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Your Healthy Family: Heart procedure gets 80-year-old Naples woman back on golf course

Posted at 10:01 AM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 12:42:36-05

NAPLES, Fla. — Imagine not being able to put one foot in front of the other without feeling totally out of breath. That's what it was like for a Naples woman living with heart failure, until a team of doctors at at NCH Healthcare System stepped in.

"On the golf course, they call me the Energizer bunny because I keep coming back," Barbara Duncan, 80, said.

That's what motivated her during her recovery from a life-changing procedure — getting back on the golf course. Duncan had what her doctor calls Valvular Disease.

"She has a specific condition called Mitral Regurgitation, or a leaky Mitral Valve,” Dr. Robert Cubeddu, President of the NCH Heart Institute, said.

Duncan said the condition made her constantly tired and short of breath.

"I would get up from a chair and I would be heavy breathing, just from getting up out of a chair," she said.

It was making it difficult for her to enjoy going golfing.

"It was difficult. I had to skip some holes," Duncan said.

She said Dr. Cubeddu and his team at the NCH Heart Institute approached her in October to talk about the MitraClip procedure.

"Each one said that it would be much better for me after the procedure, My health would be better. I would feel better. And yeah, I do!" Duncan said.

Dr. Viviana Navas, the Section Head for Heart Failure at NCH Healthcare System, explained how her heart was working before the procedure.

"Valves are like doors that open and close. When you talk about leaking of the valves, it means that when the valve is supposed to be completely closed, it stays a little bit open. So blood actually goes backwards," she said.

What once would've required an open heart operation can now be fixed with a catheter that goes in through the patient's leg.

"We did this through a very small incision, so there's no pain involved," Dr. Cubeddu said.

Dr. Cubeddu said the catheter goes in through a vein in the leg, into the heart, through the wall that separates the right side from the left side.

"Using a long needle, we're able to puncture through and get on the left side of the heart. And this is a beating heart, so it's really fascinating. We can then navigate and negotiate the catheter to sit in position so then we can deliver the clip effectively," he said.

The clip then holds the two sides together to prevent the valve from leaking.

One day after the procedure, Duncan said she was ready to get back on the golf course. Two days later, she was up and walking.

"It’s night and day. Night and day. My physical therapist was in here the other day and checked me. She said 'Just get up and down five times.' I got up and down five times. In ever huffed once," Duncan said.

Duncan said she's excited to get back to her hobby.

"The golf course. I want to get out there with the girls and the camaraderie. It's so much fun,” Duncan said.

Dr. Cubeddu said NCH is the first in Collier County to do this procedure.