Tag Archives: Open heart surgery

Patient Story: Congenital Heart Defect Leads to Aortic Valve Surgery

When Robert Prielipp of Lexington was just 24 years old, he lost his father to heart failure. Robert’s father was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, the most common congenital heart defect. A normal aortic valve has three leaflets that open and close to allow oxygenated blood out of the heart into the body. In a bicuspid aortic valve, two of the leaflets are fused. Sometimes, that can cause the valve to be narrowed or leak, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. Over time, it can cause the heart muscle to thicken and lead to heart failure.

The doctor told Robert’s mother it would be wise for Robert to have his heart checked as well, since a bicuspid aortic valve is common and can be hereditary.

Robert was always active in his youth. “I played basketball, football, baseball and golf. I also ran 5K races. I never had an issue with anything,” he said. But his father’s death prompted him to see a cardiologist once he reached his 30s.

Robert learned he suffered from the same heart defect. “My doctor said that I had a heart murmur, but that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about having my aortic valve repaired until sometime in my 60s.”

With continued monitoring, all was well until Robert hit his 40s, when his doctor expressed concern that the valve might be deteriorating faster than originally expected.

“Tests showed that there was a buildup of calcium in the valve,” he said. “I kept thinking that my dad was just 52 when he passed away and his brother was even younger.”
Robert was an avid runner, completing three-mile jogs several times a week. He began noticing that it would take him longer to finish his workout – and he was becoming more easily winded.

Dr. Dee Prastein of Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery

Dr. Dee Prastein of Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery

At Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, Dee Prastein, MD, recommended that he have aortic valve replacement surgery sooner rather than later. Dr. Prastein said his aortic valve was severely deteriorated and he had an enlarging aneurysm, both of which needed to be addressed surgically. 
The defective valve would be replaced with either a mechanical or tissue valve. In August of 2015, Robert underwent open heart surgery at Lexington Medical Center.

Robert credits Dr. Prastein with easing his concerns over the surgery. “I had a lot of anxiety prior to the surgery, not knowing what to expect,” he recalled. “But she would even call me after my appointments to make sure she had answered all my questions. That was extremely helpful for me.” And Dr. Prastein included Robert in the decision process for determining what type of valve replacement would be best for him and his lifestyle.

With surgery and recovery now behind him, Robert is feeling great. “I enrolled in Lexington Medical Center’s cardiac rehabilitation program after surgery. I was able to build my endurance back up and I’m feeling back to my old self. I’m pretty much doing everything that I did before.”

That includes regular jogs at the Lexington High School track near his home – where his time for a three-mile run is now steadily improving.

While Robert didn’t exhibit the same symptoms as his father – difficulty breathing, and swelling in his feet and legs – he knows that he learned from the tragedy of losing his father and he hopes others will benefit, too. “I’ve been telling everyone that it doesn’t hurt to get looked at. Just because you feel well, as I did, doesn’t necessarily mean all is well, especially when it comes to your heart,” he said. “When you turn 40, just have a checkup. If everything is fine, then great. If not, then hopefully, you caught the problem early. As my 95-year-old grandmother says, ‘Just take it one day at a time.’”

“Heart” With a Little Help from Our Friends

“Where’s your heart?”

That’s what Barbara Brown’s grandchildren asked her after she had open heart surgery at Lexington Medical Center.

They were talking about the heart-shaped pillow that each heart surgery patient receives. Members of the patient’s care team sign it. And, sometimes, the surgeon draws on the pillow to explain the patient’s condition and how to fix it.

“The heart was a lifesaver,” Brown said. “I’d hug it after surgery and it made me feel more secure.”

The Lexington Medical Center Foundation provides the heart pillows, which are designed to support the chest when
patients cough or sneeze after surgery and to help them remember not to use their arms when standing and walking.

The pillows add some emotional comfort, too.

LMC_010914_0118The retired Lexington County middle school math teacher’s heart troubles began early in 2013 when she experienced pain running down her arm while on a treadmill. She was also borderline diabetic, had high cholesterol and a history of heart disease in her family.

The problems multiplied one day when she was walking at Riverbanks Botanical Garden in Columbia with a friend.

“It felt like there was an elephant on my chest.” And her face was as pale as a ghost.

A cardiac catheterization at Lexington Medical Center revealed two blocked arteries. Brown underwent open heart surgery at the hospital on July 18, 2013, two days before her 63rd birthday.

After surgery, she began the hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program, taking classes about nutrition and healthy eating, and working out on treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines in Lexington Medical Center’s nationally accredited cardiac rehabilitation facility.

“The thing I liked most was knowing that I was being monitored,” Brown said. “I felt confident knowing they were watching me.”

Statistics show that cardiac rehabilitation participants experience a 34 to 46 percent reduction in death rates compared to non-participants. Benefits also include reduced symptoms, increased energy, quicker return to work and leisure activities, and improved quality of life.

Cardiac rehabilitation is so important that the Lexington Medical Center Foundation offers scholarships to people in need who do not have the resources to pay for it. And the hospital’s Foundation pays for a DVD library to educate cardiac rehabilitation patients, flat screen televisions for the gym and waiting area, scales for patients to use at home, and tuition for smoking cessation classes.

These days, Brown eats healthy, keeps a food journal and exercises 30 minutes daily. She also takes care of two of her grandchildren two days per week. They like to play “hospital” in her house and hand her the heart pillow.

“You need your heart,” they tell her.

The Lexington Medical Center Foundation provides important programs and services that help people in our community, including cancer patients. Please consider giving to the Lexington Medical Center Foundation during the Central Carolina Community Foundation’s “Midlands Gives” challenge on May 5. Learn more at MidlandsGives.org.

Welcome Heart Surgeon Deyanira “Dee” Prastein, MD

Lexington Medical Center is pleased to announce that Dr. Deyanira “Dee” Prastein has joined the hospital’s network of care as a heart surgeon. She joins Dr. Jeffrey Travis at Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, to provide comprehensive cardiovascular care that meets the needs of our community. She is the first female heart surgeon in the Midlands.

Prastein_Labcoat_Standing_ORDr. Prastein has world-class training in cardiothoracic surgery, studying inside some of the most prestigious heart programs in the world. Her intensive work includes experience with the most state-of-the-art procedures available today.

Prior to joining Lexington Medical Center, Dr. Prastein was the lead cardiothoracic surgeon at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, N.C. A graduate of the Medical College of Virginia, Dr. Prastein completed a general surgery residency at the University of Maryland and cardiothoracic surgery training at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

During her residency, she participated in extensive research on heart failure. She then worked at Papworth Hospital in England, a facility famous for being one of the first in Europe to perform heart transplants.

Dr. Prastein compares open heart surgery to an orchestra playing music.

“All of the players in the operating room have different roles and everything has to come together,” she said. “It’s paced so that things happen at the right time and tempo. Everyone knows the steps and what time to do certain things, and the timing matters.”

Dr. "Dee" Prastein and Dr. Jeffrey Travis of Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery inside Lexington Medical Center's open heart surgery suite.

Dr. “Dee” Prastein and Dr. Jeffrey Travis of Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery inside Lexington Medical Center’s open heart surgery suite.

Dr. Prastein decided that she wanted to be a heart surgeon while in medical school.

“I thought that cardiothoracic surgery was the most amazing thing you could do as a surgeon and doctor,” she said. “Our brain makes us human and the person you are, but none of that matters if you don’t have a working heart.”

Lexington Medical Center’s heart program is affiliated with Duke Medicine. Dr. Prastein learned about the hospital while working there. And she was impressed.

“Lexington Medical Center is very passionate about and dedicated to making its heart program succeed.”

She also liked that Lexington Medical Center has made efforts to make sure they have the best cardiologists and surgeons available, and supporting staff to provide top-notch care.

“I love what Lexington Medical Center has created. My goal is to make the hospital’s heart program grow and thrive. There’s a lot of goodwill and passion for treating patients with heart disease, and I want to make sure I’m part of that success.”

She understands that heart surgery is a scary proposition for patients and their families. So, she works to put them at ease.

“Right before surgery, I talk to my patients, hold their hand, look into their eyes and tell them, ‘I’m going to take good care of you.’”

She knows that heart surgery will improve their quality of life and help them to live longer.

Working as a doctor has been a dream of Dr. Prastein since childhood. She was born in Nicaragua and lived there until she was 10, when war led her family to move.

“When we lived in Nicaragua and the war started, I wanted to help people,” she said. “In my eyes, there were only two people you could run to for help – priests and doctors.

Obviously, I couldn’t be a priest, so I wanted to be a doctor.”

Dr. Prastein settled in Fairfax, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., with her parents and brothers. Her mother and father, a civil engineer, sent her to college at George Mason University, where she graduated with a degree in chemistry.

There, she met her husband, Jonathan. They’ve been married for nearly 20 years and have a son named Jascha, who will be two years old in March. In her spare time, Dr. Prastein enjoys spending time with Jonathan and Jascha, and running. She has completed five marathons.

“I am proof that you can do anything with hard work. I am truly living the American dream.”