Pat DuFrane, 57, of Kaukauna, stepped out of the shower one morning in August 2018, only to be bathed in sweat. “It just started pouring out of me, off my face, hitting the floor,” he said.
But he wasn’t alarmed. For years, Pat experienced vertigo spells when he would sweat profusely. He assumed he was having another one. “I got a fan, sat on the couch and fell asleep for two hours,” he said.
While a day’s rest had resolved Pat’s vertigo before, this time was different. “I didn’t feel bad but didn’t feel good, either,” he said. “It was unusual and I thought something was wrong.”
Two local doctor visits and a trip to the emergency department later, Pat learned that “something” was a heart attack.
“I had no clue — no pain in my chest or arms, maybe just a little in my back,” he said. An artery in Pat’s heart was completely blocked and part of the muscle was damaged permanently.
“I was told I may someday need a heart transplant,” he said. “I was floored. I didn’t know what to think.”
The total blockage meant angioplasty and stenting were not options, so Pat received medical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation.
“I didn’t have the stamina and strength I needed and was short of breath,” Pat said.
After 15 weeks, he returned to his job in the paper industry but struggled with lifting and bending.
State-of-the-Art Heart Care
When an angiogram in November revealed his mitral valve was leaking severely, Pat’s local cardiologist referred him to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital.
“Pat’s heart attack had compromised the structure that supports the mitral valve, and, as a result, the valve was not functioning as it should,” said Mitchell Saltzberg, MD, medical director, comprehensive heart failure, and MCW faculty member. “If the valve leaks, a portion of the blood that should be going to the rest of the body goes backwards. It can produce higher blood pressure in the lungs and make it harder to breathe.”
Froedtert & MCW heart specialists met as a team to consider the best options.
“Our first concern was the severity of his heart failure,” Dr. Saltzberg said. “We could have gone a few different ways, depending on how he responded to initial therapy.”
The team considered options for Pat, including mitral valve surgery, a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and MitraClip®, an innovative, minimally invasive procedure performed at Froedtert Hospital.
To optimize Pat’s condition first, Froedtert & MCW doctors worked with his cardiologist in Appleton to start him on medical therapy, combining beta-blockers, a diuretic and recently approved neurohormonal therapy to make it easier for the heart to pump.
“He stabilized nicely, making MitraClip viable and avoiding surgery, an LVAD and the need for transplantation,” Dr. Saltzberg said.
“When I got the word about MitraClip, it felt like a miracle had just happened to me,” Pat said. “I preferred it over the other options.”
Minimally Invasive MitraClip Procedure
MitraClip involves threading a dime-sized clip through a catheter to the mitral valve. Once in place, it draws the valve’s two leaflets together to reduce leakage.
“It’s as if the leaflets are curtains blowing in the wind that don’t come together to close off the light,” said Michael Salinger, MD, interventional cardiologist, MCW faculty member and one of the pioneers of MitraClip, who performed Pat’s procedure in May 2019. “It’s like taking clothespins, fastening them together in the middle, and stopping light from leaking through.”
In Pat’s case, Dr. Salinger used two MitraClips to complete the successful repair.
“I went from severe leakage to only mild,” Pat said. “That was amazing.”
He spent just one night at Froedtert Hospital and said he was already breathing easier the next morning. “I can’t thank the Froedtert & MCW team enough for their MitraClip expertise and the way I feel,” he said, “Now, at work, I can lift my arms and carry weights like it’s no big deal.”
While Pat will need ongoing heart care, the MitraClip has considerably improved his prospects.
“We know MitraClip reduces hospitalization in a two-year period by 47% and reduces death in a two-year period by 38%, so Pat’s functional capacity and prognosis would have been different without Froedtert Hospital and MitraClip therapy,” Dr. Salinger said.
“I’m the best I can possibly be with my condition,” Pat said. “I hope I have many more years with my MitraClips.”