Read the patient stories below and see how the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute has made a difference in the lives of people just like you, every day.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
Patient Story: Ardis Morton
Feeling dizzy and weak during an advent service at her church, Ardis Morton, 90, sat down to rest. The next thing she knew, paramedics were rushing her to the Inova Fairfax Hospital Emergency Room. Ardis had suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm – one of the most deadly cardiovascular events with a 95 percent fatality rate. The complexity of her condition, coupled with her age, made surgery extremely risky. Vascular surgeon Dipankar Mukherjee, MD, was willing to attempt an emergency repair.
"When Dr. Mukherjee came out to speak to us after the procedure, he had just two words: 'She's alive,'" recalls daughter Beverly. "The family was overjoyed and so thankful. We called it our Christmas miracle."
Ardis spent four days in the hospital before returning to her daughter’s home in Lovettsville to begin the slow process of recovery. Initially, she was carried up and down stairs in a wheelchair. But when she went to Dr. Mukherjee's office for a post-op appointment a month later, she insisted on walking up and down the stairs herself.
The grandmother of 13, great-grandmother of 18 and great-great-grandmother of two feels uniquely blessed. "So many things fell into place for me," she says. "Even Dr. Mukherjee calls it a miracle. We thanked each other for accomplishing such a wonderful result."
As Dr. Mukherjee explains, "Generally, we don't have to refer patients out or turn patients away. If there is a solution, then more than likely we'll come up with it."
Aortic Stenosis / TAVR
Patient Story: Col. Arnald D. Gabriel
This WWII veteran and Conductor Emeritus of the U.S. Air Force Band Symphony Orchestra had no intention of letting his aortic stenosis get in the way of his busy schedule. Thankfully, Inova helped restore his health and energy for life with a successful minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), an alternative to traditional open heart surgery.
Read Col. Gabriel's story
Cardiac Arrest / PCI / Stents / ECMO / Cardiogenic Shock / Heart Failure
Patient Story: John Harrity
Imagine, you’re playing a weekly pick-up basketball game with friends. You’re in great shape — trim, fit and competitive. But during the second half of the game, you’re short of breath. You even sit on the sideline, something you’re not known to do. Your friends take notice. When they ask what’s wrong, you say call 911. You don’t remember anything else until you wake up three weeks later.
That’s the story of John Harrity, a 50-year-old Washington D.C. lawyer and husband and father of two. He suffered an ST elevation myocardial infarction complicated by a v fib cardiac arrest. He was defibrillated by EMS and brought to Fairfax Hospital. He had a second cardiac arrest in the emergency room. He was successfully resuscitated and was taken emergently to the cath lab. He was found to have a ruptured plaque in his left main coronary artery with thrombus. This was successfully treated with PCI and placement of a drug-eluting stent. At this point, a left ventriculogram revealed an ejection fraction of 40%. An intra-aortic balloon pump was placed. The patient woke up and was following commands. He was then taken to the CCU. Unfortunately, he developed diffuse alveolar hemorrhage and acute respiratory failure requiring placement on venovenous ECMO. Several hours later, he developed cardiogenic shock and required conversion to venoarterial venous ECMO. A week later, he had recovered left ventricular function with an EF of 55% and was converted back to VV ECMO. After another week, he was successfully weaned from VV ECMO. “I wouldn’t be here today without that machine,” says Harrity. He was weaned off the ventilator after six weeks. He spent eight weeks in the Cardiovascular ICU.
Just a short time after that, Harrity was working out, gaining his weight back and getting back to his fit and trim self. He went back to work about four and a half months after the heart attack. He and his wife Eileen hope to volunteer with other ECMO patients and their families to give them a first-hand idea of what to expect. “I’d love to go in and talk to people in a situation like mine,” says Harrity. “I can tell them what I went through and hope to make it easier for them.”
Cardiogenic Shock / ECMO / Impella Heart Pump / Heart Failure
Patient Story: Charles Furstenburg
“When Charles arrived at Inova, he was in acute cardiogenic shock caused by viral myocarditis, an infection of the heart. His heart was failing and unable to pump blood to the rest of his body. He was also experiencing kidney and liver failure and had poor blood flow to the brain,” says Charles Murphy, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at Inova Fairfax. Thanks to Inova's expertise and our ECMO program, Charles went on to survive and thrive. Read Charles' full story
Patient testimonial: Jean Green
Nearly three years ago, then 57-year-old Jean Green went to her primary care physician because she didn’t feel well. Seeing signs of an infection, Jean’s doctor prescribed antibiotics and expected her to recover quickly. Surprisingly, three days later Jean’s feet were so swollen they had doubled in size. An echo revealed an ejection fraction of just 13. The infection had taken its toll – Jean was in heart failure.
At first, Jean was treated with heart failure medication. However, after being in and out of the hospital nine times, her physician referred her to the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute. Hesitant to make the long drive from Southern Maryland, Jean went anyway and “instantly knew this was where I needed to be treated. Everyone there is so wonderful and they all care about each person.” Jean saw Shashank Desai, director of the Heart Failure Program, and was immediately admitted. “Dr. Desai told me I needed a heart transplant and I was sure that if that happened, I would die." But that feeling soon changed as she got to know her expert team of Inova caregivers.
Jean was told that in order to survive even a few months, she needed a ventricular assist device (VAD). The surgery took place in November and Jean was home in time for Christmas. “I couldn’t believe how this little device inside of me made me feel so much better so quickly,” says Jean. Now, Jean is looking forward to the day when her pager goes off and it is her turn to receive a new heart, saying she knows she can feel great and look good again.
Patient story: Diana Plummer
A diagnosis of cardiomyopathy didn't stop 70-year-old Diana Plummer from being an avid tennis player. But when her tennis partner mentioned that she was more and more "off her game" and seemed to be having trouble with balance – and her husband agreed – Diana knew she might be getting sicker. An appointment with her cardiologist showed that her ejection fraction was poor. Diana was referred to the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute's Advanced Heart Failure Therapy Program.
Over time, Diana became weaker and less coherent. In April 2009 she was placed on the heart transplant list. Over the next several months she spent a lot of time at doctor's appointments and says she "knew that all of my doctors, nurses and transplant team members were giving me the best care. I have great confidence in all of my doctors – I do what they tell me." Diana received her new heart on August 13, 2009, and went home just 11 days later.
Now Diana attends cardiac rehabilitation twice a week and enjoys long walks and spending time with her grandchildren. "The whole thing was a miracle," she says. "Someone upstairs was watching over me."
Heart transplant: See all heart transplant patient stories
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Patient Story: Elmer "Lee" Lockheart
Elmer (Lee) Lockhart is an enthusiastic 73-year-old who has seen a lot of trouble from diabetes. Most recently Mr. Lockhart, who lives in Front Royal, Virginia with his wife Jane, underwent a complex surgery to the peroneal artery in his lower leg to bypass severe blockages in his arteries in order to save his right leg from amputation. The procedure was long and hard, but it worked. “I can thank Inova for the fact I still have my foot,” Mr. Lockhart says.
Mr. Lockhart noticed an ulcer on the bottom of his foot midway through 2015. Tests showed he didn’t have enough blood flowing through the arteries in his legs to reach his foot and the wound simply would not heal. An infection made the situation critical. Mr. Lockhart was rushed to another area hospital and treated with an angioplasty. The procedure succeeded in allowing more blood to flow to the leg, but it soon became clear that blood wasn’t going far enough to reach the affected foot.
“I thought I’d lose my foot for sure,” Mr. Lockhart says. He was rushed to Inova Fairfax and Dr. Richard Neville, associate director of Inova Heart and Vascular Institute and vice-chairman of Surgery, became his doctor.
“Mr. Lockhart has a complex medical history and is the kind of patient that requires a multidisciplinary approach to limb preservation,” says Dr. Neville. “These patients require state-of-the-art bypass and endovascular revascularization procedures as well as a team approach to healing and optimal medical care.”
“Dr. Neville said he would do his best and that the surgery would last four-and-a-half hours,” remembers Jane Lockhart. “Four hours passed, then six hours. I was going crazy!”
In layman’s terms, Dr. Neville had taken a vein out of Mr. Lockhart’s left leg and put it into his right leg to allow blood to pass through. But it was clear during surgery this would only allow blood to pass to his right knee. It wouldn’t save his foot.
“So Dr. Neville spent another two-and-a-half hours in the operating room to connect the blood flow to Mr. Lockhart’s foot and make the surgery a success,” Mrs. Lockhart says.
Mr. Lockhart came through a long recovery with his health and foot intact. “It was all worth it,” he says. “I never thought I’d walk again and now my mobility is great.”
Maze Procedure for Atrial Fibrillation
Patient Story: Tony Cynrnak
Tony Cyrnak, 65, lived with atrial fibrillation for about 10 years. It was discovered by happenstance when he repeatedly found himself out of breath climbing the stairs at home. As someone who played ice hockey and basketball routinely, this was particularly odd for Tony. He mentioned it to his physician-wife, who listened to her husband's heartbeat and immediately suspected atrial fibrillation.
Her diagnosis was confirmed by a cardiologist. Thankfully, the structure of Tony's heart and all other aspects of its functionality were intact. Diagnosed with persistent atrial fibrillation, Tony began taking medication and went back to his regular routines, including his involvement in many sports.
Tony says he "always knew when an episode was starting and that over time, the afib would get worse." In recent years, his episodes went from once a month, to once a week, to 2-3 times a week. That's when, after much research, Tony underwent a minimally invasive Maze procedure at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute, which cured him of atrial fibrillation.
"I did a tremendous amount of research about the various treatment options and ultimately decided to go with the gold standard – surgery," Tony says. The experience went very smoothly. After three nights in the hospital, Tony returned home and has been in constant sinus rhythm for 9 months now. On top of that, Tony is back to playing ice hockey three times a week and with the summer approaching, will be back on the white water in his kayak.
"(The) Maze procedure allowed me to get my life back," says Tony.
Mitral Valve Disease
Patient Story: Richard Casale
Richard Casale, 58, knew he had mitral valve prolapse for many years, but it wasn’t something he thought about regularly. That is, until early 2010 when he began to experience chest pain and shortness of breath, especially while exercising. When these symptoms increased to the point of restricting his regular work outs, Rich knew it was time to see his cardiologist.
A stress test, EKG and echocardiogram indicated that Rich had severe mitral regurgitation and a dilated left ventricle. Surgery was needed to repair his damaged mitral valve. Rich was referred to Inova Heart and Vascular Institute's Structural Heart Disease Program
because of its expertise in performing minimally invasive mitral valve repairs. "We looked into other operations and traveling to another center," says Rich. "But there was no need. The best possible operative technique was close to home."
Rich's mitral valve was repaired through a small incision on his right side. He was home from the hospital in two days and back at work just four weeks later.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Patient story: Betsy Hamilton
Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, can take a toll on your mobility. That’s what Betsy Hamilton, 83, hates most about the disorder that she suffers from in both legs. A self-described “grumbly woman” from Scotland, Hamilton and her husband like to travel, take walks and enjoy the city. In the past 10 years, Ms. Hamilton has had several treatments for PAD, including bypass surgery on both legs, to help her keep moving.
Ms. Hamilton, who lives in Washington, DC, had been treated by Dr. Richard Neville, associate director of Inova Heart and Vascular Institute, and vice-chairman of surgery, for several years. When Dr. Neville joined Inova in July 2016, Ms. Hamilton moved with him. “He may have thought I was stalking him,” says Ms. Hamilton. “But I have faith in him so I use Uber to get to him,” she explains.
In fall 2016, Ms. Hamilton started to lose feeling in her left foot. “I couldn’t walk one block,” Ms. Hamilton remembers. “I had some serious blood clots in my leg. When the tests came back Dr. Neville thought I should have an operation straight away. That was a Tuesday. I went in for the operation for a patch on my femoral artery that Friday. I was out of the hospital on Saturday,” she says.
“Ms. Hamilton is an excellent example of the long-term relationships we build with our patients,” says Dr. Neville. “I have kept her walking with her legs intact for many years. It is a real pleasure to work with her. She’s like family.”
“I’m walking now!” Ms. Hamilton adds. “I do all my own housework and shopping. My husband and I go to the cinema and out to dinner.”
Ms. Hamilton says she can walk as much as 5 or 6 blocks before getting tired. That’s an improvement for sure, but she’s looking forward to even more progress.
“I’m grumbly that I still can’t walk very far or fast. I’m an ungrateful woman! But I know I’ve been very lucky. I’ve always come out better from every operation with Dr. Neville. He’s an excellent surgeon. He gave me my mobility back.”
Patient Story: Robert Edward Smallwood
Retired Army Colonel Edward Smallwood was stationed in Afghanistan for a total of 30 months before his recent retirement. About three months before returning home, he began to notice a “hanging” sensation whenever he swallowed, along with occasional indigestion.
Once home, Ed saw his primary care physician who suggested he first change his diet. When that did not improve his symptoms, Ed was referred to a gastroenterologist for an endoscopy. That test revealed both Barrett’s esophagus and stage III esophageal cancer.
Ed underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. During this he time, he met with Daniel Fortes, MD for surgical consultation. “I didn’t want anything sugar coated, I wanted all the facts, and that’s what Dr. Fortes gave me,” says Ed. “He drew me a picture of how the procedure would be performed, explained the advantages of robotic versus open surgery, and told me what to expect after the operation.”
Ed was a candidate for robotic surgery and successfully underwent an esophagogastrectomy using this approach. The tumor was removed and eight months later, he says his scars are so small they are barely visible. “Dr. Fortes and his colleagues are continuing to perfect performing surgery through small incisions. This technology just makes sense because it's so much less demanding on the patient's body,” says Ed.
Patient story: Sherri Hendry
Sherri Hendry was born with a deformed mitral valve, but didn’t spend much time worrying about it. “I never had any symptoms and my doctors mostly ignored it,” says the 44-year-old Gaithersburg, MD, resident.
It was only when preparing for cataract surgery a few years ago that she was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation and monitored by a cardiologist.
Initially, the leak was mild. But when it suddenly escalated from moderate to severe in less than six months, her cardiologist referred her to Inova Heart and Vascular Institute's Structural Heart Disease Program, which recommended she have surgery immediately to repair it.
After an exhaustive Internet search of her options, Hendry knew exactly what she wanted: minimally invasive surgery. And she knew where she wanted it: Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.
In January, a minimally invasive mitral valve repair was done through a two-inch incision in her right side, successfully fixing the leak. Hendry was up and walking the next morning, and left the hospital just two days later.
“It was such a positive experience,” she says. "The surgeon did an amazing job. My scar is tiny, I only took half a pain pill, and I’ve had a very fast recovery in every respect."
Hendry was driving and cooking a week after she returned home, began cardiac rehabilitation four weeks following surgery, and returned to her job as a crime analyst for the Rockville City Police Department two weeks after that.
She and her husband are “in awe” of everything at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute, from the compassionate nurses and technicians who cared for her, to the welcoming environment – even the food!
“Nobody wants heart surgery,” Hendry says. “But if you have to have it done, go to Inova."
Vascular Angioplasty and Stenting
Patient Story: Jim Miller
By now, Jim Miller and his wife Teresa practically know by heart the route from their home in Hannibal, Missouri, to the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute – Schaufeld Family Heart Center at Inova Loudoun Hospital. It’s a 13-hour drive, done every six months, and they often make it a three-day journey with rests in between so Jim can keep his leg from stiffening up. But, it’s worth the time and effort — every time.
"I've been in the military, so we’ve lived around the world," says the 75-year-old. "I’ve never experienced this level of care anywhere. I refuse to be treated anywhere but Inova Loudoun Hospital."
The Millers' experience with Inova began in June 2011, while they were visiting their son in Ashburn, Virginia. Throughout his life, from athletics in high school to his Army career, Jim suffered numerous leg injuries, leading to a very serious circulation compromise in his left leg.
A leg bypass surgery previously done in Missouri clotted during his visit to Virginia in 2011, so Jim was treated by Salman Mufti, MD, a vascular interventional radiologist at Inova Loudoun. He resolved the circulatory problem with a minimally invasive procedure involving clot-busting medication, angioplasty and stenting to restore vital blood flow to the leg. Read Jim's full story
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