Georgia teacher thriving after heart valve diagnosis

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When Tiffany Gibson isn't on the job as a kindergarten paraprofessional at Marietta's Mt. Bethel Elementary, she's on the move.

"I love to bike, walk, hike, run," she says. 

The 47-year old married mother of two is the kind of person who does just pose in front of the Hollywood sign, she'll hikes all the way up to it, for fun. 

So, a few years back, when Gibson's doctor heard a heart murmur during a routine checkup, she was stunned.

"It was total surprise," she says. "It was a big shock. I thought, here I am, I eat healthy, I exercise all the time, but I still have, I have an issue."

Tiffany's cardiologist, Wellstar Kennestone's Dr. Mindy Gentry says Tiffany had what's known as bicuspid aortic valve.  

Instead of the usual 3 valve flaps or "leaflets" guiding blood through her valve, she was born with just two.

The valve defect is common, and often so mild, people don't experience symptoms. 

But in some cases, like Gibson's, it's more serious.     

"Bicuspid aortic valve can cause a number of different problems," Dr. Gentry says. "It can cause stiffness of the aortic valve, which is what she had. It can also cause leakiness of the valve." 

Tiffany would eventually need surgery to replace the faulty valve.

But, because she had no symptoms, and was in excellent physical shape, she was told she could wait a few years while doctor's monitored her heart.

"And I never had an issue with anything," Gibson says.  "I was still running. I was still taking my classes. Until December 26th, 2014."

That day, she was at the gym

"I was taking a class," she remembers.  "We were about halfway through the class, and I was doing some  sit ups."

That's when Tiffany's heart suddenly stopped and she went into cardiac arrest.

Her instructor noticed she wasn't moving.

"She quickly started CPR and some other of the classmembers began to alternate with her," Gibson says. 

They called 911, and used an AED to shock her heart back into a normal rhythm.

Soon, Gibson was headed into the operating room.

 "It was obviously the scariest thing I've ever faced in my life," she says.

"It's open heart surgery," says Dr. Gentry.  "They take the valve out. In her case, they opted to put in a mechanical valve, which is a metal valve."

A week later, Gibson started cardiac rehab at Wellstar Kennestone.

Just 5 weeks after she left the hospital, she ran in a 5K road road with a friend.

"It was very emotional," Gibson remembers. "I was proud that I did it, and that I got over my fear of getting my heart rate up."

Now, 2 years later, life is good.

"I feel fantastic," GIbson says. "Probably better than I ever have." 

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