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Heart and Vascular Institute Patient Stories

Every day, our heart and vascular health care team makes a difference in the lives of our patients. From providing routine testing to guiding complex heart surgeries, we're there every step of the way to support patients in their recovery.

Here's how that care has had a positive impact in the lives of some of our patients.

Note: These patients' treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

Annette AmendolaAnnette Amendola — C​​oronary Microvascular Dysfunction

Trained as a critical care nurse, Annette Amendola knows the signs and symptoms of a serious heart problem.

At the Heart and Vascular Institute, she received the right diagnosis and treatment allowing her to ride a bike again and attend her daughter’s wedding.

“If your physical complaints aren’t being acknowledged, seek second opinions,” said Annette. “When it comes to your heart, don’t be complacent.”

» Read Annette's story.

Lois BallogLois Ballog — Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)

Lois Ballog, a competitive swimmer, developed numbness in her hand following shoulder surgery. She hoped to find relief from physical therapy, but when that didn’t help, she came to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

Michael Singh, MD, chief of Vascular Surgery at UPMC Shadyside, diagnosed Lois with a compression disorder called neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). Lois underwent successful surgery with Dr. Singh and his team last fall and is grateful to be living a normal life again.

» Read Lois' story.

Ralph BishRalph Bish — Atrial Fibrillation

Ralph Bish has atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common kind of irregular heartbeat. AFib raises stroke risk, and like many people, Ralph kept his risk low by taking blood thinners.

When he developed complications and needed an alternative treatment, Ralph turned to Raveen Bazaz, MD, an electrophysiologist at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute who is specially trained in the WATCHMAN™ device. The WATCHMAN is a parachute-shaped, implanted device that offers some people with AFib another option for stroke prevention. Ralph underwent a successful WATCHMAN procedure with Dr. Bazaz in November 2015 and no longer takes blood thinners. Today, he’s enjoying better health.

» Read Ralph's story.

Heather BlumHeather Blum — Heart Arrhythmia

Healthy her whole life, 31-year-old Heather Blum started feeling weak and run down. Doctors at the Heart and Vascular Institute found she had a life-threatening heart arrhythmia.

Heather needed open heart surgery and a left ventricle assist device (LVAD) to buy her time waiting for a heart transplant.

Within two months, Heather's heart regained strength and doctors removed the LVAD. She thanks the UPMC artificial heart team for saving her life.

» Read Heather's story.

Birdie Dally - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient StoryBirdie Dally — Mitral Valve Prolapse

When Birdie Dally noticed that she was having problems breathing while singing at church, she saw her doctor right away.

A heart catheterization and stress test found she had mitral valve prolapse.

Just months after having minimally invasive robotic-assisted valve repair surgery, Birdie was back to playing basketball with her grandchildren. She encourages others to not ignore their symptoms and follow up with their doctor.

» Read Birdie's story.

Dan Demarines - Heart and Vascular Institute patientDan Demarines - Mitral Valve Prolapse

Dan Demarines’ chest pain seemed to amplify when he would lie down at night to sleep. As his symptoms worsened, his cardiologist referred him to Vinay Badhwar, MD, at the Heart and Vascular Institute.

Dr. Badhwar immediately diagnosed Dan with a severe form of mitral valve prolapse and repaired his heart valve using minimally invasive robotic surgery.

Just two months later,  Dan was back to doing what he did before his heart problems.

» Read Dan's story.

Abby DiBenedetto - Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Patient StoryAbby DiBenedetto - Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

When ongoing problems with blood clots kept Abby DiBenedetto from enjoying running and yoga, she sought help from the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute and Michael Singh, MD, chief of Vascular Surgery at UPMC Shadyside. Dr. Singh confirmed Abby’s diagnosis of venous thoracic outlet syndrome, a compression disorder that affected a vein in her upper chest.

Abby underwent surgery with Dr. Singh and his team in April 2016, and today, she’s back to her active life.

» Read Abby's story.

Debbie DiStefano - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient StoryDebbie DiStefano - Mitral Valve Prolapse

Debbie DiStefano had been feeling worse and worse following her mitral valve prolapse diagnosis.

When her leaking heart valve was causing her to feel more and more sick, she underwent minimally invasive valve replacement surgery.

Today, Debbie feels better than ever and credits her doctor, Vinay Badhwar, MD to restoring her health and improving her quality of life. She's now able to enjoy working at her family-owned restaurant and spending time with her grandchildren.

» Read Debbie's story.

Jeff Donato - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient StoryJeff Donato - Mitral Valve Prolapse

Jeff Donato races in 10 triathlons a year. So, when he began struggling during his workouts, he went to his primary care doctor.

Jeff found out he was born with a common but serious heart condition called mitral valve prolapse. Untreated, it could cause heart failure.

He had minimally invasive robotic surgery at the Heart and Vascular Institute to repair his leaking mitral valve. Three weeks after surgery, Jeff was running everyday and competed in a triathlon a few months later.

» Read Jeff's story.

Julia Feitner - Pulmonary Hypertension Patient StoryJulia Feitner - Pulmonary Hypertension

Julia Feitner was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) during her second pregnancy. She rushed to Pittsburgh for an emergency Caesarian section and to begin treatment with experts at UPMC's Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Center.

Today, Julia manages her condition with medication and is actively involved in raising awareness about PH.

» Read Julia's story.

Richard Fisher - VAD Patient StoryRichard Fisher - Congestive Heart Failure

After retiring from his job as a truck driver, Richard Fisher was relaxing and enjoying his time with family and friends. But, when his heart complications intervened, he began searching for a solution. Now, after a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) implant procedure, Richard is enjoying being able to live his life the way he chooses.

» Read Richard's story.

Amanda GoehringAmanda Goehring - Myocarditis

p>The virus that attacked 23-year-old Amanda Goehring's heart landed her in the hospital, weak and close to death.

While on an artificial heart pump and waiting for a transplant, her heart recovered to such an extent that she was able to avoid transplantation.

Doctors eventually removed Amanda's heart pump, and she has since married and become a mother.

» Read Amanda's story.

Denis MeighenDenis Meighen - Severe Mitral Regurgitation

Denis Meighen and his wife Nancy were wrapping up their annual stay in Myrtle Beach when he felt shortness of breath. He had a history of heart trouble, including a problem with his mitral valve. Severe mitral regurgitation and congestive heart failure were causing his most recent symptoms.

Because Denis’s medical history made him too high risk for traditional mitral valve repair surgery, his doctors at the UPMC Center for Mitral Valve Disease performed minimally invasive surgery using the MitraClip® to fix his leaking valve.

» Read Denis' story.

Charlene MelcherCharlene Melcher - Aortic Aneursym

Charlene Melcher, an active mom and Realtor in Orlando, Fl., had no idea her heart palpitations were a sign of a serious aortic aneurysm.

After her shocking diagnosis, Charlene and her husband wanted a second opinion, and a nationwide search led them to Thomas Gleason, MD. Charlene underwent successful surgery to replace her aorta and repair her aortic valve and returned to her busy life in Florida three weeks later.

» Read Charlene's story.

Norman MelserNorman Melser - Limb Ischemia

Norman Melser is an avid runner. When he felt severe pain in his right leg, he went to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with limb-threatening ischemia and transferred him to the Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Presbyterian.

A CT scan revealed a clot had migrated to his lower leg blocking blood flow to the foot. UPMC vascular surgeons used minimally invasive catheter directed thrombolysis to break up the clot.

Norman left the hospital after five days and started running just one month later.

» Read Norman's story.

Dennis Polega - Chronic Coronary Total Occlusion Patient StoryDennis Polega - Chronic Coronary Total Occlusion

Dennis Polega thought he was having a mild heart attack when he became short-of-breath and fatigued. He went to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him with chronic coronary total occlusion (CTO).

Dennis made an appointment with Catalin Toma, MD, at the Heart and Vascular Institute. Dr. Toma is an expert at performing angioplasty for people with CTO.

Dennis had the procedure and was out of the hospital after a weekend. Now fully recovered, he's back to enjoying all the things he couldn't before.

» Read Dennis's story.

Tom PredisTom Predis - Atrial Fibrillation

Tom Predis didn't realize the fatigue and heart palpitations he sometimes felt were symptoms of a common heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, or AFib.

After being diagnosed with AFib during a routine test prior to an unrelated surgery, Tom came to Samir Saba, MD, director of HVI cardiac electrophysiology and underwent a catheter-based ablation to treat his condition. Today, he feels great and is back to his active live.

» Read Tom's story.

Lynn RutterLynn Rutter - Preventing Heart Disease

A smoker of 20 years, Lynn Rutter decided to have a cardiologist screen for her risk of heart disease — the number-one killer of women in the United States.

Katie Berlacher, MD, of the Heart and Vascular Institute, created a personal plan to reverse Lynn’s risk.

Lynn made many lifestyle changes and even quit smoking. Dr. Berlacher threw a party to celebrate this huge accomplishment.

» Read Lynn's story.

Colleen ShireyColleen Shirey - Mitral Valve Prolapse

As a school teacher and salsa instructor, Colleen Shirey is very active. She had never let mitral valve prolapse stop her from enjoying her favorite activities, but one day, while preparing for a charity dance competition, Colleen began feeling dizzy and fainted.

Colleen was referred to Vinay Badhwar, MD, Director of the Center for Mitral Valve Disease at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. Dr. Badhwar determined that Colleen's heart valve needed to be repaired, and he recommended minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery.

Just five weeks after surgery, Colleen was back on the dance floor.

» Read Colleen's story.

Mike TracyMike Tracy - Cardiomyopathy

Mike Tracy, a father of four, needs a heart transplant. Because his strong build and blood type could make his wait longer than others, Mike received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help sustain him until a heart becomes available.

Today — while eagerly waiting for his new heart — Mike takes part in cardiac rehab, enjoys time with his family, and coaches his daughter in softball.

» Read Mike's story.

Tomas VokounTomas Vokoun - Deep Vein Thrombosis

Tomas Vokoun, a National Hockey League goalie, had a massive blood clot in his leg and pelvis. This condition, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can be fatal if left untreated.

Tomas had a procedure called thrombolysis to dissolve the clot, and had a stent placed in his vein to allow for better blood flow. Today, he's in good health and gets back on the ice as often as possible.

» Read Tomas' story.

Norman WaldmanNorman Waldman - Severe Aortic Stenosis

Norman Waldman, a veteran of World War II, lived an active life as a husband, father, and school administrator. At age 90, he developed secondary heart failure as a result of severe aortic stenosis.

Norman's doctor considered him too high risk for open heart surgery to repair his aortic valve and referred him to Thomas Gleason, MD, and John Schindler, MD, at UPMC's Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) Program. Norman underwent a successful TAVR procedure with Drs. Gleason and Schindler in August 2014. Today, he's feeling great and back to his regular routine.

» Read Norman's story.

Olivia WeilandOlivia Weiland - May-Thurner Syndrome

Olivia Weiland struggled with a swollen foot for two years before coming to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, where doctors diagnosed her with May-Thurner syndrome, a rare compression disorder that can cause pain, swelling, and blood clots in the legs and feet.

She underwent surgery with Michael Singh, MD, chief of Vascular Surgery at UPMC Shadyside in May 2016, and today, Olivia is enjoying a more normal life.

» Read Olivia's story.

Larissa ZeliLarissa Zeli - Abnormal Heart Rate

Larissa Zeli was just 21 years old when an abnormally high heart rate sent her to the emergency room. She spent a few years struggling with her condition, undergoing unsuccessful treatments and trying several different medicines without relief.

In 2012, Larissa came to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, where Samir Saba, MD, director of cardiac electrophysiology, has managed her care ever since. Since then, she’s had a successful ablation procedure and received a pacemaker, which helped her get back to living a more normal life.

» Read Larissa's story.

Heart Transplant Patient Stories

Laura BakerLaura Baker

Laura Baker lived with heart muscle disease for 20 years. When her health took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2014, she learned she needed a heart transplant.

As a busy mom of three, Laura hoped to stay at home with her children until her transplant instead of living in a hospital during the wait. She looked for an experienced transplant center that could help her do so, and her search led her to the UPMC Heart Transplant Program.

»Read Laura's story.

Jeff Carpenter Jeff Carpenter

Jeff Carpenter was on the heart transplant list when his fifth heart attack sent him into cardiac arrest and he was flown by paramedics to UPMC Presbyterian. There, doctors stabilized Jeff and implanted a ventricular assist device (VAD) to help him recover enough to undergo a transplant.

Jeff got a new heart in November 2013 and is enjoying life with his family.

» Read Jeff's story.

Ben Collins - Heart Transplant Success StoryBen Collins

At only 19, Ben Collins was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy — a disease that weakens and enlarges the heart muscle.

He found out he would need a heart transplant. Having watched his brother go through the transplant experience, Ben knew what to expect. This helped relieve some of the anxiety.

Since his transplant, Ben has returned to good health. He has taken up running and participates in many races.

» Read Ben's story.

Phyllis EsauPhyllis Esau

Shortly after undergoing chemotherapy to successfully fight breast cancer, Phyllis began noticing that it was hard for her to carry things. She also had shortness of breath, and was tired. She was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, but her heart was in good enough condition to continue with her life normally while getting regular checkups from her cardiologist.

Over time, though, Phyllis's heart continued to weaken and it was determined that she would need a heart transplant.

» Read Phyllis' story.

Paul JewellPaul Jewell

Paul Jewell was just 36 years old when he learned he had an enlarged heart and irregular heart rhythm. He managed his condition with medication for nearly 10 years, but in 1993, he developed severe congestive heart failure.

Paul received a ventricular assist device, or VAD, and spent five months in the hospital before undergoing a heart transplant. Today, he and his wife live in Erie and he takes every opportunity to spread the word about the importance of organ donation.

»Read Paul's story.

Tom Meshanko Tom Mesahnko

In 1997, Tom Meshanko experienced some chest soreness and tingling in his left arm.

Knowing his family had a history of heart disease, he went to see his doctors at UPMC Shadyside right away. Doctors told him he’d had a heart attack and his heart had suffered massive damage.

Since his transplant, Tom has remained active, participating in the Transplant Games of America, and even took a hot air balloon ride.

» Read Tom's story.

Andrea McConaughyAndrea McConaughy

Andrea McConaughy learned she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a type of heart muscle disease, as a teenager. By her mid-20s, Andrea’s heart had become so weak that she needed a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, to keep her alive.

Andrea spent six months in the hospital before receiving a heart transplant. She now lives in North Carolina with her family and will celebrate the 20th anniversary of her transplant this year.

»Read Andrea's story.

Tom Piccione Tom Piccione

Tom Piccione, a judge and father of five, lived with advanced heart disease for years before receiving a heart transplant at UPMC in 2014. His daughter, UPMC cardiologist Beth Piccione, MD, chose to study cardiology to help her dad and has been by his side every step of the way.

Today, Tom is healthy and enjoying life with his family, including nine grandchildren. Ever grateful to his donor, Tom hopes his experience will inspire others to consider organ donation.

» Read Tom's story.

Phil RostekPhil Rostek

When Phil Rostek arrived at UPMC Presbyterian with a failing heart, he felt like he was right where he needed to be. He’d always loved Oakland, and his confident, compassionate doctors put him at instantly at ease.

Phil underwent a heart transplant in 2008. Today, he remains grateful to everyone who cared for him both before and after his surgery.

»Read Phil's story.

Bob ShoupBob Shoup

It was during hunting season in 1985 when Bob Shoup, then 27, started experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath. A few days before Christmas, Bob’s arm went numb, and he couldn’t speak — signs of a stroke.

Several weeks passed and Bob still had no energy, he couldn’t walk across the room without loss of breath. A chest x-ray revealed that his heart was enlarged due to congestive heart failure.

Over the 27 years since his initial heart transplant, Bob has been able to lead a primarily healthy, normal life, and watch his family grow—something he wasn’t always sure would be possible.

» Read Bob's story.

Stacey VernallisStacey Vernallis

When Stacey Vernallis, a fit, active trial attorney and mom of three, came home from a business trip with a cough, the last thing she suspected was a heart problem. Just months later, Stacey learned she had cardiomyopathy and was in congestive heart failure. To support her heart until a transplant, Stacey received a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD.

Stacey received a heart transplant in July 2014 and works every day to regain her active lifestyle as much as possible. She’s also actively involved in spreading the word about the importance of organ donation.

»Read Stacey's story.

Mary Ann Wahl Mary Ann Wahl

Prior to a life-changing transplant at UPMC Presbyterian, Mary Ann Wahl’s heart condition prevented her from experiencing the many joys of raising her daughter, Katy.

These disappointments and struggles were caused by restrictive cardiomyopathy — a disorder in which the heart chambers are unable to fill properly with blood because of stiffness in the heart.

After a three-month recovery period, she felt fantastic, began walking four miles a day, and made plans to embrace life with her husband, Bob, and, of course, her daughter.

» Read Mary Ann's story.

Find out more about heart and lung transplantation at UPMC.


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