Aortic Disease

Feeling Better Than Ever After the MitraClip Procedure

One minute, Mahlon C. was having a conversation with his wife. The next, he passed out on the kitchen floor.

“A trip to the ER and some testing showed that what had been a small heart valve leak had become a major problem,” he explains.

Many people have small leaks in their heart valves. These leaks may not cause any problems, and a wait-and-see approach to watch for changes over time is often advised. If these changes occur, surgical repair or valve replacement is typically recommended. But neither was an option for Mahlon.

“My cardiologist, Dr. Kudos, explained that my age and my other medical conditions did not make me a good candidate for surgery,” Mahlon, who is 84, says. “He knew of Dr. Christian Witzke at Einstein and referred me to him for a consultation.”

During the consultation, Dr. Witzke explained that while Mahlon’s tests showed that his heart muscle was strong, the amount of valve leaking was a major problem that must be fixed. Dr. Witzke agreed with Dr. Kudos that open heart surgery was not an option, but explained that Mahlon was a good candidate for the MitraClip procedure.

The MitraClip procedure is minimally invasive. It does not require opening the chest and temporarily stopping the heart. Instead, doctors thread a sophisticated catheter through a vein in the leg to reach the heart valve. The MitraClip, a small device that almost looks like a tiny clothespin, is attached to the end of the catheter. Once the MitraClip is placed in the mitral valve, it helps the valve to close, reducing backflow from the leaky valve and improving the patient’s shortness of breath. It also helps forward flow of blood to the body, reducing symptoms of fatigue.

“We had a Zoom meeting to discuss the procedure because everything was shut down due to the COVID-19 problem,” says Mahlon. “Dr. Witzke and his partner, Dr. Alexandra Tuluca, Associate Chief of Cardiac Surgery, took me through the procedure with a video that showed how my valves should be working, how one wasn’t working, what the clip looked like and how it worked, and what would happen during the operation. It was pretty amazing.”

Convinced the procedure was the right choice for him, Mahlon went to Einstein on May 8 and Dr. Witzke and Dr. Tuluca performed the procedure. He was discharged on May 9.

“I faced a real struggle before this procedure was done,” he says. “Dr. Witzke explained that had I not had the procedure when I did, I probably would have been admitted for more problems. But the day after surgery, I felt so much better and was on my way home. Five weeks after the procedure, I was off of oxygen and was able to clean my pool — something I couldn’t do myself a year ago.

“Einstein was a great choice for me,” he says. “I’d tell anyone who had the same issues I did and needed a valve repair but couldn’t have surgery to go to Einstein and get that procedure.”

Dr. Witzke and Dr.Tuluca explained that there are many patients who could benefit from this procedure when surgical repair or replacement of the mitral valve are not an option due to age or presence of multiple medical problems. The Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia Valvular and Structural Heart Team is leading with the most rapidly growing MitraClip program in the Philadelphia area, with excellent results.

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