Mom suffers stroke caused by heart defect she didn't know she had

Most people never know they have it, but for some, it can lead to a stroke in the prime of their life.

That’s what happened to Julie Rotz. She was at home one night with her 4-year-old daughter when she heard a sharp noise in her head.

“Sounds as if you're plugging in a microphone to an amplifier but you don't get it plugged in all the way, so it's the feedback,” Rotz said.

The room started spinning, and then the right side of her body went cold.

“My vision had come down to about two inches,” Rotz said. “The hospital is the first time I heard the word ‘stroke’.”

She was 38 years old.

Rotz discovered she’d been living with a condition called patent foramen ovale, or PFO.

Mayo Clinic’s director of structural heart disease, Dr. Peter Pollak, said it’s a common condition.

“Something around 2 billion people (are) walking around with a patent foramen ovale,” Pollak said.

Pollak, with the collaboration of a neurologist, helped treat Julie at Mayo Clinic.

Pollak said PFO is essentially a passageway in the heart that is supposed to close after birth but for one in every four people -- it doesn't.

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The opening can allow blood clots to sneak by.

“The vast majority of people who have this never know they have it,” Pollak said.

Three years after her stroke Julie decided to close the gap in her heart.

The procedure is not as invasive as it sounds.

“They stay overnight, they can walk that day, and go home the next day,” Pollak said.

Doctors will insert a small device slightly bigger than a quarter through an incision in the patient’s thigh. Using a vein, they’ll slide the device up to the heart and use it to close the gap.


“It brought a lot of hope to everyone,” Rotz said.

Dr. Pollak stresses that it's not something everyone need to worry about.

“It should not be something that people go to look for unless they've had an event,” Pollak said.

Rotz feels great and is thankful it wasn't worse.

“Knowing that this may add some longevity to my life is good for everyone,”Rotz said.