From out of breath to back on her feet enjoying life

Elissa Cohen shares her care journey with heart disease at the MUHC

About six years ago, Elissa Cohen started experiencing cardiac symptoms such as palpitations. “Something didn’t feel right so I went to see my GP and he sent me to a cardiologist right away,” she says. “He diagnosed me immediately and told me that I would eventually need to have my aortic valve replaced.”

Elissa was born and raised in Montreal where she is currently working as an accountant for a software company. She has three kids and according to her, a wonderful husband.

“I consider myself to be a very fortunate individual,” says Elissa.

Elissa and her husband John Kovac
Elissa and her husband John Kovac

Elissa was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening. This disease restricts the blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta and may also affect the pressure in the left atrium of the heart. “Eventually, I hit a point where I was out of breath all the time and I couldn’t walk very far,” she says. “I knew it was definitely time for my valve to be replaced.”

“I think all along I stayed pretty positive, however I did have my moments,” she reminisces. “Every time I had an appointment at the hospital, I had to process in my head that I’m here and I need surgery.”

An aortic valve can either be replaced minimally invasively or through open heart surgery.

Elissa underwent a very successful open heart surgery with McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) surgeon, Dr. Kevin Lachapelle. She stayed in D7 at the Royal Victoria Hospital of the MUHC, on the Glen site, for a little over a week following her operation.

The team on D7 where Elissa was cared for
The team on D7 where Elissa was cared for

“The care team was amazing from the cardiologists to the surgeon, the nurses, the physio and the PABs; everything was great from start to finish,” says Elissa. Every two hours Elissa had to walk, making progress each day and with the help of a physio she navigated the stairs.

“Everybody pushed me and was very supportive. I was a good patient but I had amazing care and amazing support.”

Elissa enjoyed the hospital’s environment as well: “The building is gorgeous: it’s new, it’s clean, and quiet when I wanted it to be. Every nurse was kind and friendly and always asked me if I needed anything, and Dr. Lachapelle popped in and out almost every day when he was done with his surgeries to ask how I was doing,” she says.

Elissa Cohen was eager to share her positive experience: “We only hear negative stories about our healthcare system, everybody complains,” she says. “There is no perfect system, but I am grateful for the MUHC restoring my health and the care I received. I am so thankful to be back on my feet enjoying life.”