Sharon Ruttger: Mitral Valve Replacement

Sharon Ruttger, 79, had a history of heart murmurs and atrial fibrillation, for which she had been taking medication and also undergone cardioversion procedures to “shock” her heart back into rhythm. While she occasionally felt fatigued, she was still able to go about her normal activities. So when Sharon began feeling more tired than usual, she went in to get checked out.

Since a heart murmur can be a sign of a leaking heart valve — also called mitral valve regurgitation — Sharon underwent further testing and learned she did have the condition, which is common in patients with atrial fibrillation. Left untreated, mitral valve regurgitation can lead to heart failure and death, so Sharon was eager to take action.

Sharon’s cardiologist, Dr. Timothy Dirks, a Minneapolis Heart Institute® (MHI) cardiologist at the MHI clinic in Baxter, Minn., suggested she talk with his colleagues, Dr. Paul Sorajja and Dr. Bassam Shukrallah, two valve disease experts who would soon be visiting the clinic. Sharon learned they could evaluate her condition to see if she might be a candidate for a research study being conducted at the Minneapolis Heart institute Foundation® (MHIF) Valve Science Center involving an innovative transcatheter mitral valve replacement (TMVR) procedure.

“I am otherwise in very good health and decided to do something,” said Sharon. “I was not interested in open heart surgery at all because the recovery is so long and I’d also had breast cancer surgery. When this alternative opened up, it seemed like the right thing. It was a little scary because it’s research, but not when compared to the alternative.”

In early December of 2021, Drs. Sorajja and Shukrallah, along with Dr. Mario Goessl and Dr. Richard Bae, implanted a bioprosthetic mitral valve in Sharon’s heart as part of the device’s ongoing global feasibility trial. The valve is implanted in a beating heart, without open heart surgery or cardiopulmonary bypass. MHIF was actually the first research center in the US (seventh in the world) to implant this specific valve back in April 2015 when the study first began and the MHIF Valve Science Center team continues to have the largest worldwide experience with TMVR procedures.

Today, Sharon said she has been “very satisfied.” She feels like she isn’t as tired and is “back to feeling normal and stronger.” Just a couple months after surgery, she felt strong enough to drive 150 miles from her home near Brainerd down to the Twin Cities for a shopping excursion with her grown granddaughter. She was also pleased that she no longer had to worry about getting so tired going up and down the stairs in her home.

Thanks to the innovative research conducted in the MHIF Valve Science Center, the team is increasingly improving options and outcomes for the more than 5 million Americans who are diagnosed with heart valve disease every year.

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The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) strives to create a world without heart and vascular disease. To achieve this bold vision, we are dedicated to improving the cardiovascular health of individuals and communities through innovative research and education.

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Since 2002, MHIF's Clinical Research Internship Program has hosted 235+ students for a unique physician-mentored cardiovascular research internship for undergraduate students. Interns not only gain exceptional experience that helps them prepare for medical school, they also help move MHIF research forward.

Community support is key to our ability to enlist the highest level of talent with annual internship costs exceeding $25,000 per intern. Build new opportunities for the next generation of world-class physician researchers by making a MATCHED gift by May 31st!