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William Wohlsifer, Florida

by Julie H. on Friday, May 31, 2013

William Wohlsifer, Florida

I always have been physically active with jogging, boating, diving and martial arts training. Despite my ambition for physical activity, everything was always a struggle for me. I would be the first to run out of breath, the most exhausted on the karate mat, and the first to empty the dive tank of oxygen.

Every explanation possible was offered to me as to why I would tire so quickly, but no one ever suggested congenital heart failure. For example, when I asked the dive instructor what I am doing wrong to cause my oxygen tank to empty first, he told me that I was not doing anything wrong, but that I have a big chest cavity. A quick look at my colleagues shows that he was just guessing. When I asked the martial arts instructor why it was not getting easier for me, he told me I just have to train harder.

On March 1, 2008, I went to see a doctor for common hay fever treatment. It was my first visit with this medical provider. While listening to my heart he said, “How long have you had the heart murmur?” I responded, “What is a heart murmur?” He was the first to identify the sound of regurgitation in my heart. At age 54 I was informed for the first time that I have had a heart condition present since birth.

Following observation by three different cardiologists over the next four years, along with EKGs and stress tests, a nuclear stress test, numerous echocardiograms and a transesophageal echocardiogram, it was observed that the mitral valve prolapse and regurgitation advanced gradually from mild to moderate, then rapidly from moderate to severe. The jump from moderate to severe was seemingly overnight due to an eventual tearing of several chordae tendineae (parachute-like chords which support the valve while opening and closing during the cardiac cycle). This rendered the mitral valve highly inefficient, resulting in severe prolapse, minor tricuspid valve prolapse, a severely dilated left atrium, severe enlargement of the right atrium, severely elevated right ventricular systolic function, and an aneurysm of the atrial septum. “Severe” became the word of the day.

Prior to surgery I thought for sure I was dying because I could not overcome the extreme loss of breath caused by the backflow into the lungs of oxygenated blood. I dreaded the site of steps and inclines and even began parking on my front lawn at the door! Being naïve about how the human body works, it never occurred to me that my loss of breath was due to heart failure and poor blood circulation. I simply thought breathing only had to do with the lungs.

In late March 2012, I underwent mitral valve reconstruction at UF/Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. During surgery the ruptured chordae were excised and a 1 1/4" annuloplasty ring was placed completely around the circumference of the valve.

One year later I am active again and in many ways better than before surgery.

Written by William Wohlsifer