In May we reported that Poison frontman and Celebrity Apprentice winner Bret Michaels had been diagnosed with a heart condition called Patent Forale Ovale. The “hole in his heart” was detected after Michaels suffered a minor stroke. We can now report that Michaels has undergone successful surgery to repair the defect. According to a hospital statement: “Bret Michaels underwent a successful heart procedure today at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Michaels is currently recuperating at St. Joseph’s where he remains for observation in ICU.”
What is a Patent Foramen Ovale?
When a baby is in the womb, it gets all the oxygen it needs from its mother through the umbilical cord. Since the lungs are not used, the neonate’s circulatory system shunts blood away from the lungs until birth when the baby takes its first breath. One way it does this is through a small opening between the upper chambers of the heart- the right and left atria. This opening functionally closes within the first couple of days of life, and then is permanently sealed over the first one to two years of age. However, in approximately one in four people, the opening does not permanently seal closed.
Unless there are other associated defects, there are usually no complications associated with a PFO. There have been some studies suggesting that older patients with PFOs have a higher rate of a certain type of stroke (called paradoxical thromboembolic stroke). The reason for this is that older people frequently develop blood clots in the veins in their legs. These clots can sometimes travel from their original site to the right side of their heart.
If a PFO is present, the clot can then pass from the right side to the left side and may travel to the brain and become lodged there, preventing blood flow to that part of the brain (stroke).
Although we do not know what kind of procedure was done to repair Bret Michaels’ PFO, the defect can now be repaired using a “catheter-based procedure.” During the procedure, which routinely takes 1-2 hours, a long flexible catheter tube is threaded through a large blood vessel in the groin up into the heart. A PFO closure device (see an example in the picture, right) is moved through the catheter to the heart and specifically to the location of the heart wall defect. Once in the correct location, the PFO closure device is allowed to expand its shape to straddle each side of the hole. The device will remain in the heart permanently to stop the abnormal flow of blood between the two atria chambers of the heart. The catheter is then removed and the procedure is complete.
More more information about Patent Foramen Ovale, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.