I knew my heart wasn't healthy when I visited my doctor in 2008 and told him I was considering an elective cosmetic surgery. Over the previous decade, I'd gained 30-plus pounds and I was so fatigued I could barely walk from bench to bench on the Rutgers campus, where I was studying for a master's degree in political science. But I didn't realize how bad things were until he responded: "You can't have any elective procedure. What you need is open-heart surgery."
About 10 years earlier, I'd been diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse, a condition in which the two flaps of the mitral valve don't close properly, allowing some blood to leak back into the left atrium of the heart. Usually it's harmless. But mine gradually worsened over the years, and the valve started leaking more and more blood. By the time I was in my doctor's office that day, I had developed what's called severe regurgitation, which causes the heart to become enlarged and puts you at increased risk of having a stroke. My doctor was alarmed
— and so was I.
I asked my doctor, "Who's the best surgeon?" He said, "Mehmet Oz, but you'll never get in." I thought: Watch me. I called the office and made an appointment. Here's the funny thing: I had no clue who Dr. Oz was until I was sitting in his office and saw pictures of him with Oprah.
Still, I was far more impressed by his friendly manner — he puts you at ease the minute you say hello — than his celebrity status. I came in with at least 20 questions I'd written on a piece of paper, and he sat down and patiently and carefully answered each one. He laid out a roadmap for the surgery — what it would entail, what the risks were, what recovery would be like. He went through everything, from beginning to end.
I had no clue who Dr. Oz was until I was sitting in his office and saw pictures of him with Oprah.
He also told me I needed to lose weight, because cutting through fat would make the surgery more difficult — and obviously the excess weight wasn't good for my heart. I showed him a vegetable-rich diet I'd been thinking about trying, and he gave me the go-ahead. Over the next few months, I committed to the plan, which helped me drop 30 pounds. I was ready for surgery — and I could fit into my skinny jeans!
During the operation, Dr. Oz didn't cut open my chest, as often happens with open-heart surgery, so I wasn't left with a huge zipper scar. Instead, he reached my heart through an incision under my left breast. You can't even see it when I wear a bikini, and the less-invasive approach made recovery a snap. I was walking the halls of the hospital three days after the surgery — and for the first time in years I wasn't winded.
It sounds crazy, but my open-heart surgery was a great experience. For one thing, I trusted Dr. Oz and respected his careful approach and expertise. And after the surgery, I lost another 20 pounds. On Dr. Oz's recommendation, I started going to the gym three days a week, where I do the treadmill and the strength-training machines, and I haven't gained any of the weight back. One of the secrets of my success is a snacking tip I picked up from Dr. Oz: He keeps a big container of almonds on his desk, and when he needs a snack, he grabs a handful of almonds instead of having to go out and find something in a vending machine that's probably not very healthy.
Of course, I like having lost weight. But the best part of having surgery is my energy has returned. I now have a master's degree in global affairs and public administration as well as political science — and I'm en route to my PhD in international relations. I'm 54, and I'm stronger and healthier than ever.