Margo Morrow and her husband, Jim, were looking forward to a quiet Friday searching for countertops for their new home in Reynoldsville, Pa. But Feb. 14, 2020 turned out to be a Valentine’s Day they’ll never forget.

“We were shopping in Cranberry when I told Jim I just didn’t feel right,” says Margo, 75. “I had tingling in my arms, and pain across my shoulders and the center of my chest.”

Jim drove Margo to UPMC Passavant—Cranberry, just minutes away, and the team coordinated her transport to UPMC Passavant—McCandless, where a heart team was waiting.

The heart and vascular team at UPMC Passavant—McCandless ordered an echocardiogram and a heart catheterization. Those tests confirmed Margo had severe mitral valve disease.

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The mitral valve is located between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. It has two flaps that open and close to control the flow of blood to the heart. Untreated, it can cause complications resulting in heart enlargement, heart failure or even sudden death.

Margo was referred to David M. West, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon and director of cardiac surgery at UPMC Passavant. “In Margo’s case, she needed surgery within days,” says Dr. West. While it’s possible to do minimally invasive mitral valve surgery, he recommended Margo undergo traditional open heart surgery.

“Our goal was to repair, not replace, her valve,” says Dr. West. “It’s a technically more challenging operation but the results are more durable and present fewer risks.”

Initially, the Morrows were overwhelmed by the news. They had recently moved to Reynoldsville to be close to their daughter and her family. Jim is a former educator and Margo served for two decades on school boards in Solon, Oh.

“Jim and I are retired now, but we spent our entire professional careers in the Cleveland area,” says Margo. “We seriously considered going back there for my surgery.”

“But when a team feels right, you know it,” says Jim. “Dr. West wanted us to understand everything that was happening so we could be confident in the care his team could provide.”

“Successful mitral valve programs rely on a high performing, multidisciplinary team like we have at UPMC Passavant. It requires close collaboration with the surgeon, cardiologist, critical care doctor, nurses, anesthesiologist, and cardiac rehab therapists,” says Dr. West. “Margo saw how well we performed together, and I think that influenced her decision to have us do her surgery.”

“Our final decision came down to the fact that Dr. West and the entire team were patient, calm, and good communicators,” says Margo. “In fact, everything about the experience from being admitted to the day I left was exceptional.”

Margo underwent surgery on Feb. 21 and spent five days in the hospital. Today, she’s “feeling great!”

“We were meant to be in Pittsburgh — I really believe that,” says Margo. “My life is better for the care I received at UPMC Passavant.”

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.