Nathan’s Heart Valve Surgery Story

Mar 24, 2022

“Listen to your body. Listen to the symptoms. Don’t wait.”

“I’m young, 35 years old, a carpenter and I love to play baseball, kayak, and fish. The last thing I ever expected was my doctor to tell me I had a heart problem,” says Nathan Stiltner.

Nathan-300-x-400In 2020, Nathan didn’t feel like himself. After visiting various doctors and numerous tests at an area hospital, doctors found an infection throughout his body, which damaged his major organs, caused low hemoglobin, and required a blood transfusion. Nathan spent two weeks in that hospital and went home with IV medications.

In February 2021, Nathan returned to that hospital and was treated for tricuspid valve endocarditis. Endocarditis is a life-threatening inflammation of the inner lining of the heart's chambers and valves. This was caused by an infection and it had damaged Nathan’s tricuspid valve. However the damage was done. What he didn’t know is that he would need more advanced care in the future.   

“I was definitely doing better, but then began to notice I was out of breath when going up the stairs and I would sweat when doing little things. I just figured my body was catching up with all I’d been through, so I decided to take things a little slower for the time being.”

But Nathan continued to struggle with simple things; he labored to breathe and had no energy.  His doctor referred him to Dr. Kaushik Mandal, cardiothoracic surgeon and the Director of Cardiovascular Services at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital.

“Nathan is lucky that he listened to his symptoms. The endocarditis and infection had damaged his heart. We determined that Nathan had a rare, complex condition called aorto-right atrial fistula (AAF) which affects proper blood flow between the aorta and the right atrium in his heart. Nathan was in heart failure,” says Dr. Mandal.

Nathan was alarmed, but Dr. Mandal reassured him that with his surgical expertise, the DMC team would repair the aorto atrial fistula using Nathan’s own body’s tissue. “Because of our expertise with open-heart, minimally invasive, and catheter based procedures, we are in a unique position to tailor our surgical approach and treatment plan to deliver the safest and most effective procedure with the quickest recovery time for Nathan and all of our patients,” Dr. Mandal explained. 

Nathan underwent urgent surgery and was discharged home in good health after three days. He says his recovery was quick and just a few weeks later he started weekly cardiac rehabilitation. He’s now able to go up and down the steps without losing his breath and is beginning to feel like his old self. He looks forward to returning to work. 

Nathan’s message is direct: “If you feel something’s not right, get it checked out. Don’t wait or think it will just go away. The symptoms are telling you something is wrong. Listen to your body. See a cardiologist.”   

“Dr. Mandal was confident and encouraging. The doctors and nurses at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital were responsive and caring. They really knew what they were doing. I am so thankful for them. They saved my life,” says Nathan.  “When I’m back to playing baseball, I’m going to think of them and how they gave me my life back.”