been declining since May 2. I don’t know how reliable the Apple Watch is for heart functions, but I haven’t seen such large fluctuations like this before.

I’m no longer concerned about my appetite! Yesterday after my blood draw I stopped at my favorite taqueria for a Super Burrito! Although I was very full when I finished, it felt good to eat a tasty meal.

Sleep is something else! My body feels like I’m on Eastern Standard Time, as I awake every day at 4 am. My body wants to be in bed between 8-9 pm, that is PST! My sleep borders from restless to sleeping soundly for several hours at a time! I have not tried any of our awesome supplements for sleep, but I should.

I’m still on the drug, Warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner, until at least July 26 when I meet with my cardiologist, just 3 weeks prior to the start of the walk. In the beginning, monitoring INR/Prothrombin frequently is extremely important. I was getting my blood drawn 2-3 times per week so that the Sutter Anticoagulation Program would be able to tell me how much Warfarin I should be taking daily. I’m now down to once-a-week monitoring.

Back to work

I went back to my office last week, Monday through Thursday, seeing patients all day, but also, making sure to schedule a few breaks throughout the day. My passion to help my patients, to be the healthiest version of themselves possible, is still sky high! I have already started putting an even greater emphasis on cardiovascular testing since finding out about my murmur. I would highly recommend testing, even for young adults, to determine whether one has a genetic propensity for cardiovascular disease. Some of the tests I recommend are lipoprotein a, oxidized LDL, homocysteine, apolipoprotein B, and fibrinogen. The tests can help to determine exactly what lifestyle and supplements may be helpful to lower that specific marker, and consequently, to help prevent cardiovascular disease down the road. Echocardiograms, angiograms, and other cardio tests can determine the actual condition of their heart and arteries, etc. however, it cannot tell a patient why they have the cardio condition. Advanced testing can help explain the why, and help a patient to live preventively, and potentially be able to avoid open-heart surgery. My surgeon told me, knowing that I am a Naturopathic Doctor, “if more people lived preventively, less surgeries would be necessary.”


As I heal, I continue to think how grateful I feel, first, to be alive, secondly, for receiving so much emotional support from so many people across the country, and thirdly, to be living in a time when these surgeries are very common. Also, because of this procedure and hospitalization in the conventional medical system, my passion for health equity, where ALL people have the opportunity of getting the medical help they need, has never been greater. If physically possible, which I believe it will be, I will be in Milwaukee, WI, August 19, to start walking the third leg of Walk USA for Health Equity, ending in Fargo, ND, September 19.

Read Part 1

Dr Dennis Godby

Explore additional topics from Dr. Godby, ND, MA at Natural Wellness.

As a naturopathic doctor for the last 18 years, I have witnessed the power of a preventative lifestyle and naturopathic medicine to transform the health and lives of thousands of patients.

Sacramento Naturopathic
2530 J Street, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95816
Phone: (916) 446-2591

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