From Ocular Migraines to Heart Valve Repair, This is Jim’s Story

By Adam Pick on June 4, 2015

Together, we’ve learned a lot about the symptoms of heart valve disease. We’ve also learned that many patients have no symptoms. That said, getting a proper diagnosis for any type of valvular disorder can be a bit tricky and, in some situations, quite dangerous.

During a recent trip to Chicago, I connected with Jim Kelly, 56, from Wheeling, Illinois. During our chat, Jim revealed a very unique, diagnostic story that resulted in… mitral valve repair surgery. This is Jim’s story.



Many thanks to Jim for sharing his patient success story with our community! And, many thanks to Dr. Patrick McCarthy and Northwestern Medicine for taking such great care of Jim!

Keep on tickin’ Jim!

P.S. To help the hearing impaired members of our community, I have provided a written transcript of the video below:

Dr. Patrick McCarthy: I’m Executive Director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and I run the cardiac surgery program here at Northwestern.  In my career I’ve done over 10,000 heart operations, and probably about 5,000 or more have been heart valve surgery. I do the vast majority of cardiac surgery. In my career, I’ve done heart transplants and assist devices. Now really I’m about 90% focused on heart valve surgery, both aortic and mitral valve surgery; bicuspid aortic valve disease and associated aneurysms; lots of complex reoperations; and also patients with atrial fibrillation.

Jim Kelly: My name is Jim Kelly. I’m 56 years old and I’m from Wheeling, Illinois. I had just been to the doctor about six months earlier for a physical. I went into see my ophthalmologist because I had some blurred vision and she diagnosed me with ocular migraines, which are perfectly normal. I went back to my physician and sat down in his office and he says, “What are you doing here? You were just here six months ago.” I said, “Well I had this vision problem so they wanted me to come back and get rechecked again.” He put the stethoscope on me and he could hear the valve leaking right away. He says, “I think you have a valve problem here.” I was pretty shocked. I was in perfect health at the time; no symptoms whatsoever.

Dr. Patrick McCarthy: There’s a variety of causes for why a valve would leak. Probably the most common in the United States is what we call mitral valve prolapse; it affects about 2% of people. There are strings on the valve, I tell my patients, like strings on a parachute. In this condition, the string has broken, essentially, over on one corner of the parachute.

Jim Kelly: I was diagnosed with a prolapsed mitral valve with severe leakage, and evidence of possible broken chordae.

Patrick McCarthy:  Mr. Kelly is a good example of a gentleman who showed up in his 50s and his valve is leaking a lot. What’s the best option for him? You could repair the valve, potentially, or you might have to replace it. In that group in particular it’s pretty much 100% that we’re going to repair; the reason being that it should last him the rest of his life. The durability is excellent. He doesn’t have to be on any blood thinners. The risk for infection long term is going to be very low, and so he avoids all those complications of having the valve replaced.

Jim Kelly:  I was in hospital for four days. I came in on the Tuesday and I went home on Saturday morning.

Patrick McCarthy:  Mr. Kelly had a very uneventful recovery; he just bounced right back from the operation. My understanding is that he’s doing great about a year after the operation.

Jim Kelly: I have pretty much all the original condition, and my valve is still there and he was able to repair my mitral valve without replacing it. I feel much better about that; I did not need a new valve. All the staff here at Northwestern are very professional. They kept me informed of everything that was being done all along the way, so couldn’t ask for a better experience. I’ve had a very quick recovery. I haven’t missed a beat since then.

Patrick McCarthy: For a patient considering mitral valve surgery, my No. 1 piece of advice is to do a little bit of homework. Ask your cardiologist, “Where would you have your valve repaired?” In general they will tell you — when you ask them pointblank.

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

David Russell Robbins says on June 11th, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Jim was the lucky one. At 53 you, I had severe migraines two weeks before contracting endocarditis. After an AVR with a mechanical St Jude heart valve, approximately 10 days later, they discovered a subdural hemorrhage in my right frontal lobe, also caused by a bacteria flush in my system, acquired during a dental procedure. My 1st surgery was for an aortic valve replacement which required a redo in 3 months, because the mechanical valve had dehisted from the annuplasty ring. 115 days in hospital/rehab, 2008 was not my best year. I’m 99% 5 years later, but not as vigorous as before these medical procedures. Thanks, Adam, we have shared stories a few years back.

Linda Alton Mabry says on June 11th, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Could Mr Kelly or Dr McCarthy tell us what the connection was between the ocular migraines and the valve leakage? Was there a connection?

a.g. says on June 12th, 2015 at 11:17 am

there doesn’t appear to be any, at least – based on the article.

Crestronwizard says on June 17th, 2015 at 4:08 pm

I started having ocular migraines after my mitral valve repair surgery. I take a low dose aspirin every day and rarely have them now.

M Montgomery says on June 18th, 2015 at 11:48 am

I had an AVR in 2004 and take Coumadin. I noticed silver zig zag lines for the first time while I was still post op in hospital. I later went to ophthalmologist and was told those lines were ocular migraines. I told my surgeon about it upon my first post op visit. He said he has the same problems but did not know what it was called. Seemed odd to me that he would not have had that checked out. Then as time went on I had several episodes of the 1/2 curtain, black, coming down on my eye. Went to ophthalmologist and he said I may have been having TIA’s. Have had one episode of blurred vision. Now I only occasionally have symptoms except an ocular migraine. Seems they may be triggered in part by fluorescent lights ? Also, I have to be careful not to turn my head quickly from side to side while shopping in grocery store. So glad to find this blog. I had always suspected the vision problems were related to surgery and now I am convinced I was right. I also have corneal dystrophy now, which adds another layer of vision impairment. Thanks to all of you who have been forthcoming. We all need to TELL OUR CARDIOLOGISTS about this !

mvpatient says on June 16th, 2016 at 11:55 pm

Mr. Kelly’s case is similar to mine in that I have ruptured chordae that need re-attaching to the leaflet, but wonder if artificial material like gortex was used in his case, just like what my surgeon plans to use, or if the existing chordae was just re-stitched back to the leaflet. Also, was an annuloplasty ring used as well?

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