Faith Lill's Story

A second opinion offers an alternative to open heart surgery

Patient Stories December 23, 2020
Faith Lill With Her Dog

Mark Lill is a numbers guy. So when his wife, Faith, experienced atrial fibrillation, received a regurgitation diagnosis and was told she needed open heart surgery, he sought out a second opinion. In fact, he talked to four additional doctors at four different medical centers. 

“When I found out that I might need heart surgery, we were scared — scared of the surgery and scared of what might happen,” Faith recalls. 

After a thorough review of doctors and treatment plans, the Lills returned to Rush and interventional cardiologist Clifford Kavinsky, MD, PhD, with an idea.

Past success offers hope for the future

Mitral regurgitation causes a number of symptoms, including a heart murmur, shortness of breath, fatigue, fainting and a dry, hacking cough. These symptoms also indicate heart failure, which can worsen over time since the heart is not able to pump enough blood for the body. 

For many patients with a damaged mitral valve, open heart surgery is the conventional recommendation — but the solution didn’t feel right to Faith or Mark. Instead, Faith hoped that Kavinsky could perform a minimally invasive procedure to repair the mitral valve and control her regurgitation.

In 2010, Faith had received a MitraClip as part of a clinical trial at Rush. MitraClip is a simple procedure during which doctors guide a catheter through a vein in a patient’s leg or groin to reach the mitral valve. Once in the heart, doctors attach a small clip to the mitral valve to help it close more completely. Smaller than the size of a dime, the clip helps restore normal blood flow through the heart.

After experiencing this successful procedure a decade ago, the Lills hoped that Faith may be a candidate for a new MitraClip. Kavinsky is a MitraClip expert, having been involved with the procedure since the clinical trial phase. 

“Dr. Kavinsky listened to our concerns and was open to performing another MitraClip procedure. We knew it was a non-standard approach and appreciated how committed he was to making it possible,” Mark says. “It was unusual for us to have a doctor who really explains the diagnosis and our options so that we understand what we’re dealing with. There couldn’t have been another doctor more skilled in this field.”

That’s a high compliment coming from a family who does their research. “Dr. Kavinsky was very knowledgeable,” Faith says. “He gave me all of his attention and made me feel better about my next steps. I felt that way with him from the beginning.”

A leader in heart valve disease treatment

This patient-centered approach is the standard for care for Kavinsky — and for Rush. “The comfort and treatment of our patients is first and foremost. We try to put the patients at ease and assure them that they need to go no further,” he explains. “Whatever is best for them, whatever is available, we will provide.”

In fact, Kavinsky is a leader in the use of nonsurgical approaches to treating heart valve disease. Active with medical associations, he’s educating his peers about the benefits of procedures such as MitraClip and transcatheter aortic valve repair (TAVR). His focus is on what’s best for the patient’s health, including listening to their hopes for treatment. 

“Patients don’t want big cardiac surgeries anymore,” Kavinsky says. “They want shorter recoveries and shorter hospital stays, and those will dramatically change how we treat many forms of heart disease that have historically relied on invasive, open-heart procedures.”

In addition to his approach, the Lills appreciated how efficient it was to work with Kavinsky. After visiting with him for the first time in mid-summer 2020, Faith’s MitraClip procedure was completed in the fall. 

A seamless procedure, a speedy recovery

Like many patients, Faith was nervous going into the procedure but impressed with the recovery and almost immediate results. 

“It was nothing like surgery,” Faith says. “I was up and walking a couple of hours after the procedure.”

Faith felt so good she asked to go home the day of her procedure, but her care team encouraged her to spend the night just to make sure there weren’t any post-procedure issues. Scans the next morning showed that the MitraClip was successful, and follow-up testing continues to be positive. 

With her regurgitation controlled, Faith must continue to monitor for AFib symptoms since the conditions are not treated together. She’s maintaining her heart health with twice-daily walks, up to four miles each day with Mark and their dog. 

These walks have been a measure of her successful recovery. “Within a week of my MitraClip," she says, "I was walking two miles per day again." 

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