Patient Finds Leading Cardiac Surgeon on Internet, Flies From Arizona for Mitral Valve Repair
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By Kent Krueger
I'm writing this just a week after I had surgery to repair the mitral valve in my heart.
Before I start I would like to thank my friends and family for all their prayers thoughts and best wishes in this ordeal.
When I was in my 30s, I was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) and at that time the doctor said nothing needed to be done. This is a genetic condition that I have since learned that my father also had.
Recently, I had my annual appointment with my Cardiologist. I expected to get a status quo report that I would still require surgery on my mitral valve in about five to seven years. My wife and I received a shock at the appointment. When the doctor took out a piece of paper and wrote down numbers in two columns and then started to compare the numbers, I started to get an uneasy feeling. He proceeded to say that my regurgitation and leakage from my mitral valve had become severe, causing my heart to enlarge. He recommended heart surgery within the next year. He made an appointment for us to talk with a cardiac surgeon at Mayo Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona.
We met with the cardiac surgeon at Mayo Hospital and we discussed my options: repair vs. replacement of the mitral valve. Due to my current age of 54 and my other health issues, it was extremely important to me that the valve be repaired and not replaced. When the mitral valve is replaced with a mechanical one, it would have required blood thinners for the rest of my life. With my other health issues, that would not be a good option. Another option would be to replace the mitral valve with a valve from an animal (pig or cow), and that would mean I would be facing another surgery in about 10 to 15 years. Animal tissue valves only last about 10 to 15 years. We also discussed minimally invasive vs. cracking the chest. He suggested that I have a TEE (transesophageal echocardiogram), which was scheduled for the following week.
I had the TEE and it confirmed what the initial echo showed. We met with the surgeon again after the TEE and he felt there was an 80-85 percent chance he could repair the mitral valve and the surgery could be performed minimally invasively. My wife inquired as to his experience with this procedure, and he responded that he does on average about 20 to 25 mitral valve surgeries per year.
In the meantime, I started to do some research on the internet and found there were about five surgeons in the USA that completed more than 200 of these mitral valve repairs a year with a repair rate of approximately 95 percent. The surgeon located in Maryland, Dr. James Gammie, had a video on the internet and stated "there is no better valve than the one God gave you," and at the end of the video he said "Repair, repair, repair." After watching the video I immediately called Dr. James Gammie's office at the University Of Maryland Medical Center and then forwarded all of my test results to them for review. They confirmed that I needed to have my mitral valve operated on but could not make a determination if it was possible to repair it until they got a copy of the CDs from my Echo and TEE.
At this time I decided to schedule an appointment to have surgery and proceeded to make my airline reservations for my wife and I to fly to Baltimore. Since our son lives south of Baltimore, having the surgery done in Maryland was an attractive alternative to the Phoenix area.
About four days after Dr. Gammie received the CDs from my Echos and the day before my flight to Maryland, Dr. Gammie concluded that I had "classic mitral valve prolapse" with a 95 to 98 percent chance he would be able to repair the valve. Hearing this news made it became obvious that I made the right decision.
We finally met with Dr. Gammie and his nurse practitioner. He went over the procedure and what would happen. He informed me that there was a greater risk for me to not have the surgery than to have it. He also did not minimize the procedure and informed us of all possible outcomes.
Dr. Gammie successfully repaired the mitral valve. I spent 24 hours following surgery in the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit (CSICU). My nurses were absolutely excellent, and I could not have asked for better care. On Saturday, 24 hours after my surgery, I walked from the CSICU to the step down unit in the hospital.
I was in the step down unit for four days, at which time I was released from the hospital. Prior to my release, they did an Echo and concluded that there was no Mitral Valve regurgitation. I couldn't have asked for better news. The nurses and entire staff in the step down unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center were wonderful.
Last, I would like to profoundly thank Dr. Gammie and his entire staff. They answered all of my numerous questions and explained the procedure in detail. They were professional and caring and I could not have asked for a better team behind me for my surgery.