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With gratitude to Abington’s medical team, Jenkintown woman lives fully after successful heart surgery

Reaching for a Rich and Spirited Life after Heart Valve Replacement

Linda KramerLinda Kramer was very ill in spring 2013, but didn’t know it. She had little energy and became aware of feeling increasingly weak, overwhelmed, weary and drained. “It snuck up on me,” she said. What snuck up also took her down, with a serious fall and subsequent Abington Hospital Emergency Trauma Center visit to have her head stitched. A mixed blessing, the fall led to the eventual discovery that Linda had a life-threatening tightening of one of the main valves in her heart.

After the visit to the ETC, Linda scheduled an appointment with her doctor to address her symptoms. She was diagnosed with pneumonia and based on her symptoms, referred to Cardiologist Charles Gottlieb, MD, chief, Electrophysiology Services, Abington – Jefferson Health. Dr. Gottlieb ordered a series of tests that showed Linda’s aortic valve – the valve between the heart and the rest of the body – had narrowed severely over time, which can happen with aging.

Linda’s disease process followed the usual slow progression of valve disease. Many people don’t know they have it until they begin having symptoms. Linda’s warning signs arose because her heart had been working extra hard to pump blood through the narrowed valve to the rest of her body. The diseased valve put Linda at greater risk for heart attack, heart failure or sudden cardiac death.

Heart Valve Disease

Dr. Gottlieb referred Linda to Cardiothoracic Surgeon Mauricio Garrido, MD, clinical director, Cardiac Surgery, Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health.

“Treatment for aortic valve disease that causes symptoms requires intervention,” explained Dr. Garrido. “In Linda’s case, the valve needed to be surgically replaced.” Dr. Garrido met with Linda and her family to review the surgical options.

“Dr. Garrido was so reassuring on a very functional and intelligent level,” said Linda. “He is a monumental person and has been wonderful to me and my family. I adore all my doctors and nurses at Abington and absolutely trust them.”

Careful Consideration of Surgical Options

The two major types of aortic valve replacements are mechanical and bioprosthetic (also known as tissue) valves. While a mechanical valve most likely will never need to be replaced, its use presents a higher risk of clotting. Therefore, patients with mechanical valves must take blood-thinning (anticoagulant) medication and require monitoring for the rest of their lives.

After discussions with her family and Dr. Garrido, Linda opted for surgical replacement of her diseased valve with a bioprosthetic valve manufactured with cow tissue, which is strong and flexible. Tissue valves can last nearly 20 years and usually don't require long-term use of medication. Linda preferred the tissue valve so she wouldn’t need to consider the lifestyle accommodations and other potential risks of anticoagulant therapy.

Linda was not a candidate for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), an option available at Abington.

Following surgery, Linda’s symptoms disappeared. Her recovery was aided by Abington Pulmonologist Conrad Reed, MD, due to other health issues. Otherwise, Linda has resumed her independent, active lifestyle. “I’m so grateful to my lovely doctors and nurses, and to my wonderful family and friends,” said Linda. A retired special education teacher, Linda taught language arts and social studies at high school, middle school and elementary levels for many years.

Today, the lively 77-year-old continues to tutor, writes poetry, belongs to book and movie groups, and visits with family and friends. Her dearest friend and constant companion, Hannah, is a silky-haired ragdoll cat, who came into her life after heart surgery. Of course, Linda holds a special place in her heart for other animals – especially (and literally) cows.

Experts at Abington Hospital, Abington – Lansdale Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital team up to provide a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment options at the Heart and Vascular Institute. For information, visit JeffersonHealth.org/AbingtonHeart.

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