When Evelyn Valentine, a 27-year-old social worker in the Bronx, found herself short of breath for a few weeks, she thought she needed a vacation. But when the symptoms returned last year along with chest pains, she and her doctor paid attention. After viewing an echocardiogram, her doctor said she had a leaky valve (regurgitation) and referred her to a cardiologist. Evelyn was concerned, but not upset because "he said it wasn't lifethreatening." But when her cardiologist viewed a second echocardiogram six months later, he saw severe leakage and recommended heart surgery.
In the past, mitral valve surgery was reserved for patients who were severely impaired. But today, with better imaging and improved surgical techniques, doctors recommend earlier repair of mitral valves to prevent permanent heart damage. The use of minimally invasive cardiac techniques offers additional benefits, such as reduced complications, faster healing, and much smaller scars.
Evelyn, who had never had an operation, was now shopping for a cardiac surgeon. After interviewing several highly recommended surgeons, she chose Dr. Greg Ribakove. As she explained, "It wasn't just that he was a lot more experienced. The other surgeons were capable and lived closer to the Bronx! But Dr. Ribakove got my concerns. He really supported me, answered all my questions, and was very available. I mean, this was my heart, my life." Dr. Ribakove performed a minimally invasive mitral valve repair, which left a "barely visible" scar beneath her breast. Evelyn has since resumed her life. Best of all, "I can breathe easy again."