Mike Makes Full Recovery After a Life-Changing Diagnosis

Mike McHugh’s heart was a ticking time bomb. He was born with a faulty valve in his heart, known as a bicuspid aortic valve. The valve is supposed to have three flaps, but his had only two.

Mike had no reason to worry about his heart. There is very little history of heart disease in his family, and his cholesterol numbers are fine. He was doing all the right things – regular exercise and eating right – but healthy living could not counteract the failing valve forever.

The Wake-Up Call: Routine Activities Became a Challenge

A single father of two young children, Mike is an active guy. The first thing he noticed was that he was getting winded after running just one-half mile, when his typical routine is to run two or more miles. Then on spring break in Gatlinburg, Tenn., with his kids, he noticed he couldn’t keep up on hikes the way he had just the year before.

Mike went to his primary care doctor, who diagnosed an enlarged heart from an x-ray. That’s a symptom of a heart that’s working too hard. Paired with the shortness of breath Mike was experiencing, it was clear that something was wrong with his heart. His doctor referred him to the TriHealth Heart Institute, where he first saw cardiologist Ali Razavi MD.

After a series of tests, including an echocardiogram, an angiogram performed by cardiologist Craig Sukin MD, and a CT scan, the diagnosis was a leaky aortic valve that was preventing his heart from effectively pumping blood to the rest of his body. The valve needed to be replaced. “I was completely surprised at first,” Mike said. He was referred to J. Michael Smith MD, a cardiac and thoracic surgeon with the TriHealth Heart institute.

Dr. Smith explained that often this valve replacement could be done using minimally invasive robotic surgery, but in Mike’s case, they also had found an aortic aneurysm that would need to be repaired at the same time, so open-heart surgery was the only option. An aneurysm is a weakness in an artery that could rupture under certain conditions.

Coordinated Care Relieves Mike's Anxiety

So Mike prepared for surgery. Because it was not an emergency, he was able to schedule it over the summer while his children, an 11-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl, could be more easily cared for by others. When dad came home, “They helped by picking up some new chores around the house. My daughter learned how to do laundry, my son carried the laundry baskets up and down from the basement,” Mike said. The surgery and recovery went well, and gradually Mike’s heart began to grow stronger. Starting with short walks, he graduated to longer walks and then returned to work about two months after surgery. He is now seeing cardiologist Dogan Temizer MD for his follow up care.

“Everyone I saw, they knew what they were doing. I heard from a friend that Dr. Smith was the best in the city, so I felt like I was in good hands,” he commented.

Mike benefitted from the TriHealth Heart Institute’s focus on coordinated, multidisciplinary care, that is, physicians with different specialties and expertise working together to provide the best treatment for each patient. Though he saw many different physicians on his path, they all worked together for the best possible outcome for Mike.

“Initially it was life-changing, now things are pretty much back to normal. Hills and stairs still get me a little bit winded. We’re going back to Gatlinburg in a few weeks, so we’ll see how that goes,” he concluded.

Tags Heart

Last Updated: October 21, 2014