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Kristen Herrera – heart surgery success story

A heart in need of repair


Kristen Herrera – heart surgery success story
Kristen Herrera’s life was complete. In September 2015, she gave birth to her second child, Ava Rae. The cesarean section delivery and recovery went as planned, and both she and her little girl went home from the hospital healthy.

A couple of months later, that good fortune changed. The Mansfield mom was experiencing shortness of breath, night sweats, chills, and a fever. At age 31, Kristen never dreamed that these symptoms were signs of a deadly infection — or that it would take open heart surgery to save her life.

More serious than she thought

After days of unrelenting symptoms, Kristen went to her local urgent care center.

“I thought I might have the flu,” Kristen says. “I was in disbelief when the doctor said that I needed to go to the emergency department right away.” He referred her to Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

With extremely low blood pressure, a fast heart rate, and anemia, Kristen was admitted immediately to the intensive care unit and given oxygen and antibiotics.

“I was so scared. I thought I was going to die.”

An infection in the heart

Sneha Patel, MD, cardiologist on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield, stepped in to continue Kristen’s evaluation. A sonogram showed that Kristen had developed endocarditis, inflammation inside the lining of the heart (endocardium). A bacterial blood infection, likely from a dental procedure, was to blame. Left untreated, it could damage or destroy Kristen’s heart valves and lead to life-threatening complications.

During certain dental procedures, cardiologists say, bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream (called bacteremia). For most people, a healthy immune system or an antibiotic used before the procedure prevents bacteremia from causing any harm, but others are more susceptible to an infection elsewhere in the body. In Kristen’s case, “elsewhere” was the mitral valve in her heart.

Healing a broken heart

Kristen Herrera – heart surgery success story
In December, Kristen had open heart surgery at the Amon G. Carter Foundation Heart and Vascular Center at Methodist Mansfield to repair the damaged valve. Darien Bradford, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield, performed the procedure.

After surgery, the staff and physicians kept a close watch on Kristen, monitoring her heart around the clock. They noticed it would race in spurts. Aamir Amin, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist also on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield, implanted a pacemaker through a minimally invasive procedure to help regulate Kristen’s heartbeat. She remembers that it was a Sunday night, with her family surrounding her in the recovery room, when her heart returned to a normal rhythm.

“It was so comforting,” Kristen says. “I knew I had survived and that God had plans for me.”

She was discharged to a rehabilitation facility after 31 days in the hospital. A year later, there’s no sign of infection — just signs of life.

“I am so grateful to Methodist Mansfield for saving my life,” Kristen says. “I have my health back, my family, and my life.”

From the winter 2016 edition of Shine magazine