Mike Tarricone, Cardiac Surgery

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Having a heart defect hasn’t stopped Mike Tarricone from doing what he loves to do. The 50-year-old South Burlington resident is an expert skier and ski instructor. He credits the expert care he received from Fletcher Allen heart specialists for helping him be as active as he is today.

Mike was born with a heart problem known as a bicuspid aortic valve. One of his heart’s four valves – which open and close to control blood flow through the heart – wasn’t shaped properly.

The condition is a common problem affecting about 2 percent of the population. While the valve can function for years with few problems, it can lead to a weakening of the heart, aneurysms or other life-threatening conditions.

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Through most of his life, Mike had no symptoms from the defective valve. He always had regular check-ups to monitor the condition, and knew that eventually he may need to have the valve replaced.

In the 1990s, he started seeing William Hopkins, M.D., a congenital heart disease specialist at Fletcher Allen Health Care and associate professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. “He immediately recognized the condition and the related issues that could come along with that,” Mike said.

Dr. Hopkins ordered tests to check for related problems. An MRI showed that Mike had an aneurysm in his aorta – the body’s largest artery.  Aneurysms, or bulges in an artery, are known as a silent killer because they can be fatal if they burst or cause a dissection – a split in an artery wall.

Dr. Hopkins carefully monitored the growth of Mike’s aneurysm for several years. In 2004, at age 46, Mike had open-heart surgery to repair the aneurysm and replace the defective valve. Fletcher Allen cardiothoracic surgeon and UVM associate professor Joseph Schmoker, M.D., performed the surgery, which was a success. Dr. Schmoker has an ongoing interest in the cause of aortic weakening associated with the bicuspid aortic valve, and has performed basic scientific research in this area.

Mike is grateful for the advanced cardiac care and expertise at Fletcher Allen. “I was able to have my surgery locally which allowed my family to maintain our support network and helped speed my recovery,” he said. “Dr. Hopkins specializes in the congenital defect I had and I really believe I owe him my life.”

A few months after the operation, Mike noticed he could exercise longer without getting tired. His heart was working more efficiently.

Today, in addition to skiing, he loves to play golf and basketball. He’s able to exercise more aggressively and work out regularly. He recently enjoyed a trip to Colorado where he skied the big mountains all day with his 17-year-old son.

He continues to see Dr. Hopkins for yearly check-ups.

“I couldn’t have imagined better care than I got there,” Mike said of Fletcher Allen. “There was no reason to go anywhere else.”