A Medical Miracle in Mitral Valve Surgery

FEBRUARY 17, 2015
My mom recently needed mitral valve surgery. I don’t want to say that the practice of medicine in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is limited, but most major cardiac surgery performed in the area requires a split sternum.
That is avoided at all costs at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia. W. Clark Hargrove, III, MD, who introduced himself simply as Clark Hargrove, is a surgeon at Penn Presbyterian who is world renowned for performing a mitral valve procedure with just 4 incisions, each of which is only an inch or 2 wide. His work cuts hospital stays from traditional surgery in half.
I spent the morning of the surgery with Mom and her sister, Evelyn. When they finally took Mom into the operating room, I assured her that I would see her in a few hours. The nurses saw the fatigue on the faces of my aunt and I, and they suggested that we go back to the hotel and rest for a few hours. My aunt took a nap, but I went for a run.
When we returned to the hospital, Mom was already in the ICU. The unit was the size of a whole hospital floor, and the walk down the night-lit hall was completely surreal.
When I got into the room, Mom looked awful—deflated, like her life force was on the verge of leaving, and electrodes were everywhere. I’m glad she had warned me that when her mother had major surgery, she looked like she was on death’s door.
Mom somehow sensed I was there and opened her eyes. I told her she made it, we were glad to see her, and that we were going to let her rest. Her hand reached for my finger, wrapped around it, and weakly squeezed it as hard as she could. Even with the ventilation tube down her throat, I could see what she was saying: stay.
So I did until she drifted off. After speaking with her nurse, we tiptoed out of the room and went directly to the hotel bar for some much needed adult liquid refreshment.
The phone rang early the next morning. It was a surgical resident who had cared for my mom overnight. After I heard that she was off the ventilator, my own heart started beating again.
We got dressed and headed to the hospital. Mom looked much better. Her color was good, and she was about to be transferred to the step-down unit. Although Mom was not out of the woods yet, she was a few steps closer to the meadow.
Mom has an 8-week recovery ahead of her. You don’t just bounce right back from a surgery like this. Next to childbirth, this is the most traumatic thing my mother has endured, and she was 44 years younger then.
Time, a caring family, and the love of a good dog will pull her through. She has all 3 in abundance.
Jay Sochoka, RPh, thinks his mom is all heart.