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Published on October 16, 2015

At the heart of our care

Teamwork, expertise and compassion make the difference at the Mercy Cardiac Valve Center

SharonSharon Rafter has always appreciated life. And now—thanks to heart valve surgery at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital—she’s even more determined to live it to the fullest.

“I don’t want to waste a minute,” she says.

At 46, Sharon’s had her share of health challenges. Twice she’s beaten cancer. And in 2014, with the help of the expert team at Mercy Fitzgerald’s Cardiac Valve Center, she successfully had major surgery to repair and replace faulty heart valves.

Sharon had been living with heart problems for years. And doctors weren’t certain of their cause.

At first she tolerated her condition. But when Sharon became increasingly short of breath, she went to her trusted cardiologist, Mercy physician Peter Correnti, DO, who sent her to the Valve Center. It was a step she was glad she took.

“They were completely focused on me,” Sharon says. “That was the best feeling. They wanted to do what was best for my health.”

A team you can trust

The Valve Center was created to provide specialty care for patients with valve disease.

“Many people are unfamiliar with this type of heart disease, but it is actually very common,” says Cardiologist Richard Hunn, MD, the center’s medical director. Some people are born with it. “Often, though, it’s a disease of aging or caused by another medical problem,” he says.

The valves are like doors that regulate blood flow through the heart’s four chambers, says Dr. Hunn. Sometimes the doors don’t close tightly. This allows blood to leak backward—one of the most common heart valve conditions—known as regurgitation.

Another common valve problem is stenosis. This is a complication with the way the valve opens. It’s often caused by calcium buildup, which prevents blood from getting through the valve.

What to watch for

Sometimes doctors will detect irregular blood flow with a stethoscope, but the patient won’t have experienced any problems.

Other times symptoms suggest trouble. The symptoms can be as vague as fatigue and shortness of breath—and easy to blame on aging. But since they can also be signs of valve trouble—as can chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting spells—they should be evaluated.

The experts at the Valve Center investigate symptoms, assess potential treatments if valve disease is diagnosed, and guide patients through what can be challenging times.

“We really try to work with patients through the process,” says Dr. Hunn. On rare occasions when people might benefit from services not offered at Mercy Fitzgerald, the team collaborates with Penn Heart and Vascular physicians.
Getting back to life

After hearing her options, Sharon chose to have surgery. Valve Center Surgeon Steven Weiss, MD, cleared calcium from two valves and replaced a third.

Within three months, she was back to work in the office of James Minnella, MD, a Mercy provider who also serves as Sharon’s personal physician. And now she’s able to do anything—without getting short of breath, and with a strong heart, figuratively and literally.

It’s gratifying for Dr. Minnella to see how well she’s doing—and to know what the expertise of the Valve Center and working together can accomplish.

“When you have a good team, including an excellent cardiologist and a superb surgeon, with primary care supporting the whole thing, it makes it so much easier and it leads to a better outcome,” he says.

Sharon is grateful too—for the love and concern of her family and coworkers that helped her get through everything and all those who made it possible.

“I’ve been through a lot,” she says, “but God’s been with me the whole way. I know He’s on my side. And,” she adds, “the doctors were terrific too.”

Heart Valves: By the Numbers

4: The number of heart valves in the body

2.5%: Percentage of the U.S. population with a valve problem

85,000: Annual number of discharges for valvular heart disease from U.S. hospitals

Source: American Heart Association

Navigating a heart condition

Learning you have a valve problem can be like driving an unfamiliar road. It helps to have some guidance.

Thankfully Mercy Philadelphia’s valve navigator is with you all the way. He or she can help you with such details as:

  • Making appointments
  • Arranging transportation
  • Answering questions

We’re here to help

Learn how the Mercy Cardiac Valve Center can help you.

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