Khoa Le says she found the care and confidence she needed to have a leaking mitral valve repaired the moment she met NorthBay Health cardiothoracic surgeon Shea Pribyl, D.O.

Putting Her Heart in Good Hands

It was during a regular primary care checkup four to five years ago that Khoa Le first learned she had some kind of issue with her heart.

“They said there was maybe a murmur and she would need more testing,” explained her daughter, Minnie Le.

But Khoa was afraid of doctors and hospitals. She came to America in 1972 and had always been strong and healthy. She owned an Asian grocery store in El Cerrito, owned a restaurant, an ice cream business, a gas station and then a deli in Emeryville but the thought of putting her life into the hands of doctors and surgeons was frightening.

So she put off her care and never went to see a cardiologist.

Then, in June of 2022, she made a visit to her native Vietnam and saw a doctor there. “He told her, ‘You need to take care of this’ and told her she had a leaking valve and needed surgery,” said Minnie.

Still, she was hesitant. The heart problem left her feeling tired and exhausted all the time but she told the doctor in Vietnam that she was thinking of having the surgery in that country.

“He told her, ‘You have American insurance, why not do it there?’”

So she relented.

Back in Vacaville in November 2022, she went to see NorthBay Health cardiothoracic surgeon Shea Pribyl, D.O., and found the confidence and reassurance she was seeking.

“Khoa had a leaky mitral valve,” explained Dr. Pribyl. The mitral valve is one of four valves in the heart. It is located between the upper left chamber of the heart (left atrium) and the lower left chamber (left ventricle). It helps blood flow in the correct direction from the left atrium to the left ventricle.

With the minimally invasive approach, the patient has less recovery time, less pain afterward and the hospital stay is much less.”
Cardiothoracic surgeon Shea Pribyl, D.O.

“In Khoa’s case the valve was not closing completely, which allowed blood to leak backward,” said Dr. Pribyl. “It’s called mitral valve regurgitation.”

“The valve’s job is to move oxygenated blood through the heart so it can be pumped to the rest of the body,” said Dr. Pribyl. “But for Khoa, half of the blood was going back into the lungs and when that happens, the heart has to work extra hard,” he said.

Over time, if the regurgitation is not treated, it becomes harder and harder for the heart muscle to do the work. “It’s like if you went to the gym to do bicep curls and just kept adding more and more weight,” said Dr. Pribyl. “It becomes harder and harder to lift that weight. It’s the same with the heart. The more leaking in the valve, the harder it has to work and it gets tired.”

It also increases the risk of Irregular and rapid heart rate (atrial fibrillation), which has been linked to an increased risk of blood clots and stroke. Other risks include high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) and congestive heart failure.

For many years the standard surgical approach for repairing the mitral valve has been a sternotomy (opening the chest) but Dr. Pribyl offered a different option: a minimally invasive surgery using a smaller incision on the right side of the chest through which he is able to insert the surgical tools and a small camera for visualization as he repairs the valve. The surgery was not new to Dr. Pribyl but Khoa’s procedure was the first time he’s done it at NorthBay Health.

With the minimally invasive approach, the patient has less recovery time, less pain afterward and the hospital stay is much less,” he explained. “And Khoa had a great result. Her valve went from regurgitation to essentially a
functionally normal valve.”

“We thought that it was going to be an open chest surgery so we were all happy to have the minimally invasive option,” said Minnie, who adds that her mother recovered quickly and continues to improve day by day.

Khoa says she still doesn’t like hospitals and doesn’t want to find herself in one again but she is grateful for Dr. Pribyl who made her feel secure.

“I’ve never seen a doctor like him,” she said. “I looked at his face and it was very calming. He has a nice face.”

And she has calming words for others who may need similar surgical help from Dr. Pribyl.

“You are in good hands,” she said. “Have faith.”

NorthBay’s Experts Offer Comprehensive
Cardiovascular Services

NorthBay Health Heart and Vascular is Solano County’s only comprehensive location for advanced cardiovascular services. Equipped with the latest technology and evidence-based care, expert teams at NorthBay include interventional cardiologists, cardiac electrophysiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, vascular surgeons and highly specialized cardiac nurses and technologists who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

Comprehensive cardiology services and specialty heart care at NorthBay includes the region’s first accredited Chest Pain (Heart Attack) Center, the only cardiothoracic surgery program in Solano County and a Heart Failure Clinic. Experts also perform many cardiac procedures using non-surgical interventional techniques and minimally invasive surgery, which can mean less pain, smaller incisions and a faster, easier recovery for patients.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *