Patient Testimonial—Holly Nichols (Mitral Valve Repair)

I learned I had a prolapsed mitral valve when I was in my 20s. My father had the same condition and so did my brother, so it’s probably congenital. The prolapsed valve never presented a problem for me: I lived a normal life, and had a fast-paced job as a marketing manager in which I traveled all around the country. In 2009, my husband and I were on vacation when I started having tachycardia [a racing heartbeat] and arrhythmia. After several months, I had a pacemaker implanted. In the course of all the testing that was done, I learned that at some point my mitral valve would need repairing.

In 2011, my cardiologist, who is also at NYU Langone Medical Center, prescribed a TEE [transesophageal echocardiogram]. The results were not good: my mitral valve was leaking severely, and an operation was in order. My cardiologist recommended Dr. Didier Loulmet, so my husband and I met with him. We liked Dr. Loulmet and were extremely comfortable with him. However, I continued to research various approaches  over the next few months before finally deciding to go with robotic surgery, based on the fact that all the literature indicated it would reduce my post-operative pain, and there would be less bleeding, less chance of complications, and better cosmetic results.

As for Dr. Loulmet, my husband and I knew we were in good hands from the start. We were extremely impressed with his credentials—he’s been doing this type of mitral valve procedure for his entire career, and of course you want a surgeon to have that kind of experience. But, being such a high-powered surgeon, we weren’t sure what his personality would be like. When we met him, we learned that he was calm and reassuring yet confident, which is important when you are going through such a frightening experience. On our first visit he spent an hour answering all of our questions, and told us to feel free to call back with any other questions we might have. I did end up calling back, and he took my call and responded to all of my concerns.

I went ahead with the operation in November, 2011. I had minimal complications from the robotic procedure—but even more importantly, the surgical robot’s magnified, three-dimensional camera revealed to Dr. Loulmet that my valve was in worse condition than my TEE had shown. Instead of just performing a regular repair, they had to remove some calcified muscle bands below the valve as well, which added complexity to the procedure. When he explained all this to me afterwards, he told me he was very thankful he’d done the procedure robotically, because he might not have been able to see the calcification without the robot’s camera.

My surgery was performed on a Tuesday and I went home that Sunday. I believe the care you get after surgery is just as important as the surgery itself—and the care I received in the recovery room and post-surgical cardiac unit was superb. I don’t know how NYU Langone manages to recruit people who are so highly skilled and knowledgeable and so caring. The combination is fabulous. The same was true throughout my treatment—everyone was there for me every step of the way. I was totally impressed by every aspect of my experience, from the cardiac catheterization lab to the pre-operative process.

Following the surgery, I experienced all the benefits of having a less-invasive procedure. Two weeks after the operation, I felt good enough to walk a mile around my local high school’s track. I didn’t take any prescription pain medication because it upset my stomach, and as a result I was definitely in pain from the incisions between my ribs, but I was able to bear it. And now that they’ve healed, the incisions look great. They’re on the side, and the scars are barely noticeable.

I feel very fortunate that NYU Langone has both a robotic surgery program and someone like Dr. Loulmet, who is so versed in robotic mitral valve repair, and I would recommend him and NYU to anyone who needs a mitral valve repair procedure.