The Challenge: Mitral Valve Prolapse and an Abnormal Heart Rhythm
Nearly three years ago, Dan Demarines couldn’t get to sleep. He lay awake in his bed, heart pounding and short of breath. His chest pain seemed to amplify when he would lie down, so he slept upright.
For this 63-year-old retired school principal, sleep was anything but refreshing.
“I was having chest pains — some pretty severe — but when I would lie down to sleep, my heart sounded like someone banging a drum,” he says. “I could barely sleep and it was really starting to scare me.”
Dan went to his primary care doctor who diagnosed him with an abnormal heart rhythm caused by premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs. This form of heart palpitation is commonly associated with mitral valve disorders such as mitral valve prolapse (MVP), a condition where the valve between the heart's left upper chamber and left lower chamber doesn't close properly. He referred Dan to cardiologist Dr. William Barrington who performed a catheter ablation — a special procedure that delivers energy through a catheter to tiny areas of the heart that might cause these PVCs. The energy “disconnected” the pathways of the abnormal rhythm.
Following the procedure, Dan felt much better, and was quickly back to his normal routine.
But around a year-and-a-half later, Dan’s discomfort returned, along with his shortness of breath and palpitations. Only now, the symptoms were worse.
The Path to UPMC's Heart and Vascular Institute
Dan’s cardiologist referred him to the team at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Center for Mitral Valve Disease, where he was immediately diagnosed with a severe form of MVP.
According to UPMC's experts, MVP is often harmless until the valve begins to leak. In Dan’s case, the valve was causing blood to leak severely from his heart's lower left chamber back into the upper left chamber. Dan's doctors advised him to consider surgery to repair his valve as soon as possible.
The Solution: Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery
Dan's team of cardiovascular specialists performed robotic surgery to repair his mitral valve.
Instead of using the traditional approach — where the surgeon makes an incision down the front of the chest and through the breastbone — Dan's surgeon made a small, two inch incision in his right chest and four small openings less than the size of a fingernail to provide robotic access.
The surgeon and his expert team were then able to perform extensive repair to Dan’s heart valve without harming important tissue and muscle surrounding the heart.
The Result: Feeling Like A New Man
With surgery, Dan experienced an immediate improvement. Just two months after surgery, Dan was back to doing what he did before his heart complications, and wasn’t afraid to push his limits.
“I felt like a new person,” he says. “I was exercising a lot, and even went to Hawaii and hiked up a mountain. My doctor probably wouldn’t have liked that I was doing that so soon after surgery, but it was so beautiful — and I felt like I was back at 100 percent.”
Dan's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
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