At age 37, David Rivas thought having a stroke was one of the last things he had to worry about.
That was until he started feeling numbness on his left side and was raced to Banner Boswell Medical Center, 10401 W. Thunderbird Blvd., Sun City for emergency stroke care. Mr. Rivas got the care he needed to prevent long-term damage and after a comprehensive work-up, found that a simple procedure could correct what caused his stroke — a hole in his heart, also known as patent foramen ovale.
The hole, which allows blood to go from the right to the left side of heart, may account for as many as one in 10 strokes, according to medical experts.
“With people with PFO, especially those who are younger than 65 years of age, and with no other known contributing factors, studies have shown that closing the PFO and medical therapy can reduce the risk of recurrent stroke by more than 50 percent,” said Vimalkumar Veerappan, MD, a Sun City cardiologist who performed the first PFO closure procedure in Sun City area.
He is one of the very few cardiologists in Arizona that performs this innovative procedure.
In the womb, all fetuses have a foramen ovale between the heart’s right and left upper chambers to make it easier to breathe because the lungs are filled with fluid. After birth, when a newborn baby takes their first breath, the hole begins to close, usually sealing within a few months.
But in about 20 percent of the people, that doesn’t happen, Dr. Veerappan said. Most people never know they have it because the opening doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms. But in a small number of patients, PFO can allow clots to travel more easily to the brain, causing stroke.
That was what happened to Mr. Rivas, according to Dr. Veerappan.
“After ruling out all the other possibilities, we decided to proceed with the PFO closure,” he said. “He was young. We wanted to make sure he doesn’t have a recurrent stroke.”
The PFO closure procedure involves going in through a patient’s groin, inserting a small device and closing the hole with a disc. It’s an outpatient procedure with a short recovery time and patients go home the same day, he said. In the past, the same procedure would have meant open-heart surgery.
Now months after the procedure, Mr. Rivas is back at work in machine maintenance, grateful for the help to prevent him from getting another stroke.
“You know none of us believed that it was possible for me to have a stroke, but it happened,” he said. “It just goes to show that you never know.”