Rushed from Panama to Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, His Life was Saved Via Mitral Valve Repair

Gabriel Paolo, 75, a retired chemist who worked for years in pharmaceuticals, was still very active with side businesses and enjoying the company of his large family in Panama City.

But when he started feeling dizzy and faint, his kids urged him to see his doctor. A CT scan would reveal a very serious problem in his aorta.  Mr. Paolo had an aortic dissection in which there is a tear in the wall of the aorta, the major artery carrying blood out of the heart. Subsequently, he developed a problem with his heart’s mitral valve.

Initially, he did well after his treatment for the aortic dissection. But he then started going into congestive heart failure and his lungs kept filling up with fluid. And most critically, his mitral valve needed repair. The mitral valve, which separates the two chambers (atrium and ventricle) of the left side of the heart, creates more challenges for surgeons, especially when symptoms become severe, says Ramon Quesada, M.D., medical director of Structural Heart and Complex Percutaneous Coronary Intervention at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

Gabriel Paolo with his family.

Mr. Paolo’s family and friends knew of Dr. Quesada’s pioneering work on mitral valve repairs at the Institute. He would be flown by air ambulance from Panama City to Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Dr. Quesada recalls how critically ill Mr. Paolo was upon his arrival at the Institute. The patient was on dialysis and he had been intubated and put on a respirator for weeks prior to his trip to Miami. Dr. Quesada said Mr. Paolo had severe mitral valve regurgitation.

In some cases, the prolapsed valve lets a small amount of blood leak backward through the valve. When such mitral valve prolapse is severe enough to cause significant leakage, called “regurgitation,” it can lead to serious complications such as heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Quesada recounts the successful mitral valve procedure.

“We did a transcatheter (minimally invasive) mitral valve repair with MitraClips,” explains Dr. Quesada. “After doing that and removing all of that stress on the valve and making the valve function normally, we drastically reduced the amount of mitral valve deficiency from ‘torrential,’ which is severe, to ‘trace’ — and that’s a spectacular result.”

The Institute has been at the forefront of MitraClip procedures for several years and involved in many clinical trials. As a result of the Institute’s success in these trials, the MitraClip was introduced in 2013 to treat patients with mitral valve prolapse, and other mitral valve abnormalities.

After his mitral valve procedure, Mr. Paolo was weaned off the ventilator and eventually returned to Panama. Months later, Dr. Quesada said his patient “sent me a video that showed how he has resumed a normal and healthy life in Panama.”

Mr. Paolo said he is deeply grateful for the medical treatment and close attention he received at the Institute.

“The attention at Baptist Health was excellent,” he recalls. “I would not have gotten that kind of treatment anywhere else. Dr. Quesada and his team have a desire to help. You feel that when you meet him. He’s very warm and you can tell his goal is to heal.”

Mr. Paolo says his priorities have definitely shifted since his medical emergency.

“Many times, we mistakenly put work first, but we don’t learn that until you have a problem,” he says. “We have to put our health first. We have to take care of ourselves.”

Baptist Health International is one of the largest hospital-based international programs in the United States with more than 13,000 international patient visits at Baptist Health South Florida facilities from the Florida Keys to Palm Beach County. Baptist Health International is dedicated to providing comprehensive, high-quality services for international physicians and their patients, including hospital admissions, outpatient medical exams, medical second opinions, and physician consultations, as well as concierge services. For international inquires please call 786-596-2373 or contact

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