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PFO procedure helps patient suffering from migraines, small strokes

Kyla Jones had been dealing with debilitating migraines for quite some time and even experienced small strokes.

“I was having multiple migraines a month,” Jones said. “They were lasting days on end. I would literally go from one to another.”

Along with terrible headaches, her list of symptoms progressed as time passed. Jones eventually had a blood clot go to the retina of her right eye, which caused her to lose a portion of her vision. At one point, Jones had transient loss of parts of the left side of her body including her arm.

After subsequent testing ruled out other possibilities, doctors began exploring if Jones’ symptoms were centered on a cardiovascular issue. Jones underwent a series of tests, which included a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), a transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) and later a transcranial doppler. Those tests revealed Jones was suffering from a patent foramen ovale (PFO), also referred to as a hole in the heart, that was allowing small blood clots to get to her eye and head.

A PFO is a tunnel that allows blood to flow between the right and left sides of the heart during the gestation period. At birth, the wall membranes typically fuse together and, subsequently, close the tunnel. However, in approximately 20% of people, the tunnel does not fully close and creates what is known as a PFO. The membrane can intermittently open, allowing blood to flow from the right to left sides of the heart and bypass the lungs.

While some people can live their entire lives with PFO and never know it, the condition contributed to Jones having a series of mini strokes from blood clots and was even triggering her migraines by allowing chemicals to flow across the PFO.

Wayne Leimbach, M.D., director of the cardiac and intervention laboratories and medical director at Oklahoma Heart Institute, performed the PFO closure on Jones, who had just returned from a 30th wedding anniversary trip with her husband in Dec. 2019. The procedure, which Leimbach noted would have required open-heart surgery 20 years earlier, was performed while Jones was under conscious sedation. Jones left the hospital following an overnight stay.

No longer was Jones suffering from strokes or those pesky migraines.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, by far,” Jones said. “I started feeling better. Having more energy and having no headache was the big thing.”

While Jones’ symptoms have dissipated since the procedure, Leimbach said not everyone living with PFO may be so fortunate and added early diagnosis can only increase the chances of a good outcome.

“Luckily she didn’t have any permanent damage,” Leimbach said. “PFO can show up when you’re young. If you’re young and have mini stroke symptoms, you should pursue it.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Leimbach, call 918-592-0999.