This article was originally featured in the Brigham Bulletin.
The day after undergoing a minimally invasive procedure to repair his heart, Daniel Haaser, 53, sat in his bed in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center and wept tears of joy. After nearly four months of suffering and uncertainty, he finally felt like himself again.
“I had been at a point where I couldn’t even remember how my life was before,” Haaser said. “When I came out of surgery, there was no need for oxygen. I could walk. I could do things. I was completely and totally overwhelmed by this wonderful turn of events.”
That was a radical change from the weeks leading up to his procedure at the Brigham on Dec. 17 to correct a leaky mitral valve. This life-threatening condition affects a flap controlling blood flow from one chamber of the heart to another. When the mitral valve does not close properly, blood leaks backward through the circulation, driving up pressure in the lungs and potentially contributing to shortness of breath with activity.
While most patients with a mitral valve leak have it repaired through open-heart surgery, Haaser would require a different approach—one that hinged on the collaborative, multidisciplinary expertise of his Brigham care team. That’s because Haaser’s condition was discovered just a few weeks after he had undergone open-heart surgery at another hospital to address multiple severe blockages in his heart.
“From the end of November until the day of my procedure at the Brigham, I was just trying to survive,” recalled Haaser, a software engineer and a volunteer emergency medical technician. “I tried to get out of the house every day, but I ran out of breath so quickly. I could not work or even participate in a meeting. I would lose my stamina and focus. In 10 minutes, I was completely done.”
Otherwise healthy and active, Haaser wasn’t especially concerned when he first experienced chest pain while he and his wife, Martina, were visiting her family in upstate New York over Labor Day weekend. But when the pain persisted and worsened, the Connecticut couple went to the nearest emergency department. There, doctors told Haaser he needed coronary bypass surgery. A litany of complications followed the operation, resulting in a 45-day stay in the intensive care unit that included two weeks in a medically induced coma.
Once home, Haaser thought he was on the path to recovery, but soon his health sharply declined. That was when his cardiologist in Connecticut diagnosed the mitral valve leakage and referred Haaser to the Brigham for a MitraClip procedure, a minimally invasive treatment option for patients who are not candidates for open-heart surgery.
During the procedure, a multidisciplinary team—including interventional cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses—works together to insert a catheter through an incision in the patient’s leg and guide it through the vein to the heart. The MitraClip is then positioned at the site of the leak. The team closes the clip’s arms to cinch the two valve flaps together, like a clothespin, explained Pinak Shah, MD, director of the Brigham’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.
To improve Haaser’s health before the procedure, Shah enlisted the help of his colleagues in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine’s Cardiomyopathy and Heart Failure Program. For days prior to the procedure, Haaser’s care team worked to treat his heart failure medically and prepare him for the MitraClip—ultimately draining 10 liters of excess fluid from his body.
“This is a great example of the collaborative care we that we provide to patients at the Brigham. The excellent outcome here is the composite result of the work done by the entire heart team,” said Akshay Desai, MD, medical director of the Cardiomyopathy and Heart Failure Program. “Having a team of physicians, nurses and cardiac subspecialists working together to attend to all relevant aspects of the patient’s care is the key to the success of these complex structural heart interventions.”
Discharged on Dec. 21—just in time to be home for the holidays—Haaser said he was deeply grateful for the compassionate, lifesaving care he received at the Brigham.
“I couldn’t be happier at this point,” he said. “I consider myself a Brigham and Women’s success story.”
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