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Susan's Story: Road To Recovery

PITTSBURGH (KDKA-TV) — A few short months ago, the odds were heavily stacked against her survival and her chances of resuming a normal life; but as KDKA-TV News Anchor Susan Koeppen returns to work, she's sharing her story in the hopes that it may inspire more people to learn what to do to save a life.

She may not be back to running yet, but Susan Koeppen walks to cardiac rehab three days a week and that, in itself, is a miracle.

"I'll never forget the past. I'll never forget what happened. That will always be up here, but I [have to] go back to life and living and I can't worry about it," Koeppen said.

It was just last November that her heart stopped while running with friends. She was 39-years-old and has three incredible kids.

"They're so young, 6, 5, and 3. You can't lose your mom when you're that young. It's just not fair," Koeppen said.

The incident happened on South Negley Avenue where she began a six-month journey back to being whole again.

"How lucky am I? I collapsed in Shadyside, and two medical students are driving by at the exact moment and hop out and give me CPR. That's pretty amazing," Koeppen said.

Susan had to have surgery because her mitral valve prolapse had developed into severe mitral regurgitation and MR can lead to heart failure.

Doctors implanted a tiny defibrillator in her chest to make sure her heart kept beating. A leaky mitral valve in her heart needed to be repaired and she was lucky with that too.

"From the moment I walked into the hospital until the moment I left I just felt I was in great hands," Koeppen said.

Those great hands belong to Dr. Vinay Badhwar, a cardio-thoracic surgeon, skilled in minimally invasive heart valve repair, who moved to Pittsburgh a few months ago.

"Why Susan's case was particularly dangerous was that she was born with an abnormal valve called 'mitral valve prolapse,'" Dr. Badhwar said.

The problem affects about five percent of the population and is slightly more common in women.

Around age 40, symptoms of shortness of breath and fatigue become more pronounced. You can see it on her echocardiogram and it is not something to be ignored.

Instead of cracking Koeppen's breast bone as in traditional open heart surgery, Dr. Badhwar and his surgical team at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital made a three-inch incision through ribs on her right side to reach her heart. They also worked with a video camera and specialized instruments to repair the valve.

As Koeppen's post- op echocardiogram shows, once repaired, her life expectancy returned completely to normal.

Recovery was painful, but 10-weeks after surgery, Koeppen glories in the gift of the family and friends that brought her through it.

"I was riding n the car with my husband and I put my hand out and he put his hand in mine and I said, 'We're together forever baby.' And it's true. There is nothing that can break this family's bond after something like this," Koeppen said.


KDKA-TV News Anchor Susan Koeppen Recovering (11/22/11)
About Susan Koeppen
More from KDKA Consumer Editor Susan Koeppen
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (
First Aid: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR (
First Aid, CPR & AED Classes (Southwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross)

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