A remarkable journey to a healthy heart

Jackie Sibulkin made a 2,200 mile trip from the Lone Star State to the Granite State for heart care

Published 12/2/2020

Clinically speaking, Jackie Sibulkin is a fairly typical patient for Dr. Fahad Gilani, one of the talented interventional cardiologists at New England Heart & Vascular Institute at Catholic Medical Center. But there’s something remarkable about the 82-year-old from Texas. “He drove 2,200 miles to see me,” exclaimed Dr. Gilani, who recently gave Sibulkin a new heart valve without surgery. “He thought the trip was worth it because of the care he received here at CMC,” Gilani said.

Sibulkin is a Manchester native who retired to Texas. He’s been followed by his primary care physician there for 15 years for a faulty aortic heart valve. When he started experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain, he was referred to a local cardiologist, but was not impressed with the care he received. “I was talking with some of my cousins who live up in New Hampshire and they raved about Dr. Gilani. I knew I had to see him. My son flew out and drove me back here and it was all worth it. I feel better than I have in years! A week after the procedure, I went and walked on the beach at Hampton—no breathing problems, no chest pains. Best I’ve felt in years!”

When Sibulkin arrived in New Hampshire in late October, he immediately made plans to see Dr. Gilani. But three days before that appointment, “I collapsed. They brought me to CMC. Dr. Gilani got me into ICU, even though he was on vacation. The ICU people were so exceptional. They got me going and he did the procedure the next day. He’s a get it done kind of guyl!”  

“Before I could see him in the office,” explains Dr. Gilani, “he was admitted in bad shape with heart failure.  We expedited things and did a TAVR on him. He did extremely well.” For certain patients in need of aortic valve replacement, TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement) provides a minimally-invasive alternative to traditional open heart valve replacement surgery. TAVR is performed using a small catheter. The new valve is attached to the catheter and enters the heart from an artery. Once in place, the new valve pushes away the old one and attaches to the leaflets of the diseased valve to keep it in place. The team at NEHVI is among the most experienced in New England at performing TAVRs. It has provided patients like Sibulkin a new lease on life.  “At 82, I knew I couldn’t have open heart so this was the greatest thing. Before, I didn’t know if I would survive it but I was assured they would do their very best, and because they are the best, I agreed to do it. I’m so very glad I did.”

Sibulkin is feeling great and has no regrets. “When I saw him after the procedure, Gilani gave me two thumbs up and a big smile. That was all I needed to see. I left the hospital the next morning. Five days later I had a follow up and he gave me a big hug. I drove 2,200 miles to see him and I would do it all over again—10 times if I had to.” Since then, Sibulkin has returned to Texas with his new valve and renewed spirit. He offers other patients this advice: “If Gilani says “let’s go for it”, you’d be crazy not to.”