Joyce's Story: Grateful For Every Moment She’s Gained

On a cruise to the Greek islands last spring with her daughter, sister-in-law and nieces, Joyce Grace was dazzled by the stunning blue waters of the Ionian Sea. She savored the pleasures of sitting contentedly on a hillside in Corfu eating fresh olives, tomatoes, creamy cheese and baguettes drizzled with fresh olive oil. It was the first time in her 64 years she had traveled to Europe, and she embraced every moment.

Back home in Fairborn, Ohio, walking her dog in the park, Joyce is equally appreciative of quiet, uneventful days. In fact, she’s grateful for every moment she’s gained since her lifesaving valve replacement surgery in 2016.

Joyce survived a first battle for her life in 2007, when she had a procedure for stage 4 liver disease at Miami Valley Hospital. Doctors created new connections between two blood vessels in her liver to lower dangerously high blood pressure and prevent bleeding. She spent months in the hospital and nursing home regaining her strength and recovering her ability to walk, feed herself and perform simple tasks like tying her shoes.

Around 2015, Joyce began experiencing bouts of pneumonia. She had severe breathing issues and went to the hospital multiple times to have fluid drained from her lungs. Once, she even needed a ventilator to keep her alive. Her pulmonologist and cardiologist helped diagnose that her recurring bouts with pneumonia stemmed from a faulty mitral valve allowing fluid to back up in her lungs.

Her cardiologist in Dayton said she needed surgery, and she decided to get a second opinion from a prestigious heart program in northern Ohio. The doctor there told her she was too high risk for valve replacement surgery.

Joyce relates, “They said I had a one in three chance of surviving and they wouldn’t do the surgery. I came back home, and everything went from bad to worse. I was in the hospital a lot with breathing tubes for respiratory failure. I was on oxygen all the time. Even with the oxygen, I couldn’t catch my breath at all. I never felt like giving up, but sometimes it felt hopeless.”

Her lung specialist, Jennifer Clune, MD, consulted with cardiothoracic surgeons Syed Zaman, MD, and Jose Rodriguez, MD, of Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates, part of Premier Physician Network. She explained to them that Joyce either needed her heart valve replaced or she would have to consider hospice care for heart failure. Dr. Zaman agreed to do the surgery.

Joyce also agreed, without hesitation: “If there’s a chance they can fix it, let’s do it,” she recalls saying.

Dr. Zaman performed the surgery in 2016 at Miami Valley Hospital. Joyce says she had no quality of life before the surgery, but afterwards, “I haven’t felt that good in forever. After a week to recover in a nursing home, I came home and walked my dog.”

Joyce no longer needs extra oxygen to breathe easily. She is pleased to be able to go shopping, go to the grocery store or go out to lunch with friends.

She praises her doctors and the staff at Miami Valley Hospital for the kind and excellent care she received. “They saved my life,” she says with gratitude.