Hello, I had a liver tx., and recovery time is 1yr.. Although I feel I was completely healed in about half that time. Everyone is different, so it is hard to say. Plus the fact it is completely different surgery. I would think a few months. Your chest being opened will not be as bad as you think. Liver tx. is simular, only bigger. I was healed completely in about 3 months from being opened up. Actually it is suprising how fast a person heals! I was told that older people do better in any tx. surgery, than younger people, so you have that advantage. :o)
Maybe you've had your surgery by now. Here are a few thoughts, anyway.
I am your age, female, just two months today from an aortic valve replacement. I wanted the xenograft (in my case, a pig valve), which many surgeons didn't used to think was as good for "young people" (people our age--isn't it great to be in a population where we are the "young" and "healthy" ones, for a change?) but several recent studies show that it's an excellent option for us.
Before surgery, I read and studied everything I could find about the aortic valve, aortic stenosis, types of implants, recovery expectations, complications, mortality, morbidity, everything EXCEPT that dreaded sternotomy. THAT, after my youngest referred to it as "cracking me open" (like a chicken? or a lobster?), nobody was allowed to mention in my presence.
Guess what? It's no big deal. The incision heals quickly, and there isn't all that much pain. Besides, on the cardiac unit they don't believe in having pain--they think pain impairs healing--so you can be confident they won't LET you be in pain. After you leave the hospital, you may have some uncomfortable feelings with things moving around finding new homes in your chest and places where IVs were inserted and that kind of thing. Imho, though, you have a big advantage--the most persistent pain I have had is where the incision wandered into parts of the chest where you guys don't even have parts!
You may not recognize your chest right away after surgery--big bump at the top, sharp vertical ridge under the incision, several inches of blue wire hanging from your lower chest (that's only for a few days, so don't waste them--it's great for grossing out your family and friends). When they tell you your chest will soon return to normal, it's hard to believe, especially when your helpful M.D. daughter looks grave and says, "I don't see how." But it does. In fact, everything has happened faster than I expected; the first month or six weeks I was always saying, "Wow! I can't believe I'm doing [whatever]! Two, three, four days ago, I couldn't have imagined being able to do this now." They say it takes a year to feel normal, but the recovery is totally "front-loaded," with most of the improvement in the early part. It had better be, anyway; if I kept getting better at the rate I did during the first month, I'd be Superwoman by the end of the year!
One caveat--you need a magic spell. I picked my "bargain" and I'm sticking to it. My deal with my body was that I would do every single thing my doctor and my reading said to do. I'm not a great rule-follower in general, but for this, I've made an exception. It includes calling my cardiologist right away with any changes, even if they don't seem serious and could maybe wait until the next appointment and I'm not a hypochondriac...etc. Cardiologists are so happy when they get to treat something early, BEFORE it blows up! And about things like not lifting more than 10 lb. in the first three months?--I won't be lifting that 11th lb. until June 10. [At first, in fact, I even had my kids open child-safe pill bottles; you'd be surprised how much that one little maneuver pulls your sternum in opposite directions, while much bigger things don't.] It's all a magical incantation, of course, that if I do everything by the book, I'll make a full recovery. Still, I'm not arguing with success.
Just one more point. In the cardiac post-op unit, I quickly discovered that those of us with isolated valve replacements are soooo lucky, as a group. Our surgery is straightforward, our prognosis is great, we have the fewest and least serious post-surgical problems. It's been a great antidote to the anger, fear, depression, etc. that hit like a ton of bricks when I got the diagnosis.
Good luck. If you have a minute, will you let me know how it's going, or how it went? Thanks.