NewsPositively San Diego


UCSD heart patient beats odds one pedal at a time

Posted at 2:38 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 17:39:18-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — There's no arguing San Diego provides the perfect weather for a ride outside. Carmel Valley residents Harry and Mandy Berzak know that all too well.

The duo has collected jerseys from several cycling events for the past two years, including a 250-mile ride up the coast.

"We came down the Santa Barbara coast to Mission Bay, and it was the most incredible experience," Mandy said. But it wasn't always a joyride from Mandy.

In 2018, she learned she had a heart condition called Heyde syndrome, a form of aortic-stenosis. When the main heart valve leading to the brain gets so tight, not enough blood feeds the body and brain.

"It's scary because I didn't know what to expect," said Mandy. She underwent open-heart surgery for an artificial valve. With multiple blood transfusions and close monitoring, everything went according to plan. "Life was good, everything was good, we went back to what 'normal' was. We were traveling."

But two years later in 2020, Mandy's life pumped the brakes again after she collapsed in the kitchen beside her husband, Harry.

"Mandy kept saying 'I'm fine,' but her words were garbled, and my daughter said 'call 911'," Harry remembered.

They learned her heart valve was infected. "She was so sick and at one point, she was minutes away from dying," said Mandy's physician, USCD Doctor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Lori Daniels.

Daniels said after another open-heart surgery and five weeks in ICU, and although Mandy's heart recovered, what Mandy did once she was discharged helped save her life.

She took all of her medications, never missed a day of cardiac rehab, cut out certain ingredients, and exercised almost daily. A regimen Daniels said she wished more of her patients followed. "If you do the right things, hearts can recover," Daniels said.

Mandy said her biggest motivators were two little humans who call her "Mimi." "I want to be here every day with my grandchildren. To see them every day and be part of their lives is what keeps me going," Mandy said.

Following her second heart surgery, Mandy also found a new passion she could share with the love of her life of 40 years, cycling. "I didn't think she'd be with us so I can't tell you how proud I am of her," said Harry. And with her heart by her side, Mandy said she could continue beating the odds one pedal at a time.

"It's all about the journey. It's 100 percent the journey."