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Stratford resident beats congestive heart failure with help from Bridgeport Hospital experts

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bob Winkler has overcome congestive heart failure (CHF) and resumed his busy life as a freelance photographer, thanks to the expert care he received from the Heart Institute at Bridgeport Hospital.

The 58-year-old Winkler says he took his high energy level for granted, depending on his body to give him the stamina to do his job. Then last summer, his endurance suddenly faded.

“In about a week’s time, I went from feeling fine to feeling completely exhausted, as if I had been hit on the head with a hammer,” he says. “I couldn’t walk without gasping and I couldn’t sleep because it was too hard to breathe when I was lying down.”

When Winkler’s arms and legs suddenly swelled, he knew he needed help fast. He went to a walk-in clinic, had a chest X-ray and was quickly sent to Bridgeport Hospital. “From his symptoms, it was clear he was battling CHF,” says cardiologist Adam Schussheim, MD, who examined Winkler in the emergency department. “My examination suggested that the cause was mitral valve disease.”

Further tests confirmed the diagnosis. Bridgeport Hospital cardiothoracic surgeons Umer Darr, MD and M. Clive Robinson, MD determined that the mitral valve and tricuspid valve in Winkler’s heart weren’t working properly.

“The heart valves allow blood to flood in only one direction,” explains Dr. Robinson, who is also section chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the hospital. “If a valve doesn’t close tightly, blood flows backward and isn’t pumped through the body.”

After discussing treatment options with Winkler, it was determined that mitral valve repair surgery would be the course of action. The procedure involves closing the leaky valve with tiny stitches or placing a surgical ring around the opening of the valve to tighten it.

Dr. Darr performed the surgery to repair Winkler’s mitral and tricuspid valves, assisted by Dr. Robinson. If successful, the procedure would help Winkler’s CHF clear up on its own.

One day after surgery, Winkler was sitting up. A day later, he was walking. In less than a week, he was strong enough to go home.

“We were lucky to be able to identify Mr. Winkler’s problem, repair it quickly and preserve his heart function as much as possible,” says Dr. Schussheim. “His valve is now perfect and his heart function is basically normal.”

Dr. Darr is equally pleased with the outcome. “Mr. Winkler came into the hospital profoundly sick and after being treated left profoundly healthy,” he says.

As for Winkler, he says his experience with CHF has made him appreciate life more than ever. “I also think about what might have happened if I had continued to ignore my symptoms,” he says. “If it weren’t for Bridgeport Hospital, I’d probably be dead.”

Bridgeport Hospital has been at the forefront of advanced cardiac care for nearly 50 years. The hospital is ranked first in Connecticut in heart failure survival according to information published by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition to cardiac surgery, the Heart Institute at Bridgeport Hospital provides angioplasty to treat coronary artery disease and sophisticated heart rhythm care as well as cardiac rehabilitation and wellness services.