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Memorial Regional Cardiac and Vascular Institute: Specialized Care for Serious Heart Conditions

One of the most comprehensive cardiac institutes in the nation, Memorial offers procedures and treatments not readily found elsewhere.


April 2001 — Last Thanksgiving, Karen cooked the family's turkey dinner. It was the first meal she has cooked in two years.

And for this, the 49-year-old Miami woman and her family gave thanks. First of all they thanked God that Karen, a mother and grandmother, was alive and "could do things again," and then they thanked the highly specialized professionals that make up the staff of Memorial Regional Hospital Cardiac and Vascular Institute.

Last year, Karen was referred to Memorial Regional Hospital Cardiac and Vascular Institute with a diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy and severe mitral valvular insufficiency. Because of her enlarged heart and leaky mitral valve, she had suffered from congestive heart failure. Fluid had collected in her body, and her heart could not adequately pump oxygen-rich blood.

Karen was so weak that she could barely walk from her bed to the bathroom. "I couldn't lie down to sleep at night, because I had such shortness of breath," Karen says. "I had to sleep sitting up." Because of the severity of her heart disease, other doctors had given her only two to five years to live. The best course of action, they said, was to have a heart transplant.

With a heart transplant, however, demand greatly exceeds supply. According to the American Heart Association, between 20,000 and 40,000 Americans would have benefited from a heart transplant in 1998, but only 2,340 transplants were performed. Even if Karen were scheduled for a heart transplant, there was no guarantee a donor heart would be available. A desirable alternative was an operation to repair her leaking mitral valve, but many of the cardiac surgeons she came across in Miami were uncomfortable performing the operation. "They thought it was too risky; I could die on the operating table," Karen says.

The Search Widens

Karen continued her desperate search until she was referred to Memorial Regional Hospital Cardiac and Vascular Institute.

Mitral valve repair can be very helpful in patients who without surgery would have a high mortality rate in one year's time.

Memorial Regional Hospital Cardiac and Vascular Institute has become a leader in complex valve repairs and other delicate procedures, attracting patients from as far away as the Northeast and also the Caribbean and South America.

"We perform complex valve repairs, including the Ross procedure and we also handle adult and pediatric congenital heart problems," explains Richard A. Perryman, Chief of Cardiac Surgical Services at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute. "The magnitude and difficulty of the procedures we perform should prove very reassuring to the patient who requires nothing more than routine cardiac surgery, such as a coronary bypass."

Restoring the "Geometry of the Heart"

During Karen's operation in September, the doctors repaired the leaky mitral valve and, in doing so, changed the shape of her heart.

Her heart hadn't been pumping effectively, due to its spherical shape. By placing an appropriately sized ring around her valve, the doctors were able to remodel the geometry of the heart muscle and create a more ellipsoid shape like that of a football, which is the shape of a normal heart.

After the mitral valve repair, a cardiac electrophysiologist implanted a device called an internal cardioverter defibrillator, which can deliver an appropriately timed electrical shock to prevent a patient from dying of cardiac arrest caused by abnormal heart rhythms.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Because of the success of the operation, Karen does not need a heart transplant for now. Since her release from the hospital, she has been strengthening her cardiovascular system through supervised cardiac rehab sessions.

"I exercise 20 minutes on the stationary bicycle and 20 minutes on the treadmill three times a week," she says.

Today, Karen enjoys a better quality of life, and she praises the doctors and nurses at Memorial Regional Hospital Cardiac and Vascular Institute who made it all possible. "I had exceptional treatment," she says.

If you would like a referral to a Memorial Regional Cardiac and Vascular Institute specialist, call our Physician Referral Service at (800) 944-DOCS from 8 am - 5 pm, Monday through Friday.