The Journey | Barbara’s Story
Story 146


Barbara Thompson: I lost my mother at an early age. She was 52 and she died of a heart attack. Two years ago, I lost my sister, and she died of a heart attack, and at the time my sister died, I was on the table in Dr. Dalinger's office getting an ultrasound for my heart and my problem had got progressively worse.

Hugo Riffel-Dalinger, MD: We found her to be in an abnormal rhythm called atrial fibrillation that is associated with strokes.

Amirreza Solhpour, MD: Basically, the upper chambers of the heart are supposed to squeeze like this. When they're on atrial fibrillation, they're fibrillating, so the blood flow is not good.

Amir H. Sadrzadeh Rafie, MD: [After] additional tests, we figured out that she has a problem with one of the valves in her heart.

Barbara Thompson: He laid it out on the table. He told me two of them on the left and the right are your main valves, and they were leaking blood.

Hugo Riffel-Dalinger, MD: The blood, instead of pushing forward, pushes backwards, and before you could walk two blocks uphill, and now you can walk half a block, and you say, "Well, something is wrong." In the old days, the surgery was open heart, and with the open heart, the mortality was very high.

Amirreza Solhpour, MD: Age by itself is a risk factor, so a lot of times, the surgeon is not willing to do any open heart surgery because of the high risk of mortality.

Barbara Thompson: I told him that was not an option with me. What little I got left going, that wasn't one of the things I wanted to do. It was just so much going on for me. I didn't feel that I had the strength mentally or physically to fight. That's when he told me there was another procedure, which was the MitraClip.

Hugo Riffel-Dalinger, MD: MitraClip is something that is done in very few hospitals, so the idea is to put a knot and make the valve half as big.

Amir H. Sadrzadeh Rafie, MD: We go from the patient's leg, and with placing the clip, we can reduce the severity of mitral regurgitation.

Amirreza Solhpour, MD: The risk of the surgery is minimal and the recovery is fast.

Amir H. Sadrzadeh Rafie, MD: Patients go home the next day, early in the morning.

Barbara Thompson: And the fact that it's not so invasive to your body, I'm very happy with my choice.

Amirreza Solhpour, MD: Barbara is a unique patient because she had the second procedure that we started recently called the WATCHMAN procedure. [For] people who cannot take blood thinners because they have bleeding issues, we close that appendage, that sac, so basically you are protected against a stroke without the need for long-term blood thinners. When Barbara came to me first, she was asking me, "I want to get better. My birthday is coming up."

Barbara Thompson: I've looked at death at the door, and last year I wanted to have a birthday party and I couldn't. And this year, I'm having that party, and I didn't want anything to [get] in my way. My mother died at 52. That was young, and I was always afraid of that age. I didn't think I would make it. I don't believe in celebrating after death. I want my roses now. I want my flowers now. I want to enjoy my friends now. This is my celebration. I might not never see these friends again.

Amir H. Sadrzadeh Rafie, MD: It's a great privilege and pleasure to know that on a daily basis you can make meaningful changes in their life.

Amirreza Solhpour, MD: And especially because in our field, we mostly address the elderly. And the good news is that we can use this technology … even with patients [who are] 90 years old, and I have done [it] in a 104-year-old.

Barbara Thompson: The peace that I've been able to get out of this … It’s been a journey, and a good one, and I feel like I've been truly, truly blessed.