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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 in our outpatient offices, to assisting in critical procedures, guiding complex surgeries, providing rehabilitation services, and supporting patients in their recovery — we're there every step of the way.

Here are some examples of how that care can have a positive impact in the lives of our patients.

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

Annette Amendola

Annette Amendola

Annette Amendola has a lot of experience recognizing signs and symptoms of a more serious heart problem. She is trained as a critical care nurse, and she also has experienced a lot of loss of people in her life related to heart conditions.

Under care at the Heart and Vascular Institute, Annette received her correct diagnosis and started a plan that has led her to riding a bike again and being able to 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.

Birdie Dally

Birdie Dally - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient Story

As an active member of her church and grandmother of four, Birdie Dally was used to keeping busy. One day, Birdie noticed that she was having problems breathing while singing at church.

After a heart catheterization and stress test, she was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse and underwent minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery for valve repair.

Now Birdie is back to most normal activities and playing basketball with her grandchildren just months after her surgery. She encourages others who might have mitral valve prolapse to not ignore their symptoms and follow up with their doctor before their condition worsens.

» Read Birdie's story.

Dan Demarines

Dan Demarines - Heart and Vascular Institute patient


Dan Demarines’ chest pain seemed to amplify when he would lie down at night to sleep, so he slept upright.

Following a catheter ablation for his diagnosis of an abnormal heart rhythm, Dan felt great. But, after a year-and-a-half, his symptoms returned. Only now, they were worse.

Dan’s cardiologist referred him to the Heart and Vascular Institute where Vinay Badhwar, MD, immediately diagnosed him with a severe form of mitral valve prolapse. Dr. Badhwar repaired Dan's heart valve using minimally invasive robotic surgery.

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

» Read Dan's story.

Debbie DiStefano

Debbie DiStefano - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient Story


Debbie DiStefano had been feeling worse and worse following her mitral valve prolapse diagnosis. In 2012, she found out her valve was indeed leaking which was causing her to feel more and more sick.

In an effort to improve her quality of life, Debbie underwent minimally invasive surgery for valve replacement. She wanted to enjoy her time spent working on her family-owned business and taking care of her grandchildren.

Today, just months after her surgery, Debbie feels better than ever and credits her doctor, Vinay Badhwar, MD to restoring her health.

» Read Debbie's story.

Julia Feitner

Julia Feitner - Pulmonary Hypertension Patient Story

After Julia Feitner's pregnancy, she become more and more fatigued during exercise.

Finally diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) after seeing a variety of specialists, she began a clinical trial of a new PH treatment at UPMC.

Now Julia feels she has a better quality of life.

» Read Julia's story.

Amanda Goehring
Amanda Goehring

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

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

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

» Read Amanda's story.

Norman Melser

Norman Melser


Norman Melser is an avid runner. In April  2013, he felt severe pain in his right leg, before it eventually became numb and weak. Doctors at an outside hospital diagnosed him with limb-threatening ischemia and immediately transferred him to UPMC Presbyterian.

A CT scan revealed an artery “ballooning” behind the knee, full of clot that had migrated to his lower leg — allowing no blood flow to the foot. UPMC vascular surgeons used minimally invasive catheter directed thrombolysis to break up the clot.

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

» Read Norman's story.

Dennis Polega

Dennis Polega - Chronic Coronary Total Occlusion Patient Story


In January 2014, Dennis Polega began to experience shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. Believing he was having a mild heart attack, he went to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him with chronic coronary total occlusion (CTO).

At the urging of his daughter, Dennis made an appointment at the Heart and Vascular Institute. Catalin Toma, MD, has developed expertise performing angioplasty for people with CTO. Dennis underwent  the procedure and was out of the hospital after a weekend.

Now fully recovered, he's back to enjoying all the activities he couldn't before.

» Read Dennis's story.

Lynn Rutter

Lynn Rutter


A smoker of 20 years, Lynn Rutter decided to see a cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Institute to identify her risk for heart disease — the number-one killer of women in the United States.

After screening Lynn, Katie Berlacher, MD, created a personal plan to reverse her risk.

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

» Read Lynn's story.

 Heart Transplant Patient Stories

Ed Thompson

Ed Thompson - Heart Transplant Success Story

Matt Thompson wrote a touching account of his father, Ed Thompson. Mr. Thompson received a heart transplant at UPMC in 2009 that saved his life after a series of heart problems including multiple heart attacks, bypass surgeries, and stents that damaged his heart.

Four years after his heart transplant, and more than a year after his kidney transplant, Ed Thompson is still going strong and enjoying life with his children and grandchildren, who are happy to have “Pappy” in their lives.

Mary Ann Wahl
Mary Ann Wahl - Heat Transplant Success Story

Mary Ann, a dietitian at UPMC Presbyterian had a life-changing heart transplant. Previously, Mary Ann Wahl’s heart condition, restrictive cardiomyopathy, prevented her from completing ordinary tasks and being able to take care of her daughter, Katy.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy is a disorder in which the heart chambers are unable to fill properly with blood because of stiffness in the heart. Heart transplantation becomes the only effective surgery if the condition worsens because heart failure occurs.

After her recovery period, Mary Ann felt great, began walking four miles a day, and made plans with her family including taking an active part in Katy’s school and going to Disney World. Mary Ann says her transplant has given her important insights to share with patients, especially those awaiting heart transplants.

» Read Mary Ann's story.

Ben Collins
Ben Collins - Heart Transplant Success Story

At only 19, Ben Collins, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens and enlarges the heart muscle.

Just over two years after surgery to treat ventricular tachycardia, a condition that resulted in his heart racing at dangerously high rates, Ben began experiencing loss of peripheral vision. He found out he would need a heart transplant.

Having watched his brother go through the transplant experience as well, Ben knew what to expect, which relieved some of the stress and anxiety. Since his transplant, Ben has returned to good health. He has taken up running and has participated in many races, including the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race and a quarter of the Baltimore Marathon.

» Read Ben's story.

Find out more about heart and lung transplantation at UPMC.

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

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