Sherri Beyer, of Merrill, spends most of her free time running with her two teenage daughters and riding one of the family's horses.
Quite a change from nearly a year ago when she started to tire easily and experienced chest pains that eventually escalated to the point where she sought medical help.
"Things just didn't feel right and I had never had such severe chest pains before," Beyer said. "It got to the point where I couldn't function."
Subsequent medical tests revealed that Beyer suffered from severe mitral regurgitation, a debilitating condition that occurs when the heart's mitral valve fails to close properly, allowing blood to leak backward into the heart and lungs.
She was referred to Marshfield Clinic, where she saw cardiovascular surgeon Paul Pearson, MD.
"Sherri's condition was diagnosed by the discovery of a heart murmur, and then characterized by echocardiography," said Dr. Pearson. "For patients with symptoms related to the mitral valve, we offer an operation. However, we also offer surgical repair to patients who have severe leakage of the valve, but no symptoms"
Traditionally, mitral valve replacement with an artificial valve has been the standard operation for patients like Beyer.
"Increasingly, however, we are choosing mitral valve repair, rather than replacement to correct the problem," said Dr. Pearson. "There are many advantages to mitral valve repair. They include reduced risk of stroke, life-long blood thinners are not required and there is improved long-term survival."
According to Dr. Pearson, few surgeons are trained to perform mitral valve procedures, which is why Beyer was referred to Marshfield. "Our heart surgeons are committed to offering repair of the mitral valve to eligible patients. At Marshfield Clinic and Saint Joseph's Hospital, we take a multidisciplinary approach to mitral valve disease and involve primary care physicians, cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons. Patients can receive specialized care, and then return to their regular physician for follow-up. It's a virtually seamless system of care."
For Beyer and her family, the choice was obvious. "Dr. Pearson and his assistant were awesome, they explained everything thoroughly," Beyer said. "He told us he was pretty sure he could repair the valve. I was very confident going into surgery."
Beyer was admitted to Saint Joseph's Hospital on a Monday. Her surgery went well, and on Friday, she was discharged. Within a week or two, she was back to normal.
While Beyer had surgery to correct her symptoms, recent studies have determined that those with severe leakage of the mitral valve should be considered for surgery even before symptoms develop.
"Mitral valve disease is usually found in a routine physical exam by detection of a heart murmur, so it's important for people to get regular checkups," said Dr. Pearson. "Repairing the valve before symptoms appear prevents irreversible damage to the heart. Sherri now has the same life expectancy as any other healthy 36-year-old woman. If we would have done nothing, her chance of having a significant cardiac event over the next five years would have been greater than 60 percent."
"I'm not on any medications and I feel great," said Beyer. "I'm very happy with the outcome and would recommend it to anyone with the same diagnosis."