Posts Tagged ‘patient story’

Emory Saved My Life: One Patient’s Journey

kristen-leone250x250I was born with Congenital Heart Disease. The first four years of my life were spent in and out of hospitals, and the first two took an incredible toll on my family, particularly my mother. In 1976, at just two years of age, I became the first baby ever to survive open heart surgery. Little did I know that nearly 38 years later I would be fighting for my survival again; this is the story of how Emory saved my life.

It all started back in February, 2013. I woke up one morning coughing and feeling incredibly fatigued, and my symptoms continued to progress over the course of the next few months. By May, things had gotten much worse, to the point that getting up the stairs became a battle. I was having a normal lunch with my mother on July 6th of that year, and as we went to leave my heart suddenly began to race faster than I’ve ever felt before. I immediately knew something was seriously wrong.

I was rushed to the Emergency Room, my heart beating at 221 beats per minute. I spent the next two nights in the Cardiac Care Unit, until Monday, July 8th, when I was transferred to Emory University Hospital. When I got to Emory, I had two teams of cardiologists working on my situation, which was growing more dire by the moment. I was dealing with a bad lung infection, my complete blood count was down, and my heart and kidneys were beginning to shut down, leaving me completely hopeless.

I panicked. The realization that I may die hit me like a freight train. I yelled, cried and had a full-blown meltdown right there in the hospital. I was so frightened of what may come next. My doctor, realizing how scared and embarrassed I was, leaned over and told me, “It’s understandable, Kristin. You are allowed to feel what you’re feeling. Just know that you’re in safe hands now and we’re working on your case 24/7.” I’ve been in so many hospitals throughout my life, but at that moment I knew I was in the best possible place for me.

My doctors at Emory told me I had to have an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), or “pacemaker” installed, and that without it my survival rate would be around seven percent. I was overjoyed to learn there was a solution to my problem. With my family by my side, I went through the surgery and was ready to endure the long hospital stay to get better.

My surgery was a success. I’d spend the next couple of weeks at the hospital recovering from my lung issues and getting healthy enough to retake control of my life.

My experience over those next weeks at Emory was eye opening. Aside from the top-notch medical service, the treatment my family and I received was incredible. We were kept informed of every decision that was being made, the doctors outlined a clear vision for my path to recovery, and they went above and beyond in their commitment to my comfort and health. In one instance, my doctor refused to go home for the night, staying at the hospital and checking on me every hour to make sure I was doing well.

When my family had questions they were answered immediately, and they were permitted to stay by my side throughout the lengthy recovery process. The entire staff, from the doctors all the way down to the custodians, was the friendliest group of people I’ve ever encountered in any hospital. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better place to get well.

I’m now almost two months removed from what I thought was certain death, and I’m so thankful to Emory for saving my life. Their compassion, love and patient care is something that I’m reminded of every day when I wake up and look in the mirror, because were it not for them I wouldn’t be here today.

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Are You a Female Emory Patient Who Beat Heart Disease?

Share Your StoryIf so, please share your story with us! We would like to use patient stories to help educate other women on how they can prevent, reverse or beat heart disease. Many women still are not aware that heart disease is the number one killer of women, it causes more deaths than all forms of cancer combined, but in many cases it is preventable. You can contribute your story by visiting http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/heart-disease-women/share-your-story.html.

Take action – share your story. You may help save a life!

About Gina Lundberg, MD

Gina Lundberg, MDGina Price Lundberg, MD FACC is the Clinical Director of the Emory Women’s Heart center. She was the founder and Medical Director of the Saint Joseph’s Heart Center for Women established in 2007. She is a Preventive Cardiologist with Emory Clinic in East Cobb and has practiced at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital since 1998. She joined the Emory University faculty after the Emory and Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital merger in 2012. She serves on the American College of Cardiology Foundation (ACCF) Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Committee and is a National American Heart Association (AHA) Spokesperson.

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Emory Cardiac Rehabilitation Patient Receives Volunteer Award!

Wayland Moore HeartWise Patient

Emory cardiac rehabilitation/HeartWise patient, Mr. Wayland Moore recently received the Creativity & Arts at Emory Healthcare Volunteer Award. Mr. Moore is a professional artist who has lived and worked around the Emory area for 55 years. He created ‘Art with Heart’ to help stimulate and challenge the minds of the Emory cardiac rehabilitation patients in a creative way following a heart event (heart attack, open heart surgery).

The 6 week, Art with Heart, class allows novice and intermediate artists to expand their skills in a fun and supportive environment. The monies donated from the class help to fund the scholarship program which allows Emory cardiac rehabilitation patients who experience a financial crisis to continue to exercise in a medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation program.

The class meets 4 – 5 times a year at the HeartWiseSM Risk Reduction Program located on the 5th floor of the 1525 Clifton Road building on Emory University Hospital campus. All of Mr. Moore’s time and energy is donated to help the patients in class. The current class of ‘patient artists’ is full to capacity. The art that the class creates is displayed in full light each year at the annual holiday party for the HeartWise program. Each year more art is shown and excitement is raised because of the bond and creativity that has been fostered in Mr. Moore’s class.

We are proud to have Mr. Moore as a part of the Emory cardiac rehabilitation team! Congratulations on a well deserved award!

About HeartWise℠

Emory’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program / HeartWise℠ Risk Reduction Program helps patients reduce their risk of heart disease. Cardiac Rehabilitation / HeartWise℠ serves not only patients who currently suffer from heart disease, but also aims to identify those who could be candidates for problems down the road (smokers, people who do not exercise, a person with high blood pressure), and try to lead them down a healthier path. To learn more visit http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/heart-disease-prevention/about-us/index.html

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Atlanta Man Narrowly Avoids Heart Attack – Do You Know When to Go?

Know When to Go to the E.R.Saint Joseph’s Hospital patient and triathlete, Joe Michalak, narrowly missed a heart attack by listening to the risk factors of heart disease. On Father’s Day weekend, he felt some tweaks in his chest and instead of ignorning his symptoms, he went to the hospital right away. Luckily, Joe listened to his body. In hindsight, he had a 95 percentage blockage in his left anterior artery and 80 percent blockage in another one.

Learn more about Joe’s symptoms and what prompted him to make a trip to his local E.R. at Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

Patient Story: Cardiac Robotics as an Alternative to Open Heart Surgery

Barry Chaney is an Emory Heart & Vascular Center patient and Emory Healthcare employee who after having chest pains while working out was told he had to have cardiac bypass surgery to relieve blockages in his heart.

Barry chose the robotic approach to surgery as opposed to traditional cardiac open heart surgery because of the less invasive nature and faster recovery time associated with robotic surgery.  Barry returned to work after 3 weeks and is now back to living an active life! Learn more about cardiac robotic surgery and Barry’s experience with the procedure by watching his amazing story video story below:

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My Journey Through the Diagnosis & Treatment of My Heart Condition

Joan Jahnke, Emory Clinic patient and patient of Emory Heart & Vascular physician, Dr. Habib Samady, shares her journey through her diagnosis and treatment of Cardiac Microvascular Endothelial Dysfunction with Vasopastic Angina.

MVD Patient StoryI have led an active life and thought I was doing everything possible to keep my heart healthy – eating right, exercising and not smoking, and trying to maintain a relatively low stress life. I was also a cardiac nurse and knew what it meant to be healthy, and why I wanted to remain healthy. So when I closed in on retirement age, I was surprised when I started clutching my chest first, with shortness of breath then with chest pain.

I was diagnosed with Cardiac Microvascular Endothelial Dysfunction (MVD) with Vasospastic Angina in 2008 during a drug challenge catheterization test at Emory Healthcare after two and one-half years of chest pain. My case was very severe and I had a cardiac arrest during the procedure. Each episode of an angina attack is like having an individual heart attack and I was barely able to keep up activities of daily living. I had attacks multiple times during a day, for days on end, with few periods of pain–free stability.

MVD is a form of heart disease found predominantly in women of a certain age. The etiology, or cause, is unknown and each woman with MVD can have different degrees of heart attack-like symptoms. I have had chest, arm, axilla, jaw, ear and back pain, and just simple fatigue with this MVD.

Treatment is dependent on symptoms and presenting complaints. The first important treatment step is opening up the affected small heart muscle microvessels with nitroglycerine. This allows oxygenated blood to flow freely through the heart muscle to supply it with oxygen and then out to the body’s general circulation. This relieves the angina pain greatly and reduces the shortness of breath that occurs. Nitroglycerine can be in sublingual, oral spray, patch or in a pill form.

The second important treatment is with a medication called a Calcium Channel Blocker that greatly reduces the irritability of the affected vessels and again, reduces pain.

To help these microvessels from developing plaque, I am very careful about keeping my cholesterol numbers low both by diet and medication.

The heart-sensible treatment for MVD is to attempt a regular exercise regime. In my case the endothelium doesn’t open up when I try to increase my heart’s rate, so I cannot exercise and it has been three and one-half years since I have had any exercise. However, my lipid numbers are wonderful and my weight has not ballooned out of control.

Most of the medications I take for MVD are the same ones given for hypertension, and I may have days when my BP is low so I am careful about sudden changes in position. Further treatment can also include pain management.

Although I have stabilized nicely after treatment at Emory, I am dependent on many medications 24/7 and still have frequent episodes of vasospasm with crippling angina. I visit Emory every few months to monitor the disease. My Emory cardiologist and my local cardiologist both follow my changing symptoms carefully. Emory takes the lead in any changes or additions in medications and both doctors follow my blood work for cholesterol issues. I recently had my first change in three years with my nitroglycerine medication. Initially, I started at a very low dose and gradually worked up to a higher dose sufficient to make me as close to pain free and without chest tightness and shortness of breath. This also allowed me to return to some low level of exertion.

I have learned that these vasospasms can occur by some demand I have caused, like attempting a flight of stairs too quickly or by some other unknown to me demand when I am resting or asleep. The daily calcium channel blockers keep the vasospasms away most of the time so this has greatly helped reduce chest pain from the painful spasms. Over the years as I have developed tummy, feet and leg swelling, my Emory doctor has been careful to prescribe not only medication to help with that sign, but also advising me of simple things as watching salt in my diet and elevating my legs. I also have not been subjected to the many tests or additional heart caths that many physicians might request. I have been tested for sleep apnea and use a CPAP which helps my heart rest at night.

I am very healthy and have developed no other health complaints in six and one-half years. The most wonderful part of having this odd dysfunction is having the Emory doctors who not only understand this dysfunction, but also know how it should be treated for each individual patient as their symptoms develop. They also understand that this difficult, exhausting ailment impacts the very simplest of daily functions, social interactions and normal exercise activities. Dr. Samady listens when I tell him how I must change my lifestyle, stop all exercise and avoid those activities or emotions that could cause a demand on my heart and cause me pain or discomfort.

A big frustration with many MVD patients is that our complaints and symptoms often bring us to an urgent or emergent care setting where none of our signs show on any EKG, echocardiogram, ultrasound or stress test. We look well, present with chest pain and shortness of breath – perhaps anxious – but the tests are generally negative, even the cardiac enzymes. We understand that we may have to rule out other causes with GI and pulmonary tests, but we repeatedly return seeking help, knowing that it is our heart but we repeatedly fail the best current technology tests.

My care at Emory from first contact was relatively pleasant as each physician I saw was confident of my diagnosis. And I am confident in my care because of my doctor’s confidence and superb care in an area of cardiology with so many unknowns.

About Joan Jahnke

Joan Jahnke is now a retired RN. She has enjoyed many career opportunities and great jobs traveling around the world with her husband, who is in the Navy. She is an Emory Clinic patient and sees Emory Heart & Vascular Physician Dr. Habib Samady.

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A Very Special Thanksgiving For Sean Dookwah

It’s been a busy last few weeks at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. Earlier in November, we shared with you a story of a recent milestone for our Heart & Vascular program when Emory physicians completed their 200th Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. Milestones such as this one have tremendous implications for our patient community. We are consistently putting into practice innovative technology that means longer, fuller lives for our patients. For Sean Dookwah, from Athens, Georgia, this notion rings especially true this holiday season. Sean will be able to enjoy his first Thanksgiving holiday with a new lease on life after Emory physicians implanted his new ventricular assist heart device at Emory University Hospital. Sean’s VAD implant was the 100th such procedure performed at Emory.

The first ventricular assist device was implanted in Georgia at Emory in 2006 as a form of destination therapy (in place of a donor transplant) for individuals who are not eligible for–or unable to undergo–a heart transplant. Ventricular assist devices are battery-operated mechanical pumps that help a weakened heart pump blood throughout the body. They are most commonly used as a bridge to transplant for those whose medical therapy has failed and who are hospitalized with end-stage heart failure. More recently, the VAD is providing an alternative to transplant. VADs allow a near normal quality of life, with most patients returning home with their families while they wait for a donor heart to become available.

Sean Dookwah, Emory Patient

Sean Dookwah at Emory University Hospital

Sean, who is 39 years old, began his journey to receiving his ventricular assist device and returning home to his family just two years ago. He had spent years as a construction worker, which kept him fairly active and fit. But after pursuing an office-based career in IT, Sean fell into a more sedentary lifestyle, which included lack of exercise, poor eating habits, long, stressful hours, all accompanied by a 20-year smoking habit.

It was in 2009 that Sean began to feel weak and ill enough to justify a visit to his local emergency room in Athens. “I felt weak, tired, sick, terrible. I was not having a heart attack, but it was there that I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is basically a weakening of my heart. That was a wake-up call,” says Sean.

After receiving the news, Sean moved in with his family and immediately adopted a healthier lifestyle, which included exercise, healthier eating, and dropping the smoking habit. Within about 18 months he dropped almost 150 pounds – from 480 to a current 330 pounds. He attributes much of his success in turning around his lifestyle to his friends and family.

“My friends and family have been incredible help and an inspiration to me – helping to keep me encouraged and on track, and some of my friends have even quit smoking themselves – both for me and them. I hope to eventually be added to a heart transplant list, but I have some work to do to still lose weight and get down to a healthier frame.”

And after his successful ventricular assist device implantation just a few days ago, Sean is eager to return home to his family for the the Thanksgiving Holiday and continue making healthy progress and enjoy his already drastically improved health. “I feel incredible compared to where I was just a few weeks ago. I was so tired and weak I couldn’t walk from one part of the room to the other,” Sean says. “Today, I feel alert, strong, healthy and like I could run a marathon. It’s amazing, and I am definitely thankful for everyone who made this possible for me – from the doctors and nurses at Emory – to my friends and family. I can’t wait to get home.”

It is milestones like our 100th VAD implant and stories such as Sean’s that make us especially thankful for the positive impact our team is able to have on our community. “Until fairly recently, surgeons have been implanting VADs as a temporary bridge to heart transplantation. We now have the ability to also offer those patients who are unable to undergo a heart transplant to dramatically improve the quality with what we refer to as destination therapy – meaning the device will stay with the patient indefinitely,” remarks David Vega, MD, professor of surgery and director of the heart transplant program in the Emory Transplant Center.

“This technology offers new hope and a much greater quality of life. And with more than five million Americans who suffer from congestive heart failure, with another half million diagnosed each year, this device is a viable, and often-times live-saving – option for our patients,” Vega continued.

Sean will be released for home today, one day before Thanksgiving and just a few days after his procedure, where he will join his family and friends for what very likely will be the most thankful of holidays.

We too are thankful to have the opportunity to improve the lives of people like Sean. And for those of us that are part of the Emory team, but are not in clinical roles, we are tremendously grateful for and appreciative of our researchers and care teams who make saving lives like Sean’s possible.

Happy holidays everyone.

Patient Story – Can Stress Lead to a Heart Attack?

Stress & Heart Attack RiskEmory patient, Donna Fielding, a healthy looking 41 year old mother of two is sure that stress and her high-intensity type A personality lead to her heart attack at 37. Her heart attack taught Donna to “take a step back, take a deep breath, and make a decision.” She doesn’t let the “little things” in life ruin her days any longer.

Emory physicians are doing research to study the connection between stress and heart attack risk. According Emory physician, Dr. David Sheps, when you get stressed your heart rate and blood pressure go up.

View Donna’s story and learn about the research Emory is doing in a video from Fox 5 Atlanta, below:

Take control of your stress and potentially reduce your risk for heart disease!

Heart Attack Atop Stone Mountain?

Atlanta Heart Walk 2011We hope having a heart attack on Stone Mountain is not something you will never have to worry about, but for one Emory Heart & Vascular Center patient, he had to take quick action to save his life. Luckily Howard Dean survived to tell the story and is now participating in the Emory HeartWise Heart Disease Risk Reduction program. He has even returned to hike Stone Mountain since that crazy day. View this Fox 5 Atlanta piece on Howard’s story:

To help keep your heart healthy, register to join us this Saturday, October 29th for the American Heart Association’s Metro Atlanta Heart Walk! If you don’t have a team, you can join our Emory team!

  1. Visit www.atlantaheartwalk.org
  2. To register as a participant, click Register and then click “I agree to the waiver.”
  3. Select Join a Team. Find Emory Healthcare in the drop-down box, and find the name of the team you want to join.
  4. Login to your personal Heart Walk page and personalize it by telling your story and adding a photo.

Why I am Walking in the 2011 Metro Atlanta Heart Walk – Malia Veator

Atlanta Heart WalkNine years ago I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and heart failure. I was very weak, but I improved with medication and diet. At this point, I decided to get a second opinion at Emory Healthcare based on Dr. Andy Smith’s recognition in the heart failure community. I quickly felt very comfortable with Dr. Smith and his staff at the Emory Heart Failure Clinic.

My husband and I concluded that we had met the best doctor to manage my progressive illness. Due to our confidence in Dr. Smith, we followed his advice to have a defibrillator implanted in 2006 to help manage my arrhythmias. In 2007, I became symptomatic again because my mitral valve was leaking significantly. Dr. Smith and my local cardiologist in Macon, Dr. Thomas Terry, advised that I have valve surgery. In 2008, Dr. Robert Guyton, at Emory, performed a mitral valve repair on my heart. A few weeks after surgery, I began having more arrhythmias that could not be controlled. As a result of this new challenge, I had a cardiac ablation in Macon by Dr. Felix Sogade. My heart continued to weaken over the next two years, and I was placed on the heart transplant waiting list in February 2010.

Living with advanced heart failure has been challenging at times. Before my heart transplant in March 2010, there were the days when I couldn’t grocery shop, vacuum or even walk for five minutes. I even dreaded having to wash and dry my hair because I would get exhausted and had trouble breathing.

Life has changed for my family over the last nine years but my husband and I believe that these changes have been beneficial to improving our way of approaching life. Due to my illness, we were unable to have children and our greatest gift has been our beautiful son that we adopted in 2008. We now appreciate each day that we are given and feel very blessed that I have been given a second chance at life.

Waiting for a new heart can be a difficult challenge. But, my family was blessed when we received a phone call about a new heart only 10 days after being placed on the waiting list. Having the heart transplant was such an exciting time for me. When I first came off the ventilator after the surgery, I could already feel an improvement. I noticed my chronic cough was gone and my husband quickly told me I had color in my cheeks again. Four days after surgery I was walking the hospital halls. In fact, I was walking faster and further than I had in the previous two years. I have been exercising ever since: walking, running, light weight training and tennis. These are activities most people take for granted; activities I used to take for granted. Not any more, now I appreciate all activities of daily living. I even enjoy working again!

Since having my transplant, I am followed at the Emory Transplant Clinic and I am proud to say I have met many more remarkable doctors and nurses. I call my clinic doctors, typically Dr. Book, Dr. Laskar or Dr. Cole, my biopsy buddies since I have to have heart biopsies on a regular basis to check for rejection of my new heart. They are great at their jobs, but I would not expect anything less from such a superb hospital. My confidence in Emory, my faith in God and my support from my family give me the courage to continue living life to the fullest each and every day. I could not ask for anything more.

There is no doubt that I was able to benefit from the research and advances made possible by organizations like Emory Healthcare and the American Heart Association, and receive a heart transplant – when 50 years ago there would not have been any options for me!

I am proud to be participating in the 2011 Metro Atlanta Heart Walk! The American Heart Association has made huge advances in the treatment of heart disease resulting from funding heart research, and I want to give back so that others can benefit and hopefully we will one day find a cure for heart disease. I am also walking to honor my family, my heart donor and their family, and the many staff at Emory Healthcare who have been with me on my journey from heart failure to heart transplantation.

Malia Veator, Emory Heart & Vascular Center patient and 2011 Atlanta Heart Walk Participant