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A Patient Story: Charlene Henderson

Posted on March 11, 2021

“Do More, Give More, Love More”

Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery Renews Woman’s Purpose for Living

Charlene HendersonCharlene Henderson, nicknamed “Charlee,” is a vivacious Hamblen County resident with a heart for family and an appetite for adventure. At 4-feet-1-inch tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, she jokes that she is packed small but fiery, like a firecracker. 

Since she was a child, Charlene noticed a palpitation, or the feeling that her heart was skipping a beat.

In early summer of 2020, Charlene’s heart was trying to tell her that something was not right. She recalls the stress of working a hectic customer service job during a pandemic. She often felt anxious or that her chest was heavy. In the middle of a busy shift, she sometimes found it difficult to catch her breath.

After consulting with a local cardiologist, Charlene was told she needed more diagnostic testing and possibly surgery. She was referred to H. Frank Todd, MD, cardiovascular surgeon with East Tennessee Cardiovascular Surgery Group. She ventured to Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville to see Dr. Todd with trepidation, because she knew something was amiss.

A Heavy Heart

Dr. Todd confirmed that indeed, something was wrong. Her mitral valve was leaking. If she continued without intervention, Charlene faced continually worsening shortness of breath, increased risk of sudden death or increased risk of heart failure. He recommended surgery to repair the valve.

“When Dr. Todd walked in the room, a quiet presence came over me immediately. I took a deep breath as he sat down and explained everything. One of my heart valves wasn’t working. It was closing up instead of opening, which is why I felt short of breath. I remember telling my husband that my heart was heavy. Not emotionally, but I knew something was wrong. As Dr. Todd spoke and I sat in stillness, I knew he was the person God intended to use to fix me.”

Mitral Valve Repair

In the body, blood enters the heart through a pumping chamber called the left atrium and then moves to the left ventricle. The mitral valve is located between these two chambers, and its job is to keep blood moving through the heart, preventing backflow. Sometimes the mitral valve can become hardened or loosened, causing a leak and requiring surgical repair or replacement to ensure valve function and blood flow.

Many patients with mitral valve disease have no symptoms, even with a leak that is severe. When symptoms develop, they include shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of energy, swelling of the ankles and palpitations (extra or skipped heartbeats).

A Burden Lifted

In August 2020 Dr. Todd performed a right mini-thoracotomy for mitral repair. A mini-thoracotomy involves a 3 to 4-inch incision where no bone is cut. Dr. Todd says Charlene was a good candidate for this minimally invasive procedure.

In many cases mitral valves cannot be easily repaired and the surgeon must insert a synthetic valve to replace the damaged tissue. Complications during this procedure could also result in open-heart surgery.

However, that was not necessary for Charlene. She had several minimally invasive incisions on her right side, near her ribs. She stayed at Parkwest for three days and healed well.

“In her case, there were no residual mitral regurgitation (or leaking mitral valve) after the procedure was complete, and that’s a hard result to get.”  – Dr. Todd

How much “leak” a patient has indicates how long the surgical repair will last. Dr. Todd confirms the repair allows patients freedom from worsening heart failure and an overall better quality of life.

“I remember my husband driving me home, and once he got me in the car, I was…euphoric. Halfway home I started crying, just weeping because I was so happy. I told him I was just glad to be here, and I felt so different, so blessed. I handed it over to God.”

Learn More

East Tennessee Cardiovascular Surgery Group provides complete cardiac and thoracic care. For more information about our heart care services or our medical team, please call (865) 632-5900

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