OWN
12/26/2012 12:39 pm ET

Broken Heart Syndrome: Heartbreak's Physical Effects (VIDEO)

If you've ever experienced an emotional trauma so bad you thought your heart would break, you're not alone. In this clip from an episode of "SoulPancake," one heart surgeon says there may be a real connection between your heart and your emotions. She's learned her fair share about matters of the heart after literally holding another person's heart in her hands, and she shares some of her insights in this video.

"There is this amazing connection between the heart and the brain," says Dr. Kathy Magliato, a cardiothoracic surgeon. "We see this in a syndrome called broken heart syndrome. Patients have almost exactly the identical features of heart attack brought on by emotion [such as] breaking up with a loved one, the loss or death of a loved one... In broken heart syndrome, what we see is the upper part of the heart contracting a lot, and the lower part not contracting or squeezing at all. It's simply this emotional shock that has stunned the heart."

Dr. Magliato says that doing heart transplants has taught her how love can affect us physically, and says that she has grown to identify the heart as the source of love. Her feelings are especially strong at the deathbed of her patients, she says.

"You watch a patient move between life and death [and] there's something very definite, very distinct that leaves their body when their heart stops," she says. "They lose this essence of who they are. And I do believe that the essence of what leaves them is their soul."

Dr. Magliato wasn't always so open-hearted herself. "There was one time in particular... I was just impervious emotionally and physically," she says. "My heart was hard. I had this shield, this full-metal jacket. And I strapped that thing on every day and I went to work." She was on the pediatric service at the time, and one day she operated on a baby with congenital heart disease. After remaining by the infant's beside for 11 days, the baby died. Dr. Magliato held the baby for the first time only after the child had passed way. "Eleven days I'd been taking care of that baby [and] I never touched that baby, I never connected," she says. "Well, why would I? I had my full-metal jacket on. My job was just to keep that baby alive... And then I did something that nearly broke me in two: I took that child and walked her down the hall to where the parents were. [In] that one moment, I realized that I could take off that jacket. That I could connect with a patient. And that I wouldn't break in two."

Dr. Magliato says patients often see a link between love and the human heart and realize the gravity of life when they come to her for a medical need. "I keep telling people that time is so precious," she says. "We're given a certain number of heartbeats. You don't know how many you're going to get. I don't know how many I'm going to get. So I really think you've got to live every one of those to its fullest."

"SoulPancake" is presented by Oprah and Rainn Wilson and is part of OWN's "Super Soul Sunday."

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