Mitral Valve Repair Gives Priya a Fresh Start
Priya Pease was 17 years old when she learned that the clicking sound her heart made was caused by a leaky valve. Priya had been born with mitral valve disease.
“It was moderate then, but I always thought I would eventually have to have surgery once it progressed to a severe category,” Priya says. Sixteen years passed before that day came. In the meantime, she went to college, continued on to law school, got married and gave birth to three children. It’s been a full-steam-ahead approach to life at least partially influenced by her teenage diagnosis.
“I knew once I had the surgery, I was at risk of being on blood thinners for the rest of my life,” Priya says. “That wouldn’t be good for our family planning, so we went ahead and had our babies.”
Dan J. Fintel, MD, Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, gave Priya that initial diagnosis and has been her cardiologist ever since. “Priya had mitral valve prolapse, which makes the heart valve tissue floppy so that it doesn’t close tightly, and blood leaks backward into the left atrium,” he explains. “I told her she might never need surgery, or she might need it in 10 to 15 years. Every patient’s progression with mitral valve prolapse is different.”
Monitoring her condition over the years with regular electrocardiograms (EKGs) and echocardiograms, Dr. Fintel says Priya’s heart murmur remained audible but stable. Her pregnancies went smoothly, and she never had a bacterial heart infection, which the condition can sometimes cause. But, ultimately, her condition became more serious.
“After her third child was born, Priya was more short of breath,” Dr. Fintel says, and the backwards leak of blood into her left atrium was getting worse. Her murmur was quiet, but, he says, “her symptoms were more severe than her diseased heart valve status appeared. I told her we needed to plan for surgery, because it wasn’t going to get any better.”
During the four-hour surgery, Priya’s leaky heart valve was repaired with a ring that stopped the backflow. She spent only five days in the hospital recovering. “My care experience was great, and I was really impressed by the surgical team,” she says. Particularly important to Priya, her nurses in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit were always reassuring. “Having young kids at home was scary and made me anxious. I had a lot of questions, and they were always accessible to me.”
“It takes a really committed patient and doctor to make the decision we did,” Dr. Fintel says. “Her shortness of breath, her palpitations — it shows the importance of paying attention to the patient’s symptoms versus just their EKG or other tests. You need to follow the patient, not the textbook, and listen to them, not just the research and test results.”
Six months after her mitral valve repair surgery, Priya says, “Going through a major surgery puts things in perspective. Physically, I didn’t feel I was at full health. I would like to be more physically active and do the things I was scared to do before. Now I’m ready to become and stay active.”