Published on May 25, 2022

Thankful for World Class Heart Care Close to Home

Photo of Diane and her children Clair and Drake on their boat

In October 2021, Diane Pendleton, along with her husband Drake and their daughter Clair, embarked on the first leg of a 6,000-mile boating expedition known as The Great Loop. Diane is pictured here in a Florida marina.

Last September 60-year-old Diane Pendleton had an experience she could have never imagined happening – she underwent minimally-invasive heart surgery at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland. Thanks to her successful procedure, Diane was able to embark on a boating trip of a lifetime, which was only possible thanks to the extremely talented and compassionate team who cared for her.

Prior to her procedure, Diane remembers experiencing labored breathing and feeling winded while hiking during a trip to the Traverse City area. She also said that it felt like her heart was racing. Upon returning home, she scheduled an appointment with her Primary Care Physician Danielle Bennett, D.O. Dr. Bennett suspected it could be heart related and ordered a series of cardiovascular tests which resulted in a referral to Interventional Cardiologist Omar Ali, M.D., additional diagnostic testing, and a cardiac catheterization procedure.

During a follow-up appointment with Dr. Ali, he determined that she was suffering from a leaky mitral valve, as well as atrial fibrillation (AFib). Diane also had a known hole in her heart which was thought to have already closed on its own. Knowing that her condition would require surgical repair, Dr. Ali referred her to Cardiovascular Surgeon Raj Gopaldas, M.D.  

“I am so thankful I had Dr. Gopaldas as my cardiovascular surgeon,” Diane said. “His ability to perform minimally-invasive heart surgery is nothing less than amazing. I can’t thank MyMichigan enough for bringing this talented heart surgeon to our area. His professionalism and confidence put me at ease from the very beginning.”

Dr. Gopaldas performed a complex surgical repair of Diane’s mitral valve using tiny incisions between the ribs on her right side. This minimally-invasive surgical technique does not require cracking the breastbone used in traditional open heart surgery. Instead, Dr. Gopaldas inserts the instruments through the incisions to perform the procedure. Using the same incision, he also performed a MAZE procedure to correct Diane’s AFib and was also able to fully close the hole in her heart she was born with.”

In addition to Dr. Gopaldas, Diane also expressed gratitude to two of his team members. “His nurse, Amber Howard, was incredibly kind, patient and very professional,” she added. “Amber calmed me down when needed and kept me informed every step of the way. She is without a doubt in the right profession and her passion clearly shows through. Additionally, Nurse Practitioner Kevin Weaver handled my daily visits following my surgery and is truly one of the nicest people I have ever met. Kevin is knowledgeable, professional, and compassionate and he was always eager to be sure I was comfortable. Not to mention, he answered any questions I or my family had.”

Diane also spoke highly of her post-surgical care. “Following my surgery, I was taken care of by two of the most amazing human beings,” she said. “When my family left each night, it was a little upsetting since it was the first time in my life I didn’t want to be left alone. But Scott, my night nurse, was there whenever I needed him. He helped me rest comfortably and when a push to walk was needed, he was my cheerleader. He also provided a good laugh.” Diane referred to him as her ‘night angel.’

Another caregiver who was instrumental in her recovery was Troy. “After being in his care for five days at the hospital, it felt like I was leaving a member of my own family,” she said. “Troy made sure that I had anything I wanted, that I was comfortable and he treated my family and I with respect and love. I truly never felt like there were any other patients on the floor and there were!”

Approximately a month after her surgery, and following clearance from her doctors, she, along with her husband Drake and their daughter Clair, embarked on the first leg of a 6,000-mile boating expedition known as The Great Loop. This ‘loop’ is a continuous waterway that allows recreational boaters to travel the Great Lakes, inland rivers of America's heartland, Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, part of the Atlantic Ocean coastline, and Canadian Heritage Canals to explore eastern North America. “Despite some challenges along the way, this has been an incredible journey so far,” she said. “If it weren’t for the amazing team who cared for me prior to the trip, it would not have been possible.”

Diane stressed that she and her family will be forever grateful for everyone who played a role in her care. “I truly could go on and on about all of them,” she said. “They will always have a special place in my heart. I can’t thank them enough for giving me my life back and giving me the opportunity to take this trip of a lifetime!”

Those who would like more information about MyMichigan Health’s new Mitral Valve Program may visit Additional information about Dr. Gopaldas can be found at