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"Unbelievable" care for a challenging heart condition

Patient Spotlight November 27, 2020 By Main Line Health

Carol Friel lived for years with a racing heart and shortness of breath. After seeing her physician, she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), a common heart rhythm disorder. The Wynnewood resident, 79, thought she’d tried just about everything to tame her symptoms. “I always had these nasty heart palpitations,” she says. “I took medications that would work for a while, but then they would stop working, and I would get disheartened.”

A turn for the worse

Friel had been treated numerous times with cardioversion, a procedure that delivers an electrical shock to the heart to restore a regular rhythm. She also had a pacemaker implanted to maintain a regular heartbeat. However, Carol’s symptoms worsened, and her heart would not stay in normal rhythm. Maribel Hernandez, MD, a heart rhythm specialist with Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health, used diagnostic testing to help determine her condition. 

Over time, Friel had developed mitral valve regurgitation. This occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve, one of the four valves in the heart, don’t close properly, allowing blood to leak backward. Mitral valve regurgitation, like AFib, can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations and fatigue. 

“I was concerned the regurgitation had worsened,” Dr. Hernandez says. “What we found was that Carol’s regurgitation had become severe and was causing heart failure, which explained the worsening of her symptoms.” 

To determine next steps, Dr. Hernandez consulted with Lankenau Heart Institute colleagues: cardiologist James Burke, MD, and Scott Goldman, MD, cardiac surgeon and director of the Structural Heart Program at Lankenau Heart Institute.

A less invasive option

The team felt it was time for Friel to consider an intervention to treat her mitral regurgitation. They were able to offer her a state-of-the-art procedure known as transcatheter mitral valve repair using MitraClip therapy, a less invasive alternative to surgery. While surgery requires opening the patient’s chest and temporarily stopping the heart, the MitraClip can be placed in the patient without open-heart surgery and on a beating heart, which is much less stressful than surgery.

“Because of her age, medical history and other factors, Carol was considered high risk for surgery,” Dr. Goldman says. “The great thing about MitraClip is that it’s a very low-impact procedure. There’s almost no recovery time, and patients often feel better immediately.” 

In January 2019, Dr. Goldman teamed up with William Gray, MD, interventional cardiologist and system chief of Cardiovascular Disease at Lankenau Heart Institute, to perform Friel's MitraClip procedure.

First, a tube called a catheter was inserted through a small puncture into the vein in her leg. Then, using ultrasound imaging, the physicians guided the catheter with the clip inside and positioned it at the leaky part of the mitral valve. The device grasped the leaflets of the mitral valve and pulled them together. This allowed the valve to close more completely, reducing or eliminating the backward flow of blood.

Experience makes a difference

Transcatheter mitral valve repair using the MitraClip device is one of many innovative treatments offered by Lankenau Heart Institute. It gives new hope for select high-risk patients who are not candidates for surgery. And Lankenau Heart Institute physicians are among the region’s most experienced in performing the procedure. 

Friel saw immediate results. She spent one night in the hospital after her procedure and was amazed at how much better she felt right away. 

“I said, ‘Oh my God, this is unbelievable,’” she recalls. “The shortness of breath was much better, and those symptomatic, horrible heartbeats I had for all those years—they’re not there anymore. 
“From day one at Lankenau Heart Institute, my doctors have been unbelievable,” she adds. “I could never leave them because as it turned out, they are the best in the world.”

Learn more about the advanced minimally invasive options available at Lankenau Heart Institute to treat valve disease.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.