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Paula Poskon moved to the Washington, DC area in 2005 and works as a senior analyst covering real estate. As a busy professional, Paula hadn’t yet identified health care providers when she learned she was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage. Being over 40 years old, and having a heart murmur from a congeni-tal bicuspid aortic valve that was previously diagnosed, she knew she needed an OB/GYN that specialized in high-risk pregnancies. She found Virginia Hospital Center’s Dr. Ingrid McVearry Winterling, who re-ferred her for a full cardiac evaluation before contemplating another pregnancy. [A heart murmur is a condition in which the heart valve doesn’t close completely when blood is flowing in and out of the heart. Generally, heart murmurs do not require further treatment.]
She was referred to Dr. Antonio Parente, a Virginia Hospital Center cardiolo-gist. Given Paula’s circumstances, he ordered several tests, including an echo-cardiogram and CT scan. The radiologist evaluating the scan told Paula that women with bicuspid valves are pre-disposed to weakening of the aorta and recommended that she have a specialized CT scan. The scan revealed that Paula had an ascending aortic aneurysm, which is an abnormal widening or ballooning of a portion of an artery due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel. One of Paula’s symptoms included being unable to climb stairs without getting tired or winded, so as many women do, she discounted these symp-toms as simply aging and stress rather than being an indication of a serious problem.
Dr. Parente referred Paula to Dr. John Garrett, Chief of Cardiac, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery at Virginia Hospital Center. Dr. Garrett explained that at its widest point, her aorta was three times its normal size – a very dangerous situation. He recommended immediate open heart surgery to remove the section of the aorta with the aneurysm as well as the leaking bicuspid aortic valve and replace them with combined Dacron tube and built-in mechanical valve. Paula underwent the operation one week later, followed by eight weeks of recovery time and twelve weeks of cardiac rehab at Virginia Hospital Center. “The way my life-threatening condition was discovered in time and successfully treated seems like nothing short of divine intervention,” Paula said. “Every time a family member or I goes to Virginia Hospital Center, it is a great experience. Every staff member in every department we have encountered has been so warm and compas-sionate. The Hospital has the best equipment and technology and recruits and retains the best talent. It is that upward spiral of quality, that daily commitment to excellence, that makes this a great Hospital. As a business person, I also realize that providing the best medical care in Northern Virginia requires constant reinvestment,” Paula says.
After her experience, Paula wanted to get more involved to both honor the many healthcare professionals responsible for her successful outcome and broaden the hospital’s outreach. “Putting her money where her mouth is” (as Paula says), she helped to launch the Foundation’s Women’s Health and Empowerment Circle (WHEC) by becoming both a donor and founding co-chair. The WHEC supports access to high quality medical care and health education through a combination of fundraising, educational and social activities. “With the Women’s Health and Empowerment Circle, we want to bring women’s health issues and care to the forefront while also supporting Virginia Hospital Center’s excellent medical care for women, families and children in our community” she said.