Healing hearts

Brenda Grant, 56, has gen­er­ally led a healthy life, and blood work taken as re­cently as March showed no prob­lems.

“I keep up with all my checkups,” she said. “My cho­les­ter­ol was go­ing a little high, but I nev­er had any prob­lems with my heart.”

However, one night in April, Grant, who lives in the Red Li­on Man­or Apart­ments on North­east Av­en­ue, star­ted to feel ill. Some frozen yogurt did not help.

“I felt burn­ing in my chest,” she re­called. “I laid down, but I wasn’t com­fort­able. I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up all night. It was a very scary night for me.”

The next morn­ing, she saw her 9-year-old grand­son, Tah­mir, off to Wil­li­am Loes­che School, but she was so weak that she soon made a tele­phone call to her daugh­ter.

“I think I’m hav­ing a heart at­tack,” she said.

Grant fixed her hair and dialed 911.

“I didn’t want to go look­ing a mess,” she said.

While wait­ing for an am­bu­lance to ar­rive, Grant walked to the en­trance to the apart­ment com­plex to greet the med­ics, who im­me­di­ately saw signs of a heart at­tack. She didn’t even get a chance to close her door.

“Ma’am, you’re not go­ing any­where. You’re get­ting in this am­bu­lance,” a med­ic told her.

On the way to Naz­areth Hos­pit­al, she was giv­en ni­trogly­cer­in. She could hear and see but re­calls be­ing in a dream-like state. Real­ity set in when she ar­rived at the hos­pit­al and saw con­cerned looks on the faces of the med­ic­al team.

Dr. Dan Vile, a car­di­olo­gist, was mak­ing his rounds at the hos­pit­al when the pa­tient ar­rived. He ordered an im­me­di­ate elec­tro­car­di­o­gram.

“Not all chest pain is a heart at­tack,” he ex­plained.

In Grant’s case, though, it was an acute myocar­di­al in­farc­tion. Im­me­di­ate ac­tion was ne­ces­sary to save the heart muscle and keep oxy­gen flow­ing to the brain.

Naz­areth Hos­pit­al does not of­fer heart sur­gery and typ­ic­ally used to send pa­tients in Grant’s con­di­tion on a heli­copter to an­oth­er hos­pit­al, such as Penn Pres­by­teri­an Med­ic­al Cen­ter.

However, since March, Naz­areth has been of­fer­ing coron­ary an­gioplasty in its state-of-the-art cath­et­er­iz­a­tion lab for pa­tients with clogged ar­ter­ies.

Com­munity hos­pit­als without car­di­ac sur­gery are per­mit­ted to provide elect­ive and emer­gency coron­ary an­gioplasty, once they meet the rig­or­ous stand­ards for par­ti­cip­a­tion in the At­lantic Car­di­ovas­cu­lar Pa­tient Out­comes Re­search Team study, sponsored by Johns Hop­kins Med­ic­al In­sti­tu­tions.

In Naz­areth’s case, it needed ap­prov­al from the state De­part­ment of Health. Sev­en oth­er Pennsylvania hos­pit­als are en­rolled in the study.

Naz­areth staff re­ceived spe­cial train­ing, at­ten­ded lengthy meet­ings and en­gaged in mock heart at­tack drills.

“You just can’t open a cath lab and per­form in­ter­ven­tions without strin­gent rules and reg­u­la­tions,” Vile said.

For Grant, the coron­ary an­gioplasty was an emer­gency situ­ation. She couldn’t give verbal con­sent, so her daugh­ter, Nickia Walk­er, signed the ne­ces­sary forms.

Vile went through the pa­tient’s right groin to un­clog a blocked artery.

“We were on the artery be­fore you could blink,” the doc­tor said. “Everything opened liked greased light­ning.”

Vile said the coron­ary an­gioplasty op­tion is in­valu­able, es­pe­cially for emer­gency pa­tients who pre­vi­ously would be placed on a heli­copter for treat­ment.

“We save all that time,” he said.

Vile said the suc­cess of Grant’s pro­ced­ure — blood was fully flow­ing to the areas of the heart with­in 90 minutes — was a team ef­fort.

“I’m just a glor­i­fied plumb­er who opens drains,” he said. “To get in quick to open an artery is a test­a­ment to the staff and a whole slew of people.”

Naz­areth has per­formed about a dozen coron­ary an­gioplasty pro­ced­ures, and all have had pos­it­ive out­comes.

Grant’s case was the most severe, and Vile cred­ited her with seek­ing out med­ic­al care. He urges oth­ers in sim­il­ar situ­ations to do the same.

“If you get chest pain, don’t ig­nore it,” he said.

Grant spent a week in the hos­pit­al, and was mon­itored most closely for 72 hours after the pro­ced­ure to make sure the heart was beat­ing and re­cu­per­at­ing prop­erly.

The pa­tient is thank­ful for Naz­areth’s coron­ary an­gioplasty op­tion. She learned the day after the pro­ced­ure that she had been close to death.

The ex­per­i­ence re­mains an emo­tion­al one.

“God was with me,” she said. “I thank God that I’m alive. I’m still here. He led me to a hos­pit­al where nobody gave up on me.”

After be­ing re­leased from the hos­pit­al, she vis­ited the crew of Med­ic 6 to thank them for re­cog­niz­ing the sever­ity of her con­di­tion.

As part of her re­cov­ery, she has seen her primary phys­i­cian, un­der­gone a stress test, been on a heart mon­it­or, re­ceived nurse vis­its at home and taken part in phys­ic­al ther­apy. She’s lost some weight, with Vile jok­ing that she has no room for food be­cause of all the medi­cine she takes.

Grant is on med­ic­al leave from her de­mand­ing job as a nurse’s as­sist­ant at Paul’s Run re­tire­ment com­munity, but she will try to main­tain a reg­u­lar ex­er­cise re­gi­men.

The next chal­lenge was to ad­dress her eat­ing habits.

“I love cheese and fried chick­en, all the wrong things,” she said. “But that’s all stopped.”

Wheth­er it’s be­cause of the med­ic­al scare or a de­sire to see her six grand­chil­dren grow up or the fact that her two daugh­ters are nurses and her son is very health-con­scious, she is now on a strict diet.

Today, her meals in­clude such products as Mrs. Dash and I Can’t Be­lieve It’s Not But­ter. On trips to Old Coun­try Buf­fet, she chooses salad and ve­get­ables. She pro­claims that she “loves” as­paragus.

“I eat right. After you start eat­ing dif­fer­ent, it gets easy,” she said. “I don’t know what plans God has for me, but I want to do what’s right to keep me here.” ••

For more in­form­a­tion about Naz­areth Hos­pit­al’s coron­ary an­gioplasty pro­ced­ure or to en­roll in the study, call toll-free 1-866-NAZ­ARETH or vis­it www.mer­cy­health.org/naz­areth

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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