Music has always been in Victor Dugue’s life. He came to New York City from New Orleans in 1960, playing with a band, and he hasn’t stopped since. When he wasn’t playing music, he was driving a truck, delivering paper all across the five boroughs. It was a happy—and healthy—life: In all of his 67 years, he had never spent a night in a hospital. That is, until this past summer, when he had double bypass surgery at New York Methodist Hospital.
Mitral valve regurgitation occurs when the mitral valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle does not close properly, allowing blood to flow backward into the atrium. There are many causes for mitral valve regurgitation, but in Mr. Dugue’s case, the situation deteriorated because of the high blood pressure and lessened blood supply resulting from the blockages in his coronary arteries. The heart has to work harder to pump the blood through the clogged vessels, and over time, the left ventricle weakens and the mitral valve stretches, resulting in the inability of the valve to close correctly—thus, a regurgitant, “leaky” valve.
“Although I had never had a health issue in my life,” says Mr. Dugue, “heart disease runs in my family: my father had a heart attack at 52, my mother at 66, and my brother had one at just 33. So I suppose I should not have been all that surprised that in 2006, at the age of 62, I had a heart attack too.”
An MRI taken after his 2006 heart attack revealed that he had a blocked artery as well as a mitral valve that wasn’t closing well. His cardiologist advised that while surgery wasn’t immediately needed, it was important to keep a very close eye on his heart and his cardiac health. In the spring of this year, it became evident that not only had his leaking mitral valve had become much worse; he had developed blockages in two additional arteries, one of them being the infamous “widow maker,” the left main artery, which, when obstructed, can lead to a sudden, massive, and frequently fatal heart attack. His cardiologist immediately transferred him to New York Methodist Hospital and the care of Anthony Tortolani, M.D., chairman of cardiothoracic surgery.
“Mr. Dugue was fortunate that his cardiologist diagnosed the severity of his heart condition when he did. He had already experienced one heart attack and he was quickly on his way to another,” says Dr. Tortolani. “Although there were two distinct conditions we needed to contend with—the left main artery blockage and mitral valve regurgitation, they are interconnected. The heart is like a mobile— everything is interrelated.”
“We performed a double coronary artery bypass procedure on Mr. Dugue. We were able to make the two grafts bypass the three blockages, and by significantly decreasing the blood pressure with medication and by making the heart work more effectively, proper functioning of the mitral valve was restored. All in all, it was a very efficient surgery,” said Dr. Tortolani.
“Seems funny to say, but my time at NYM was wonderful; I really enjoyed my stay. I didn’t want to leave!” says Mr. Dugue. “The nurses and doctors were so nice to me and they always kept me going towards recovery, getting me up for my walks. I used to joke that they got me better just so they could wear me out! But because of them, I was up playing organ again at my church just three weeks after I came home from the Hospital. I am happy and healthy again.”
Read more real life patient stories in the 2011 NYM Annual Report.