Published on October 16, 2015

Valve care and a network of experts saved Josimar’s life

Josimar makes friends wherever he goes.

Josimar DagbozounkouWhether he’s at church, at work or out on the soccer field, he puts a smile on people’s faces.

“I’m a happy guy,” he says. “I make people laugh.”

And until earlier this year, he seemed healthy. But in April, Josimar, 41, began having trouble breathing. In fact, he could barely climb stairs—much less play soccer.

“I was getting very tired,” he says.

Josimar’s primary care doctor sent him to Mercy Philadelphia’s Emergency Department. Soon, Cardiologist Eddy Mizrahi, MD, made a lifesaving diagnosis.

A bacterial infection had destroyed most of the valves in Josimar’s heart. It was one of the worst cases doctors had ever seen. And it would take the expertise of Mercy and its clinical partners to save him.

Fixing damaged valves

Heart valves are like gates that help control blood flowing through the heart. But valves can develop problems. Often they get stiff or leaky, which may cause symptoms.

That’s where Mercy Philadelphia’s Cardiac Valve Center comes in. The clinic offers specialty care for people with valve disease. Dr. Mizrahi is the director.

Four experts evaluate each patient, he says. The team includes a cardiothoracic surgeon, a nurse practitioner, a valve navigator and a dedicated cardiologist. They can help you understand the best treatment options available.

Depending on its condition, the valve may need to be monitored closely over a period of time. Or if a valve is badly damaged, often the best option is surgery to repair or replace it. That’s usually done at the nearby Mercy Fitzgerald Campus.

Valves can become damaged because of aging, other heart problems or infections, for instance.

“That’s what happened in Josimar’s case,” Dr. Mizrahi says. “He had a very bad infection that went to the valve—what we call endocarditis.”

Lifesaving care

Dr. Mizrahi used 3-D ultrasound to quickly evaluate Josimar’s heart. Among the high-tech tools for finding valve problems, it gives a better view of the heart and its moving valves. With it, he could see that three valves were very leaky. A fourth was also leaky—though not as much. And there were two holes in his heart.

“We were dealing with a very complex situation and a very sick patient,” Dr. Mizrahi says.

He and his team quickly made a plan. They knew that Josimar would need highly specialized surgery. As part of the Penn Heart and Vascular Network, the team partners with some of the most well-regarded cardiologists in the area.

Dr. Mizrahi knew that Penn Presbyterian would be able to provide exactly the type of procedure that Josimar needed.

Surgeons there gave him three new valves, patched the holes in his heart and performed two bypasses.

Smiling again

Josimar says all of his nurses and doctors were warm and took great care of him. He’s grateful for the way everyone worked together.

“It helped me to be alive today,” he says. “I think it is a great gift that hospitals can work in that way.”

And Dr. Mizrahi was glad to be a part of Josimar’s amazing recovery. He saw him recently during a follow-up visit. “He was wearing a soccer jersey and walking with no problems,” Dr. Mizrahi says. “He was doing phenomenally.” Of course, he was looking forward to playing soccer again.

Josimar’s advice? Try to stay hopeful every day.

“Everything is possible with God,” he says. “We need to help each other, because love is really important. If the doctors and the staff didn’t have love for their job and for the people they help, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Additional sources: American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute