Prior to retiring, Yuexian Wu was the manager of a swimming fitness center in Shanghai, China. During a routine physical in 2016, Mrs. Wu mentioned she’d been feeling a bit tired and weak. Doctors diagnosed her with severe mitral valve regurgitation, a common heart disorder that causes blood to leak backwards through the heart’s mitral valve.
“My mother was feeling out of breath, tired all the time and sleeping poorly,” says Xiaoyo Wu, Mrs. Wu’s son. “The mitral valve regurgitation was impacting everything in her daily life. What concerned me most was the emotional downturn, anxiety, stress and fear she experienced after being diagnosed and living in the shadow of this progressive heart condition. We were told that without surgery, it could only get worse.”
The family, including Mrs. Wu’s husband Zhigang, learned from online research that mitral valve surgery in China is in the development phase. In the United States, it’s a well-established practice. They did a lot of online comparison of hospitals for the type of surgery Mrs. Wu needed. Their research led them to Cleveland Clinic, due in part to its Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute that has ranked No. 1 in the nation for the past 25 years (according to U. S. News & World Report’s 2020-2021 “Best Hospitals” report).
“There is so much information on the Clinic’s website, including professional profiles and surgery history for physicians who are well known worldwide,” says Mrs. Wu.
From that information, the Wu’s chose Marc Gillinov, MD, Chair of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Cleveland Clinic.
The Wu family’s research about mitral valve surgery led them to Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Marc Gillinov. Pictured, left to right: Zhigang and Yuexian Wu; Marc Gillinov, MD; Xiaoyo Wu.
“There are two reasons people come to Cleveland Clinic for their mitral valve surgery,” says Dr. Gillinov. “The first and most important is the safety of the surgery. At Cleveland Clinic, the risk of major complications, or even death, for this kind of surgery is less than one-tenth of 1% — meaning it is incredibly safe. Number two is the availability of minimally invasive or robotic surgery.”
According to Dr. Gillinov, another advantage of choosing Cleveland Clinic for Mrs. Wu is the fact that the Clinic’s heart surgery team is able to repair most mitral valves in those who have a leaky valve. “It just makes sense. You’ll be better off with your own valve that’s repaired than with a valve that is implanted,” he says.
Because this would be the Wu family’s first trip to the U.S., they were very anxious. Fortunately, they were immediately connected with Cleveland Clinic’s Global Patient Services team, which offers seamless care specifically designed to meet each patient’s needs and culture.
“Cleveland Clinic has been treating international patients since our doors opened. We understand that patients are traveling thousands of miles from their homes to a community that’s foreign to them,” says Nizar Zein, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic Global Patient Services. “We’ve helped people from 185 countries come to and adapt to Cleveland. We provide not only translation services, but transportation, coordination of appointments, and information on where to stay, where they can get familiar food from a grocery store and much more.”
Yuehchi Weng, interpreter with Cleveland Clinic’s Global Patient Services, established a connection with the Wu family and calmed their fears when they arrived from China. Pictured, left to right: Xiaoyo Wu; Yuehchi Weng; Yuexian and Zhigang Wu.
Dr. Zein explains that when Global Patient Services was first in contact with the Wu’s, they helped connect them with Dr. Gillinov and his team, ensuring Mrs. Wu would get the care she needed as quickly as possible. They continued to work with the family throughout their travel to the U.S., their arrival in Cleveland and the surgery itself; they even worked with the Wu’s to coordinate follow-up care once they returned to Shanghai.
“Global Patient Services at Cleveland Clinic assists international patients with accessing our experts and our very complex health system. We make sure they find the right care at the right time along with answers they couldn’t find anywhere else in the world,” says Dr. Zein.
Mr. and Mrs. Wu are grateful to Global Patient Services for many reasons. They were very tired after the 14-hour flight and very anxious. But as soon as they met their interpreter, Yuehchi Weng, the anxiety changed to excitement.
“There was no barrier between us. Her Chinese and English was very good, so we felt at home. All the things we worried about or feared disappeared. We knew we had made the right decision to come here,” says Mr. Wu.
Yuexian Wu (center) underwent successful minimally invasive mitral valve repair surgery in January 2019. Her husband Zhigang (left) and son Xiaoyo (right) made the trip from Shanghai to Cleveland with her.
Mrs. Wu adds that as soon as she met Yuehchi, she felt she’d known her always. “Cleveland Clinic is so big, it’s like a maze. But because we had the Global Patient Services representative with us, we did not have to worry about anything, we just had to follow her.”
Mrs. Wu underwent successful minimally invasive mitral valve repair surgery on January 22, 2019. “Dr. Gillinov showed me the imaging of my heart taken after surgery. The valves that caused the regurgitation were repaired, and there was no longer any backflow,” she says.
Within three days of surgery, Mrs. Wu was able to get out of bed and walk. Five days after surgery, she was discharged from the hospital with plans to stay in Cleveland to participate in a one-month rehabilitation program.
Dr. Gillinov expected nothing less. “When you combine very skilled, specialized dedicated people with very high volume, the result is excellence. Global Patient Services helps us help people who don’t speak our language,” he says. “We don’t necessarily know their customs, but on the inside, their hearts are all the same — and they are hearts we can fix.”
Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family)