T Nation

Just Had Major Surgery, Can't Lift

Hey guys, I think this is my first thread on the nation, so here it goes…

I was born with a heart condition called tetralogy of fallot. While it is a very rare disease, it is still one of the most common types of congenital heart disease. The important details of the condition are a hole between the two lower chambers of the heart (which was fixed through surgery at 9 months) and a faulty pulmonary valve (which was partially-repaired at the same time).

The result had been some leakage through this valve, which caused the right side of my heart to enlarge. This enlargement resulted in abnormal beats. It finally got to the point where surgery was optimal.

So last Tuesday I drive down to Philadelphia as the ass crack of dawn to get papa a brand new pair of shoes, and by shoes, I mean a new pulmonary valve created from the tissue surrounding a calf’s heart. The surgery went as fantastic as open-heart surgery can. They put in the new valve without incident and they did what’s called a maze procedure to fix the rhythm of my heart until my right side reduces in size.

I made it out of the hospital about as fast as any of the doctors had seen, although I had the advantage of being 21 years old and in otherwise great health. So This past Friday, I went home.

And now to my questions…

Leading up to the procedure, I was by all accounts tiny according to the standards of T-Muscle. I was 5’10" and a lean 162. This weight, however, was intentional since additional size would have put unnecessary strain on my heart. I was benching my body weight (well, 165) for reps (6 or so), squatting 225 for reps (12 or so), and I recently had set a deadlift PR of 305 for 1 rep.

Unfortunately, by the time I left the hospital, I had dropped 10 pounds, although some of this was water due to the lasix I had been on in the hospital. Since coming off of the lasix, my weight has rebounded to a steady 155.

Here is where my restrictions come in… I am not allowed to lift anything over 10 pounds for another 5 weeks for so. And I don’t mean to say that they are encouraging me to beast out some 10 lb db curls or some flat db presses w/ the 5’s. In fact, I am basically to avoid lifting stuff as much as possible while my sternum is healing. I also will not be able to jog or do anything beyond walking until about that same time too.

Once I am given the go for lifting, it will be a slow process. There will be much pain associated with lifting much more than 10 lbs at the start. All in all, they tell me it will take up to a year to reach my strength levels from pre-surgery, however I am optimistic, especially on leg lifts.

So this is my predicament. What suggestions do you guys have for my recovery? I am hoping to not lose all of the little bit of muscle that I had. I am also hoping not to gain a whole lot of weight while I’m not lifting. I assume food is my only weapon right now. I have been eating clean since returning from the hospital… protein shakes spiked w/ leucine and superfood, lots of eggs cooked in coconut oil, fish oil, meats, oatmeal, etc. Is there anything else I can be doing over the next 5 weeks or so until I can start looking to move some weights around? Does anyone have any suggestions on a program for easing myself back into lifting once I get cleared?

While it is frustrating not being able to do anything right now, I am certainly excited at the prospect of ditching the size M shirts in time.

Thanks, I appreciate your time in reading this novel. And yes, I ran some searches and couldn’t find the information I was looking for.

And just for reference, here is a list of my current supps:
Fish oil
Vit D
Protein powder (milk protein isolate and rice protein blend is what I’ve been taking since the surgery, I also of course have whey available)
Fiber tabs

And things I have that I’m not currently taking:
creatine (had been on it for a while, needed a break, probably will restart in a week or two)

Thanks again

You have the right attitude. Just had surgery last week too. Am starting walkng 4 miles a day and will add a back pack next week and work up to 50#. I’m guessing it will not take you a year to get your strength back.

I’m glad the surgery went well. That is by far the most important thing.

In all truthfulness, nobody on here is qualified to answer these questions for you. I would first and formost talk to your doctor about all exercise, nutrition, and supplementation needs.

In my VERY unprofessional/uneducated opinion, I would be hesitant towards anything that places a lot of strain on the body unless the doctors feel this is okay. Explain the exercise (including working weights of the exercise). I can’t imagine things like sprints or 20 rep squats would be good.

Take care!


Don’t worry about losing muscle. When you are able to lift again, it will come back. You won’t gain too much fat as long as you eat sensibly. Don’t undereat, though; that might slow recovery. Don’t do anything you doctors say not to do. I’ve seen people disregard resting instructions after surgery (not your exact procedure, of course), and it was not pretty.

Best wishes for a great recovery, Curt.

Good on you. I just had major surgery myself (hip replacement) and am in roughly the same situation. My advice would be to accept that your body has to concentrate on healing for some months. That doesn’t mean sitting in a recliner, but you have to do little things and let them add up. When your body complains, listen.

Just getting rid of the effects of anesthesia (I used to date a girl named Anesthesia. She was a bore.) will take 4-6 weeks, deep healing 2-3 months.

Anyway, you’re lucky deadlifts and squats are out for me.


Thanks for all the responses guys. I was getting a little down about not being able to lift, but I’m begrudgingly beginning to accept all that this recovery will require of me. For the time being, I’ll continue my walks and to eat plenty of protein, fruit, and veg to allow my body to repair itself and look forward to getting cleared to lift, at which point I’ll continue to listen to my body about what I’m ready to do.

Thanks again

Just stopping by to give an update.

All was going well for the first 3 weeks of my recovery. During the 4th week, I started having a few dizzy spells. I wore a heart monitor for a day, and at teh end of that week, i had my 4 week follow up appt. They detected some long-ish pauses in my heart rhythm. While the length of the pauses were not a problem, they were worried that they would get worse temporarily while my heart was still recovering from the procedure.

Long story short, I got a pacemaker put in last Monday, and I’m basically back to square one. I have to wait another 4 weeks before I can even think about any lifting that involves extending my left arm or raising it above shoulder height. Luckily, lower body lifts which do no require holding weight or putting pressure on my upper body (namely BW squats, seated calf raise, standing calf raises w/ no weight, leg extensions, and leg curls) will not pose a problem.

The discouraging part is that there is a chance I will not be allowed to lift “heavy” with my arms ever again depending on the placement of the pacemaker… I still need to get this cleared up in my situation. Even in the best case scenario, it is likely 2 months or more until I can perform a benchpress, overhead press, lat pulldown, pullups, or deadlifts with any sort of challenging weight.

While I have come to terms with the possibility of not being able to lift heavy, the part that is frustrating is the comments from the docs. When I express interest in lifting weights, they pretty much all give me the same uniform response “Just lift light weights for lots of reps… it’s better for tone anyway”.

Anyhow, I will update again when I know more. I have an appt on July 19th and will possibly be making some calls prior to that discussing long term affects of the procedure.


Curt, your situation might appear very bleak, but trust me the human body can do some amazing things. Layoffs always hurt and are a pain, but trust me…you will get better and be able to do what you want! Stay positive and keep the faith man. Will your body to be healthy because the mind is more powerful than you think. I think you can do it.

Now you have to as well! Follow your doctors orders, get plenty of sleep and keep eating well. Things will workout…you’ll see. You’ll be back before you know it!

Excellent update to give:

I will be able to resume lifting in 2 weeks! Granted, I am very weak and will be taking it very slowly to start, but the thought of just getting back into my school’s gym and not heading straight to the leg extension machine is very exciting. I think I am even going to try a poor man’s anaconda protocol in a few months when I am confident that I can push myself hard again.

something along the lines of…
-60: 1 scoop Power Drive (only way I can lift before 2 meals… highly underrated product)
-30: 2 FINiBARs, 2g creatine mono
-10: first 1/4 of 2 scoops MAG-10
intra: other 3/4 of MAG-10
+40: 50g whey, 2g creatine
+80: solid meal

Hopefully this will help me get back to where I was a few months ago sooner than I had planned :slight_smile:

Glad to hear it buddy! You’ll definitely get back, no worries :slight_smile: