Heart patient and surgeon’s love of music paves road to recovery

COLLINGSWOOD, New Jersey (WPVI) — Becoming a professional singer is less of a pipe dream and more of a reality for Natalie Havens. But her road to stardom was almost snuffed by a shocking diagnosis.

“I worried that I’d never sing again,” she said. “What if I lose this ability that I’ve been working for most of my life?”

Havens, 32, had only gone to Urgent Care to receive a routine checkup for her new job as an Executive Assistant for Good Shepherd Penn Partners. The doctor listened to her heart and discovered an irregular murmur.

“I had what is called mitral valve prolapse, where the valve isn’t closing all the way and it’s causing blood to flow back into the heart,” she said.

In her search for the right surgeon, Dr. Michael Acker’s name popped up. Recognized by America’s Top Doctors and Philadelphia Magazine, the industry veteran seemed like a safe pick. But his decades of experience and accolades was not the only selling point for Havens.

“I saw he was a classical musician,” she said. “He was the person who was going to get me from point A to point B and who I trusted my life with.”

Havens felt Dr. Acker would understand her concerns about intubation affecting her vocal cords. She also thought he might relate to the painstaking training she invested into her voice. And she was right.

“There was immediate emotional bonding, I would say, right?,” said Dr. Acker.

The newly-kindled friendship put Havens at ease. She felt that her heart, her vocal cords, and her career were being placed in the right hands.

Dr. Acker’s hands not only perform heart surgery, but they also pluck strings with masterful skill.

“I’ve been playing the guitar, frankly, longer than I’ve been operating on the heart,” he said. “They both require manual dexterity, many, many hours, hours of practice to perfect.”

Thus, in May of 2021, Dr. Acker did what he does best. He successfully performed a mitral valve repair on Havens.

Havens began seeing a voice therapist and cardiac rehab specialist. Now, with a new lease on life, she hopes to take her talents all the way to Broadway one day.

“My goal was to get my body back and to get my voice back and to come out of it stronger than I’d ever been,” she said.

To learn more about Penn Medicine, visit their website.

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