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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.

Annette Amendola

Annette Amendola

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 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.

Heather Blum

Heather Blum

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

Birdie Dally - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient Story

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

Dan Demarines - Heart and Vascular Institute patient

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.

Jeff Donato

Jeff Donato - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient Story

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.

Debbie DiStefano

Debbie DiStefano - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient Story

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.

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 for 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 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.

Norman Melser

Norman Melser

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

Dennis Polega - Chronic Coronary Total Occlusion Patient Story

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.

Lynn Rutter

Lynn Rutter

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 Shirey

Colleen Shirey

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 recommendedminimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery.

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

» Read Colleen's story.

 Heart Transplant Patient Stories

Ed Thompson

Ed Thompson - Heart Transplant Success Story

Matt Thompson wrote a touching account of his father, Ed, who received a life-saving heart transplant at UPMC in 2009.

Four years after his heart transplant, and more than a year after his kidney transplant, Ed Thompson is still going strong.

He's enjoying life with his children and grandchildren, who are happy to have “Pappy” in their lives.

» Read Ed's story.

Mary Ann Wahl
Mary Ann Wahl - Heat Transplant Success Story

Mary Ann Wahl, a dietitian at UPMC Presbyterian, had a life-changing heart transplant. Previously, her heart condition — restrictive cardiomyopathy — prevented her from taking care of her daughter, Katy.

After her recovery period, Mary Ann felt great. She began walking four miles a day and is now able to take an active part in Katy’s life.

Mary Ann says her transplant has given her important insights to share with others awaiting heart transplants.

» Read Mary Ann's story.

Ben Collins
Ben Collins - Heart Transplant Success Story

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.

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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