At 45 years old, Derek Danziger was the vice president of a successful public relations firm, married with two young boys, and enjoyed playing sports with friends in his spare time.
But his boss’ unexpected death from sudden cardiac arrest set off a chain of events that would change Danziger’s life forever.
“My colleagues and I were completely shocked,” says Danziger. “Although I didn’t have a history of heart issues, my boss’ death inspired me to make an appointment with my primary care doctor to take a closer look at my overall health.”
At the appointment, Dr. Mark Jabro, an internist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, listened to Danziger’s heart and determined that he had a heart murmur — a whooshing or swishing noise heard during heartbeats. Murmurs are caused by increased blood flow within the heart; most are not dangerous, but his doctor wanted to learn more. He scheduled an echocardiogram — a test that uses high frequency sounds waves (ultrasound) to make pictures of the heart — for further evaluation of Danziger’s murmur. When the results came in, Dr. Jabro referred him to a cardiologist.
The tests determined that Danziger had a mitral valve prolapse with moderate mitral regurgitation. Mitral valve prolapse alone, without significant leakage, is common and usually requires no treatment, but when the prolapse results in a significant leak between the left ventricle and left atrium, as it did in Danziger’s case, careful monitoring is essential.
Danziger's cardiologist recommended an exercise stress test — where an echocardiogram is performed before and after treadmill exercise to evaluate how a heart responds to physical activity. The test initially indicated that his heart was functioning normally with exercise.
A follow-up examination a year later told a different story.
“My second stress test showed that my heart’s pumping and blood pressure were decreasing instead of increasing with exercise,” says Danziger.
The mitral regurgitation had progressed from moderate to severe, and the heart wasn’t responding normally to exercise. A transesophageal echocardiogram — which shows detailed images of the mitral valve — was performed and confirmed that the valve was leaking severely due to a torn valve cusp.
The results indicated it was time to repair the valve with surgery.
“I’d wrapped my head around the heart murmur and mitral valve prolapse, but had no idea that my condition had worsened and was affecting my heart’s function,” says Danziger. “I had no symptoms; the only thing I felt was a little exhaustion, but I thought that was normal from being busy at work and a parent of two young children.”
Within a few months, Danziger had open-heart surgery to repair his torn heart valve performed by Dr. Karl Limmer, a cardiothoracic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. "I was very impressed with my surgeon. He walked me through the procedure and all my options, and thoroughly explained my recovery process," says Danziger.
"We fixed Derek's torn heart valve with a minimally invasive surgical option," says Dr. Limmer. "Once he is fully healed, he should have positive, long-term results that will last him the rest of his life."
After six weeks Danziger was back to work, and after two months he was off all heart medications. Now he is able to resume full physical activity.
“It’s been four months since my surgery, and I feel energetic and healthy,” says Danziger. “I went from losing someone from a heart condition, to having no belief anything was wrong with my health, to having it turn into something that led me to having life-saving surgery.”
Danziger says he’s inspired several friends to get their hearts checked by their doctors. “My whole feeling around this is that if I could help one person like me find something wrong, I will feel like I did my job,” says Danziger.
For the news media: To speak with a cardiologist about the signs, symptoms and treatment options for heart valve disease, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.