Jeff Donato: Mitral Valve Prolapse

Jeff Donato - Mitral Valve Prolapse Patient Story

The Challenge: Severe Heart Valve Leakage

Jeff Donato is a born athlete. At 62 years old, the former Robert Morris University basketball player races in 10 triathlons a year, exercises several times a day, and teaches a spin class at the YMCA.

But three years ago, Jeff noticed a decline in his athletic performance. Physical fitness became a struggle for the first time in his life.

Unsure of the cause, Jeff saw his primary care doctor.

Despite being healthy and fit, his doctor determined he was suffering from a serious heart condition called mitral valve prolapse. Jeff was born with this very common condition that occurs in 5 percent of the U.S. population, but he did not know it until the valve began to leak.

The valve between the left upper chamber and the left lower chamber of Jeff’s heart was not closing properly and his body was not receiving enough oxygenated blood.

If left untreated, the severe valve leakage caused by mitral valve prolapse could cause heart failure and permanent damage to his heart muscle.

The Path to UPMC's Center for Mitral Valve Disease

After a heart ultrasound, or echocardiogram, Jeff was referred to a heart surgeon at the UPMC Center for Mitral Valve Disease.

Having never spent a day in the hospital, Jeff was worried he would need traditional open heart surgery and that the road to recovery would be long and difficult.

Jeff's surgeon assured him that he was a perfect candidate for minimally invasive robotic mitral valve repair surgery at UPMC Presbyterian.

The Result: Running Four Weeks After Surgery

Jeff underwent his robotic valve repair through a two-inch incision on the side of his chest and went home from the hospital just three days later.

He was given guidelines for recovery and allowed to walk a few minutes a day. But competitive by nature, Jeff walked an entire mile as soon as he got home.

By his fourth week after surgery, he was running every day.

The rest of his recovery went very smoothly, and in no time Jeff was back to doing his favorite activities.

Only eight months later, he competed in his first triathlon since his robotic surgery, and he dedicated this to his surgeon by a special tattoo on his right shoulder.

“I told him the first medal is his, so I’m not coming home if I don’t get it,” he said.

He was victorious, and at a checkup shortly following the race, Jeff presented his surgeon with two medals.

Jeff and his wife Pam enjoy their retirement in Ligonier, Pa., traveling to Hilton Head every year as well as around the country for his various races.

Jeff's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.

Read more Heart Valve Disease patient stories

Learn More About Mitral Valve Disease

 UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute: