A Congenital Defect Repaired with a New Heart Valve: Susan’s Story

Patient care is part of what defines Houston Methodist, and our staff is famously dedicated to that commitment, as Susan Dickson experienced firsthand. Susan was born with a congenital heart defect called bicuspid aortic valve, which only occurs in one to two percent of the United States 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.

After moving with her husband to Houston, Susan’s aortic valve problems were diagnosed by Houston Methodist cardiologist, Dr. Don W. Chapman. Thanks to a procedure performed by Houston Methodist cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. George C. Morris, Dickson successfully 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. William L. Winters Jr., the first doctor to recognize a bicuspid valve as the problem, became Dickson's primary consulting cardiologist until his own semi-retirement. 

Dr. Stephen Little, a cardiologist at Houston Methodist, came highly recommended as Winters’ successor. Dickson began experiencing some dizziness and fainting. A consultation was quickly scheduled. “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 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 I am,” said Dickson.

Dickson opted for a bioprosthetic (nonmechanical) heart valve. “Surgery went well,” Dickson recalls. Dr. Miguel Valderrábano implanted a defibrillator a few days later.
Dr. Little and the nursing staff stopped by often to check on her, among other visitors. “The surgeon, Dr. [Mahesh] Ramchandani, came to see me afterward,” Dickson said. “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 had provided her heart care for more than three decades.

Dickson did well following her latest procedure and noticed she had more energy and could 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 has been a Houston Methodist heart patient, she says, “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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