Myra O’Connor’s journey to lifesaving heart valve surgery started with what she thought would be a simple outpatient foot surgery. During her pre-operative appointment, her echocardiogram (EKG) reading came back abnormal.
Her physician told her she wouldn't be cleared for foot surgery until she received a normal EKG reading. But after additional medical testing, it became clear that O’Connor would never have a normal EKG reading - without heart surgery first.
O’Connor was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation, which occurs when the heart’s mitral valve does not close properly, allowing blood to leak backward into the upper chamber of the heart.
“It was scary and life-changing at that very moment,” she says of her diagnosis.
“Initially, both of us were pretty much devastated,” remembers O’Connor’s husband Mark.
As soon as the couple returned to their home, they began researching mitral valve repair and replacement online.
“The name that kept coming up time and time again was Dr. [David] Adams up in New York City at Mount Sinai,” he says. “Dr. Adams was one of the people who pioneered the repair process for mitral valve.”
Their research also led them to the name of a physician who had trained with Dr. Adams - Dr. Federico Milla, a Marcus Heart Valve Center surgeon located in Atlanta, much closer to the O’Connor’s home in Hayesville, N.C.
“They asked me if I had ever had symptoms and my immediate reaction was, ‘No,’” says O’Connor. “But then I realized that symptoms I had just learned to live with were actually symptoms of this regurgitation.”
She frequently experienced shortness of breath, which she attributed to being out of shape.
O’Connor’s daughter even commented that her mother was “always huffing and sighing at her,” though O’Connor insisted it wasn’t intentional.
“I realized from that, I was experiencing shortness of breath,” she explains.
“Once we came to the hospital and met with Dr. Milla and his staff, it made all the difference in the world,” says Mark. “It put us at ease and he was very good about explaining to us the difference between mitral valve repair and mitral valve replacement.”
Dr. Milla informed the couple that Myra was an excellent candidate for mitral valve repair, which allowed him to use her own tissue – rather than donated human aortic valves, animal valves or mechanical valves. One of the main benefits of having a mitral valve repair versus a replacement is that O'Connor will not have to take blood thinner medication for the rest of her life.
“I felt a calm and a sense of reassurance that I knew I was where I was supposed to be and I was with who I was supposed to be [with],” she says.
Just weeks after O’Connor’s surgery, Mark already notices a difference in her ability to walk and not become winded.
“Her whole outlook has changed,” he says.
When she initially met with Dr. Milla, O’Connor was concerned because her daughter was getting married in just weeks.
“I wasn’t worried about the surgery – I knew I would be fine,” she says. “My fear was I wouldn’t be ready to help with my daughter’s wedding and ready to take part in all the activities.”
Now as she prepares for the wedding, she feels “better than my old self.”
O’Connor is thankful that her physicians caught her heart condition and took her EKG reading seriously.
“It is so scary to think about what could have happened months or years down the road,” she says. “I feel like it was a blessing to be hooked up with the right doctors here at Piedmont.”