Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center

Patient Story: Susan Dickson

Susan Dickson

A legacy of patient care is part of what defines Houston Methodist. Hospital staff are famously dedicated to patient needs and comfort. But in the case of Susan Dickson, it also refers to the longstanding relationships Houston Methodist health care providers foster with patients.

Dickson was born with a congenital heart defect called bicuspid aortic valve, which occurs in one to two percent of the U.S. population. The condition allows some blood to flow back into the heart after the blood has been ejected, which in turn causes general circulation problems.

A West Virginia University doctor was the first to attempt a diagnosis in the 1940s, when Dickson, a West Virginia native, was an undergraduate student. But it wasn't until 1958, after Dickson had moved with her husband to Houston, that her aorta valve problems were correctly identified – by Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center (MDHVC) cardiologist Dr. Don W. Chapman. Chapman Group member Dr. William L. Winters Jr. was the first doctor to recognize a bicuspid valve as the problem. With the help of Houston Methodist cardiovascular surgeon and Michael E. DeBakey Group member Dr. George C. Morris, Dickson received a mechanical replacement valve.

"It made life much better, more tolerable, and I could do more," Dickson said. "And it never stopped working. Even up until this year, when I began experiencing some new problems, the doctors told me the mechanical valve was still working just fine."

After Dr. Chapman's retirement, Dr. Winters became Dickson's primary consulting cardiologist until Dr. Winters' own semi-retirement two years ago. Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Little came highly recommended as Winters' successor.

Sometime after she started seeing Dr. Little, Dickson began experiencing some dizziness – even fainting once. She sought Little's advice, and a consultation was arranged soon after. "Dr. Little did some echocardiograms and told me the valve seemed to be working fine, but the area around it was beginning to pull away from the wall of the heart, which they told me was also causing blood to leak back in," Dickson said. "They said you have two options: surgery or no surgery. Dr. Little was very helpful in making sure I had all the information I needed to make the right choice for me."

Dickson said it was a tough decision, but she was swayed by two things. She wanted as high a quality of life as possible for herself and her husband. Dickson was also encouraged by the decision of former first lady Barbara Bush to seek treatment at Houston Methodist in 2010 for her own ailing heart valve. "And you know, she's a year-and-a-half older than me," said Dickson, who is 84.

Dickson opted for a bioprosthetic (nonmechanical) heart valve. Surgery went well, Dickson recalls. Dr. Miguel Valderrábano gave Dickson an implantable defibrillator a few days later. Dr. Little and nursing staff stopped by often to check on her. But she had other visitors.

"The surgeon, Dr. (Mahesh) Ramchandani, came to see me afterward," Dickson said. "He was such a nice man, and I appreciated that he took the time to talk with me. I don't know what other hospitals are like, but I don't think surgeons always go to see how their patients are doing." Dr. Winters also came to see Dickson during her recovery, commiserating over the pains of postoperative recuperation. "I appreciated that he was there too," Dickson said of the man who'd provided her heart care for more than three decades.

Dickson said she's doing well after her June 24 procedure, and is noticing she has more energy and can sustain activity over longer periods of time. "It hasn't always been easy, but I definitely feel it was worth it," Dickson said of her decision to have surgery. Recalling the half century she's been a Houston Methodist heart center patient, she continued, "I'm very pleased with all the doctors I've had through the years at Houston Methodist. It really is a world-class institution."

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