“You need a heart transplant.” Those words uttered by a doctor in a hospital near her home in Oregon, ping-ponged continuously in Michelle Pridmore’s head. She was shocked and devastated by the sudden and unexpected diagnosis, following a battery of cardiac tests, after she struggled to breathe during a 3-mile walk. Michelle tried to prepare herself for the life-changing medical events that were about to occur.
“The doctor told me there was nothing they could do to treat my heart,” recalls Michelle, who is retired from her job as a transportation supervisor for a California school district. “And that I have a 50% chance of living the next five years without a transplant. I thought I was going to die.”
But something didn’t feel right to Michelle, an active 67-year-old woman who had lost weight, improved her diet and frequently exercised since having a heart attack and bypass surgery in 2006. Upon the recommendation of a family member who is a physician in Cleveland, Ohio, and encouraged by her daughter and husband, Ron, Michelle reached out to Cleveland Clinic’s Virtual Second Opinion program.
After having a heart attack and undergoing bypass surgery, Michelle made a lifestyle change by improving her diet and exercising regularly. (Courtesy: Michelle Pridmore)
The program connects patients throughout the U.S. to a Cleveland Clinic physician who specializes in their specific health needs. A nurse care manager works with the patient to attain relevant medical records, which are then thoroughly reviewed by the physician. The program is capped by a secure, private, online consultation with the doctor – all without the patient having to leave home.
According to Maria Mountis, DO, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist who specializes in heart failure, and who conducted Michelle’s Virtual Second Opinion appointment, the program is designed to provide peace of mind to patients suffering from any condition. Some want to confirm their local physician is recommending the right course of treatment, while others may have unanswered questions about a new diagnosis or treatment plan.
“When someone is given a diagnosis of a serious condition, it can be quite shocking and they have a lot of questions. It can be helpful to talk with and get additional opinions from specialists at other hospitals,” says Dr. Mountis. “I’m honored to be able to do this work and to be a calming influence to patients and families who are understandably dealing with a lot of anxiety.”
Michelle registered online for a Virtual Second Opinion in May 2023. After having initial conversations with a nurse care manager, Dr. Mountis thoroughly reviewed her records and even consulted with another Cleveland Clinic specialist who has expertise in left heart catheterization and stenting, which she believed was the best course of action in this case.
Michelle and Dr. Mountis met virtually. Even before the call began, Michelle says she felt at ease. “I immediately felt I was in good hands,” says Michelle. “Dr. Mountis was very calming to me. “
Ultimately, as their discussion progressed, Dr. Mountis shared the positive news with Michelle. The recommended treatment was not a heart transplant, it was a relatively noninvasive heart catheterization and stenting procedure. Dr. Mountis also recommended a change in Michelle’s medications that aligned with guideline-directed medical therapy to treat her conditions more effectively.
Michelle enjoying time with her daughter, Lyndi (left), and husband, Ron (right). (Courtesy: Michelle Pridmore)
Michelle and Ron were overjoyed. “It’s life changing to go from being told you’re dying to finding out you will likely live another 20 years.”
Impressed by and confident in her Cleveland Clinic team, Michelle decided to come to Cleveland for her procedure. The timing for that journey proved to be ideal, as she began feeling ill during the flight to Ohio. Upon arriving at Cleveland Clinic, Michelle was rushed to the emergency department and then admitted, as her condition had worsened.
Soon, she was examined by Dr. Mountis and then taken into surgery, where the catheterization/stenting procedure was completed without incident. Within one week, Michelle returned home to Oregon, and continues receiving both virtual follow-up care with Cleveland Clinic along with in-person visits with her local primary care physician.
As Dr. Mountis notes, “It was quite a team effort, both here at Cleveland Clinic with our heart failure and interventional cardiology team, and with Michelle’s physician and pharmacist in Oregon. Together, it’s been very easy to manage her care.”
Today, Michelle is back to feeling healthy – both physically and mentally.
“Cleveland Clinic lifted me up, literally, from what I thought were my ashes,” she emphasizes. “I can't stress enough how grateful I am.”
Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family)