Elizabeth Norris

Virginia resident Elizabeth Norris never suspected anything was wrong with her heart. However, the results of an echocardiography test and cardiac catheterization indicated she had severe mitral valve regurgitation and needed surgery to correct the problem. Her physician referred her to Dr. James Gammie at the University of Maryland Medical Center, an expert in mitral valve surgery, who was able to successfully repair her leaking valve. Read her story below.

My name is Elizabeth Norris and I underwent minimally invasive mitral valve repair at UMMC.

Initially, I had no idea that there was anything wrong with my heart. I did have heart palpitations, but I was never concerned because I thought everyone had them. Then, I noticed I couldn't leap up the stairs like I used to, but I just attributed that to getting older. I was always active; I worked out at a gym regularly, took five-mile walks, had 13 flower beds to tend to and always watched my weight and fat intake.

I had strep throat several times as a child and also as an adult. The last time I had it was around the year 2000, and because I didn't have a fever, I put off going to the doctor. That was also right around the time that my heart valve problem advanced. I was still in denial because I was so active. Over the next 10 years, I gradually stopped walking as often, I cut back on my days at the gym and slowly lost my energy.

My doctor ordered a transesophageal echocardiography test and a cardiac catheterization, and the results indicated that I had severe mitral valve regurgitation that could only be corrected through heart valve surgery. That is when my wonderful cardiologist, Dr. Azita Moalemi, suggested that I see an expert in mitral valve surgery, Dr. James Gammie.

Although I live in Alexandria, Va., and traffic to Baltimore can be quite hectic at times, I made the appointment to see Dr. Gammie. At my consultation, I met the great staff that assists Dr. Gammie throughout the entire process of heart valve surgery. His physician assistant listened to absolutely everything, she read between the lines and she took copious notes, even asking me to slow down because I was so anxious.

When I met Dr. Gammie, he was kind, gentle and caring. He gave me a 98 percent chance that he could repair my valve instead of replace it. I was ecstatic to hear the news! I was also a candidate for the minimally invasive surgery, something for which I was also grateful because I was so afraid to have my sternum cut open. When scheduling the appointment at the same visit, I tried to put it off a few months to accommodate my work schedule, but Dr. Gammie remarked that he could not guarantee that he would be able to repair it at the 98 percent rate if I waited two and a half months from that day, so I went home with no scheduled appointment. An hour after being home, it dawned on me how foolish I was. I immediately called Mary the next morning and she scheduled me to have the surgery a week later.

I was truly scared about the surgery, but my fears started to melt away once I viewed the webcast showing Dr. Gammie performing the actual procedure. It was absolutely fascinating to watch! It was so educational and it made the surgery seem not so bad since these were experts and they were teaching others how to perform this procedure. I realized the surgery was very complex, and the doctors, nurses, technicians and everyone else involved needed to be perfectionists.

Surgery day was upon me before I knew it. My husband squeezed my hand and kissed me, and that's the last thing I remember before waking up. As soon as I woke up, a nurse was at my bedside to comfort me. That nurse was an angel! She made me feel as comfortable as she could. I was in no pain except for a sore throat.

Later, I was moved into a different room. The doctors and nurses were so patient with me. I was not in pain and I was as comfortable as one could be. Each day the wonderful team of doctors/surgeons, including Dr. Gammie, came to check on me. I was delighted that he was able to actually repair and not replace my valve. He also confirmed that I was an easy case and that my heart valve had in fact been damaged by my several bouts of strep throat. The nurses, technicians, cleaning lady, physical therapist, X-ray technician and woman who drew my blood were all so kind, helpful, caring and comforting. I was so comforted by how clean everything was kept and how mindful every single person was who tended to me.

I am truly a lucky person to have had a successful surgery with a repair instead of replacement. I am lucky to have landed in a wonderful hospital! Dr. Gammie can repair valves that most doctors would just replace. He is kind and gentle, and his team of nurses and doctors were wonderful.

So, anyone out there even thinking of having this surgery -- don't panic! The wonderful doctors and nurses are right there next to you -- just like angels. They are ready to comfort you the moment you wake up. I am grateful and humbled by the experience. I recommend Dr. Gammie and the University of Maryland Medical Center to anyone considering the surgery.