By Tom Hallman Jr.
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Molly Hoeflich’s heart problem showed up decades ago, during a routine physical when she was an 18-year-old college student.
Listening through a stethoscope, the doctor said he could hear a heart murmur, a distinctive sound produced when blood flow through the heart is turbulent.
“He told me it was no big deal,” Hoeflich said recently. “It was like a doctor telling someone they had flat feet.”
After college, Hoeflich went on to medical school, a career that eventually landed her as medical director of in-patient rehabilitation at Portland Providence Medical Center.
But at age 56, Hoeflich started noticing occasional heart palpitations. She figured they were from stress, but as a precaution she underwent a physical. Her doctor used an echocardiogram, an ultrasound that uses sound waves to create a video to see how her heart was functioning.
“As so often happens in medicine, we were looking at one problem and found another,” Hoeflich said. “The palpitations weren’t the issue, it was something bigger.”
The doctor called Hoeflich at home and told her she had moderate aortic valve stenosis. The disease, the most common heart ailment, occurs when the aortic valve, located between the heart’s left ventricle and the aorta, narrows, making the heart work harder to carry blood throughout the body.
“I saw a cardiologist and more tests were run,” Hoeflich said. “I thought it was something to watch, and I’d come back in a year. When I came back in a year, he was much more somber. He suggested I see a heart surgeon.”
Hoeflich put it off. “I didn’t want to go,” she said. “If I did, it would make the problem I had real.”
Hoeflich asked the cardiologist when she might need surgery.
“He said one to 10 years,” she said. “And like every patient, I focused in on the 10, because I did not want surgery.”
But within the year, Hoeflich was experiencing problems.