As a cardiologist who specializes in advanced heart failure and transplantation, Lavanya Bellumkonda, MD, says offering hope is key when she first meets a patient.
“When someone hears the term ‘heart failure,’ they may think they are dying imminently. I first review the severity of their disease and try to set realistic expectations. A number of patients with heart failure will have improvement in their cardiac function with appropriate medical therapy,” she explains. “If their disease is advanced, they may need a mechanical pump to assist the heart or a heart transplantation, and we discuss the success rates and risks associated with each of these strategies.”
Heart failure describes any kind of dysfunction in the heart that causes a build-up of fluids, resulting in shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs. Dr. Bellumkonda says she was drawn to her field because of her fascination with the physiology of the heart and the acuity of cardiac illnesses.
“What I also like about transplant cardiology is that you get to apply all that you learnt in medicine and cardiology,” she says. “Post-transplant, patients often rely on me to manage their medical conditions as well.”
Additionally, Dr. Bellumkonda treats patients with valve disease. “The most common valves affected are the mitral or aortic valves, where these valves get either too tight or too leaky, causing symptoms similar to heart failure,” she says. “At Yale, we treat these patients in a multidisciplinary fashion and provide appropriate recommendations regarding catheter-based interventions and surgery.”
Her research interests include cardiac recovery and cardio-renal reactions in patients with valve disease. “What makes me most happy in my work is when I have cardiac recovery in my patients, meaning they have an improvement in their heart function,” she says. “That makes me feel like I have done my job.”