With the many advances in cancer treatment, today’s cancer patients have more and more reasons for hope. Portraits of Hope are the incredible stories of our patients and their journeys of hope and survival. Click on a thumbnail and scroll down to view each story.
New Convergent Procedure Combines Cardiothoracic Surgery and Electrophysiology to Treat A-Fib.
An irregularity of the heartbeat, atrial fibrillation, occurs in ten to 15 percent of the population -- increasing in prevalence as a person ages. The irregular heartbeat weakens the heart muscle with time. More importantly, it increases an individual’s risk of stroke. As the blood collects in the upper chambers of the heart it tends to form clots, which can cause strokes.
“The most common arrhythmia in adults, atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) increases with age, from less than one percent of those younger than age 60, to roughly one in every ten persons aged 80 years or older,” explained Dr. Rajesh Malik, a McLeod Electrophysiologist.
An Electrophysiologist specializes in evaluating the abnormalities of the heart’s rhythm. Dr. Malik serves as one of two physicians at McLeod who treats the electrical system of the heart.
A significant portion of the people on a medical regime for A-Fib are intolerant to the medication for one reason or another. Blood thinners, a core component in the treatment for atrial fibrillation, can also cause bleeding complications and other issues in many patients.
If the medicines or blood thinners do not work, usually the next treatment step involves an ablation performed by an Electrophysiologist. Ablation refers to removing or disconnecting some of the abnormal electrical connections that contribute to atrial fibrillation. Ablation potentially may permanently cure an arrhythmia, and many times, allows the patient to avoid taking medication.
If successful, an ablation eliminates the atrial fibrillation problem for a significant number of patients. An operation performed by a Cardiothoracic Surgeon can also cure atrial fibrillation, but it is fairly invasive and requires making a large incision in the chest and putting the patient on the heart lung bypass machine.
For patients with atrial fibrillation who are sensitive to medications and blood thinner treatments, or their ablation procedure was unsuccessful, they may be considered a potential candidate for Convergent, a new procedure available at McLeod Regional Medical Center that combines the best aspects of the surgical approach to atrial fibrillation with the Electrophysiologist’s ablation technique.
During the Convergent procedure, the Cardiothoracic Surgeon performs a minimally invasive approach to ablate, (destroy), the tissues on the back of the heart. An Electrophysiologist then performs ablations on the inside and front portions of the heart. “By combining these two techniques, we produce a much more reliable result for the patient and a potential way for them to no longer need their medications and/or blood thinners,” said Dr. S. Cary Huber, McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon.
The surgical portion of the procedure, performed by Dr. Huber, involves a small one to two-inch incision right below the breastbone. Dr. Huber inserts the ablation device directly into the small incision. With the assistance of a small camera, a radiofrequency current of targeted heat destroys the tissue in the problem areas of the heart to restore it back to a regular rhythm.
Dr. Malik then threads a thin, flexible wire catheter through the inside of the heart for his portion of the procedure. Using radiofrequency ablation, Dr. Malik ablates any remaining gaps and conducts tests to confirm that all of the abnormal electrical impulses have been eliminated.
The procedure requires three to four hours. Most patients recover in the hospital for two or three days afterwards and return to normal activities within a couple of days after going home. This minimally invasive procedure offers a much faster recovery than with an open procedure.
“The Convergent procedure is one opportunity we have available to help patients manage their atrial fibrillation,” said Dr. Malik.
“At the McLeod Cardiology Associates office in Florence, we also offer an Atrial Fibrillation Clinic where our team works with the patient to develop a treatment plan for their A-Fib. For those patients who suffer from chronic atrial fibrillation and who qualify, we are pleased to now offer the Convergent procedure option.”
“At McLeod, we have embraced the heart team concept, not just for arrhythmia surgery, but for all types of heart problems whether it involves coronary artery valve issues or arrhythmia,” added Dr. Huber.
“Multiple studies have shown that if you evaluate the patient as a team, with everyone offering their own level of expertise and contributing to the same cause, patient care improves greatly. The Convergent procedure is one example of the heart team concept being applied to arrhythmia concerns for the betterment of patient care.”
Rebecca Knoller, 88, attributed her lack of strength and energy to her age. Today, thanks to her new heart valve she knows differently.
Valves keep the blood flowing in the heart. Heart valve disease occurs if one of the four valves in the heart does not open or close properly.
Patients with valve disease may not encounter any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Over time, they are likely to begin experiencing: fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and an irregular heartbeat.
“Many patients with heart valve disease have no symptoms,” said Dr. Scot Schultz, McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon. “For those experiencing symptoms, fatigue or tiredness are the most common, along with heart irregularities that some describe as ‘palpitations."
A patient of Dr. Steven Ross, an Internal Medicine Physician, Rebecca talked to Dr. Ross about her complaints of fatigue. After an echocardiogram test, Dr. Ross referred Rebecca to McLeod Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Fred Krainin. Dr. Krainin believed Rebecca represented the ideal candidate for the new Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure. A minimally invasive procedure performed at McLeod Regional Medical Center, TAVR allows physicians to replace a patient’s diseased or damaged heart valve without removing the old valve.
“Most patients who have this procedure are in their 70s and 80s,” said Dr. Krainin. “Many times these patients’ health cannot withstand the stress of an open heart procedure. Often, patients who undergo the TAVR procedure have other medical conditions that make them a better candidate for this type of surgery. Because of Rebecca’s age, the Valve Clinic Team determined TAVR as the best choice for replacing her valve.”
The McLeod Valve Clinic Team includes: Cardiothoracic Surgeons Dr. Scot Schultz and Dr. S. Cary Huber; Interventional Cardiologists Dr. Fred Krainin and Dr. Brian Wall; Anesthesiologists Dr. Daniel Fox, Dr. Kyle Johnson and Dr. Robert Savage and Ryan Hill, Nurse Practitioner and Valve Clinic Coordinator.
“Dr. Krainin surprised me when he explained that the severity of my heart valve problem required surgery to repair it,” said Rebecca. “But, I had no concerns about being their first patient for the new procedure. The less invasive option appealed to me more than undergoing an open procedure.”
Performed similar to a heart catheterization, during the TAVR procedure the physician inserts a catheter, a long flexible thin tube with the artificial valve, through a small incision in an artery in the leg, then guides it to the heart using X-ray imaging.
The physician precisely positions the new valve across the diseased valve, releases the new valve, and it starts functioning immediately. The old valve provides the foundation to hold the new valve in place.
TAVR procedures are performed in the state-of-the-art Hybrid Operating Suite at McLeod Regional Medical Center. The second hybrid suite at McLeod, the operating room combines the medical expertise of interventional cardiologists and the surgical expertise of cardiothoracic surgeons with the most advanced heart technology available to perform TAVR.
“After I received my new valve, I recovered quickly, and my energy and strength returned,” said Rebecca. “Recently my husband, Peter, accompanied me to an appointment with Dr. Ross to voice his concerns about me overdoing it. Dr. Ross explained to my husband that thanks to my new valve I am doing beautifully.
“I cannot describe how much better I feel today than a year ago. I appreciate Dr. Krainin, Dr. Schultz, Dr. Huber, Ryan and the rest of the Valve Team for the care they provided to me,” added Rebecca.
Dr. Franklin Mason
Dr. Franklin Mason ran in his first marathon, out of a total of 120, at the age of 60. In 2004, at 80 years old, he ran in the Boston Marathon. That evening, after losing consciousness, local EMS transported Dr. Mason to a hospital where the medical team performed an echocardiogram that revealed his heart had a low ejection fraction, or a weakened heart muscle. However, Dr. Mason waited until he returned home to South Carolina and his Cardiologist, Dr. Krainin, for cardiac treatment which involved placement of a defibrillator with pacemaker capabilities.
Dr. Mason retired from running marathons at age 85, but he remained active. Today, at the age of 93, Dr. Mason continues to practice dentistry in Mullins, quite possibly the oldest practicing dentist in South Carolina, according to Dr. Mason. He also exercises at a local gym three times a week and serves as an active member of the Mullins Lions Club, dating back to 1953. Recently, Dr. Mason started feeling short of breath and tired easily.
Dr. Krainin had been monitoring Dr. Mason’s aortic valve and determined it needed to be replaced. The contributing factor to Dr. Mason’s weariness was valve disease and not his age. Dr. Krainin also knew Dr. Mason would respond well to the TAVR procedure.
“God has plans for me still so with prayers from my friends and family, and my faith, I went forward with the procedure,” said Dr. Mason. ”I noticed the difference right away with me having more energy and breathing better. I only missed a week of work due to the procedure. Dr. Krainin told me I am the oldest patient at McLeod to have this procedure.”
Dr. Mason said, “I am very thankful that, at my age, I continue to remain active in so many endeavors. My commitment to my dental practice reflects my dedication to my patients.”
Dr. Mason presently serves as a Deacon and Chairman of the Finance Committee at his church. He also maintains his involvement in the Mullins Lions Club and district and state Lions affairs. Although he no longer runs, which he misses very much, Dr. Mason continues to work out at the gym, too.
“I thank God every day for 93 years of a happy and productive life, a wonderful family, many devoted friends and so many opportunities for service,” added Dr. Mason.
Little River, SC
Rebecca, a resident of Johnsonville, served as the first McLeod TAVR patient in February 2017, and Dr. Mason marked the oldest. A year into the program, Donna James from Little River also benefitted from this new technology.
Experiencing fatigue and dizziness, Donna explained to McLeod Cardiologist Dr. Gavin Leask that walking up stairs brought on shortness of breath. Donna had been diagnosed with aortic valve disease years before that her physicians continuously monitored. Dr. Leask believed Donna’s valve disease had progressed to the point of requiring intervention. He referred her to Dr. Schultz.
“I had never heard of TAVR before meeting Dr. Schultz, but a minimally invasive procedure appealed to me,” said Donna. “My husband, Richard, and I are real exercise enthusiasts -- playing golf and walking. But, my breathing issues kept me from doing what we loved and I wanted to get my life back.”
“Rather than undergoing another open heart procedure, TAVR represented the best option for Donna since years ago she underwent open heart surgery to replace a faulty mitral valve,” said Dr. Schultz.
Designed to work like the human heart valve, the TAVR heart valve takes over the job of regulating blood flow immediately upon implant. Patients start feeling better right away and return to everyday activities within days as compared to weeks or months with a traditional surgical valve replacement. With the establishment of the McLeod TAVR program in 2017, more than 45 patients have undergone this new procedure.
“The simplicity of the surgery amazed me -- no discomfort, chest pain or stitches,” said Donna. “Immediately after the procedure, I could breathe normal a gain. I received my new valve on Thursday and by Monday I walked two and a half miles on the beach. My only limitations involved no golfing or bowling for 30 days.
“Richard and I are now back to our regular schedule of golfing and walking the beach, thanks to Dr. Schultz, Dr. Krainin and the entire McLeod Heart Team. I could not be happier,” added Donna.
Ann Keelan, a retired medical professional, suffered from mitral valve prolapse and understood the risks involved with her condition. After moving to Surfside Beach from Maryland, she began to research hospitals in the area and was impressed by the quality and expertise of the McLeod Health physicians and staff.
“I wanted to go to an experienced and reputable institution that could be trusted,” said Ann. “I was pleasantly surprised to find a hospital system like McLeod that had an extraordinary level of quality as the forefront of their medical care this close to home.”
The heart has four valves that are essentially flaps of tissue, whose job is to keep the blood flowing in one direction through the heart and body. If any of the four valves does not open or close properly, the result is heart valve disease. One of the most common heart diseases in females, mitral valve prolapse, occurs when the valve leaflets do not seal properly.
Untreated leaky mitral valves can lead to chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, infections, dizziness, fainting, panic attacks and stroke.
After Ann established a relationship with a primary care physician, she was advised to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist to monitor her mitral valve condition. Understanding the risks involved with mitral valve prolapse, her physician wanted to ensure Ann was observed more closely. He then referred Ann to Dr. Anne Everman with McLeod Cardiology Associates.
Dr. Everman discussed monitoring Ann’s condition in order to be proactive with necessary treatments. “When I first met Ann, we found she was at a moderate state in her mitral valve prolapse condition,” said Dr. Everman. “Our goal was to get in front of the problem -- monitoring her condition closely.
“Given that initial symptoms are subtle, patients frequently pass off their symptoms as an excuse of getting older and slowing down,” said Dr. Everman. In May of 2017, diagnostic testing using echocardiography indicated to Dr. Everman that Ann may be in need of valve surgery. Her mitral valve had deteriorated and wasn’t closing properly, allowing blood to flow backward into her left atrium and lungs.
Dr. Everman recommended Ann see Dr. Scot Schultz, a McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon, to discuss options for repairing the leaking valve. Dr. Schultz has experience and specializes in all types of valve repair and replacement.
“Some people, especially females, are born predisposed to this heart condition and live much of their lives with no symptoms,” said Dr. Schultz. “If symptoms do appear, it is usually shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats (called arrhythmias), dizziness or even chest pain.”
Mitral valve repair is unique for every patient. Successful repair requires the experience of a cardiothoracic surgeon who has an understanding of how the heart’s valve and muscle structure function as one. For this reason, mitral valve repair requires the attention of the most competent heart and valve surgeons available.
After examining Ann, Dr. Schultz scheduled her for surgery at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence the following week.
During Ann’s surgery, Dr. Schultz and his anesthesia colleagues determined a valve replacement was not necessary and felt confident a complex repair would provide a durable solution to her leaky mitral valve. When possible, valve repair is preferable to replacement as this carries a lower risk of complications.
During her recovery in the hospital, Ann developed atrial fibrillation (A-Fib), a common occurrence following heart surgery. This condition is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) of the atria (top chambers of the heart) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications, if left untreated.
Electrophysiologist Dr. Rajesh Malik with McLeod Cardiology Associates, a specialist in this condition, reviewed Ann’s case to determine how to alleviate her risk of A-Fib. Since Ann’s A-Fib prevented a regular heart rhythm, Dr. Malik explained that an implantable pacemaker, along with medication, would assist in regulating the timing and sequence of her heartbeat.
Prior to being released from the hospital, Dr. Malik performed Ann’s pacemaker procedure.
“Over the last few years, we have found novel ways to improve care for heart failure patients,” says Dr. Malik. “New medications are improving a heart patient’s quality of life, but the major leap has been in technology and the latest developments in implantable pacemakers.”
“During my career in the medical field, I worked alongside many great medical professionals,” said Ann. “McLeod Health set the bar higher than any other medical institution I’ve seen.
“McLeod Health also gave me renewed faith in the medical profession,” added Ann. “My experience with McLeod has been amazing, and I could not have had a better experience. I’ve recommended McLeod Health to many people.”
CAMP PEE DEE PRIDE LEADER RETURNS TO THE PACK
If you were fortunate to have participated as one of the 7,000 children who attended the Florence County Sheriff’s Department’s Camp Pee Dee Pride over the past 20 years, then you had the pleasure of interacting with Captain Wayne Howard. A 44-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, Captain Howard has spent 22 years of his career working with the community to help make the camp a reality for children.
Fundraising activities are vital to the existence of Camp Pee Dee Pride. In March of 2017, the camp was just weeks away from a major fundraising event when the program’s dedicated leader became ill.
Captain Howard was working in his yard that Sunday afternoon in March. He suddenly began to feel hot, sweaty, and nauseous. His wife, Karen, called an ambulance to transport him to the McLeod Regional Medical Center Emergency Department.
In the Emergency Department, it was discovered that Captain Howard’s potassium levels were too high and his heart rate was too low. “High potassium levels can affect the rhythms of the heart,” said Dr. Katie Jennings, McLeod Emergency Services Physician. “We gave Captain Howard medications to help regulate these levels, but he was critically ill and needed intensive care monitoring.”
Captain Howard was admitted to the McLeod Heart and Vascular Intensive Care Unit. Shortly after arriving in the unit, his heart rate dropped to zero and his heart stopped beating. The nurses responded quickly to begin chest compressions, but Captain Howard’s heart started beating again on its own.
The Cardiac Catheterization team, along with McLeod Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Alan Blaker, were immediately alerted. Captain Howard’s heart rate was still dangerously low, which could have led into cardiac arrest at any moment. The nurses externally paced his heart through the use of an external pacemaker to bring his heart rate up until the Catheterization Team and Dr. Blaker could arrive.
“Captain Howard had come into the ED with dangerously high potassium levels, which is what caused his heart to stop,” said Dr. Blaker. “Coupled with a very low heart rhythm, we needed to put in a temporary pacemaker. The temporary pacemaker served to protect his heart until such time as McLeod Electrophysiologist Dr. Rajesh Malik could implant a permanent pacemaker. Dr. Malik is a partner with Dr. Blaker along with eighteen other cardiologists that provide cardiac care to patients in the McLeod Cardiology Associates offices located in Florence, Sumter, Loris, Little River and Myrtle Beach.
During the procedure, Dr. Blaker also searched for coronary blockages. He located several blockages at the front of Captain Howard’s heart and was able to repair one on the back of his heart with a drug-eluting stent, according to Dr. Blaker.
It was five days from his Emergency Department arrival before Captain Howard could remember any of these traumatic events. His first concern upon waking was his wife. The ICU nurses told him he never asked about himself, his questions were always inquiring about Karen. He wanted to make sure she was okay.
His second concern was Camp Pee Dee Pride -- making sure that everything stayed on track for a summer full of fun for the children. From his bedside, Captain Howard reached out to his assistant, Investigator James Allen, with the Florence County Sheriff ’s Department to ensure that the golf tournament taking place in three weeks was all set.
“I have been a member of the McLeod Health and Fitness Center for 15 years, exercising four times a week, so my physicians were not concerned with my overall physical fitness,” explained Captain Howard. “They allowed me to delay my participation in Cardiac Rehabilitation until after Camp Pee Dee Pride as long as I didn’t overextend myself, and I began a heart healthy diet. Fortunately, with the help of James and my support staff, it was another successful summer.
“This episode with my heart was very surprising. Since the 2017 camp season has ended I have been participating in McLeod Cardiac Rehabilitation and working closely with my physicians to make sure I stay healthy. I am so appreciative of everything the McLeod doctors and nurses did to save my life. I can truly say I am here today because of the care I received at McLeod,” added Captain Howard.
Transcarotid Arterial Revascularization Procedure Now Available.
Stroke, a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States ranks as the fifth leading cause of death in South Carolina. In an effort to decrease the risk of stroke for patients who may not be a candidate for other stroke treatments, McLeod offers a new minimally invasive procedure to treat carotid artery disease.
The carotid arteries, the main arteries to the brain, carry blood flow on each side of the neck up into the brain. Their function is to provide oxygen.
Over time, people develop problems with the arteries to their brain in the form of blockages as plaque builds up in the walls of their carotid arteries. This plaque consists of cholesterol, calcium and fibrous tissue.
As the plaque increases, the arteries narrow and eventually the build up of plaque reduces the blood flow through the arteries. If those blockages get severe enough they can cause a stroke.
Ischemic strokes account for 80 to 90 percent of strokes with an estimated 20 to 30 percent caused by disease in the carotid arteries.
Carotid artery disease is a serious issue because blood clots can form on the plaque, and if a clot or a piece of plaque breaks loose and travels to the brain it can block the blood flow to the brain.
Carotid endarterectomy, a procedure to treat carotid artery disease, is performed by the Vascular Surgeons of McLeod Vascular Associates.
During this procedure, the McLeod Vascular Surgeon exposes the carotid artery through an incision on the side of the neck. The artery, after being clamped on both sides of the blockage, is then opened to access the plaque. The plaque is removed from inside the artery and the artery then sewn back together.
“This is an effective treatment for decreasing the risk of stroke,” said McLeod Vascular Surgeon Dr. Christopher Cunningham. “However, some patients have medical conditions that place them at high risk for carotid endarterectomy.”
For these patients, a new procedure called Transcarotid Arterial Revascularization (TCAR) is now available. During the procedure, a McLeod Vascular Surgeon (Dr. Christopher Cunningham, Dr. Carmen Piccolo, Dr. Eva Rzucidlo, Dr. Joshua Sibille or Dr. Gabor Winkler) makes a very small, one-inch incision by the collarbone to gain access to the blocked artery while the patient is under local anesthesia.
“Candidates for this procedure would be patients who have a tight narrowing of the artery to their brain or who have had a previous stroke,” said Dr. Cunningham. “TCAR is also a more viable option for patients who have medical conditions that would prohibit them from undergoing an open procedure like the carotid endarterectomy.”
To divert any dangerous debris that may break loose during the procedure, the blood flow in the carotid artery is temporarily reversed. A soft, flexible tube, placed directly into the carotid artery, connects to a filter system that directs the blood flow away from the brain and captures fragments of plaque that may come loose during the procedure. The blood is filtered and returned through a second tube placed in the patient’s thigh.
This filter system also allows stenting to be performed to clear the blockage in the carotid during the blood flow reversal process. A stent, a tiny mesh wire tube, implanted inside the carotid artery, stabilizes the blocked area. The stent stays in the artery permanently to hold the artery open. After securing the stent, the filter system is removed and blood flow to the brain resumes its normal direction.
“Recovery time for this procedure is short since the incision is so small,” said Dr. Cunningham. “Because we repair the artery to the brain it is a serious procedure, but from a recovery standpoint, really very minor. It only requires an overnight stay in the hospital and most patients return to their normal activities within a week.”
After the TCAR technology underwent testing and clinical trials, the results were so powerful that the FDA approved and released it to programs like the McLeod Heart and Vascular Institute, who have an established Carotid Stenting Program and serve as members of the Vascular Quality Initiative for South Carolina. Being part of a quality initiative means McLeod compares the results of all of its vascular cases with its peers both regionally and nationally.
“We were fortunate to have been selected as the first class of surgeons in South Carolina to complete the FDA training,” added Dr. Cunningham. “TCAR is available to patients in the region at McLeod Regional Medical Center and McLeod Seacoast. My partners and I are pleased to be a part of a healthcare system that cares about staying abreast of cutting edge technology to offer our patients the best in stroke and vascular care.”
When the unexpected happens, you need a strong team behind you. No one knows that more than Charlie Nelson, a retired teacher and tennis coach in Florence. What started as a feeling of pressure and back pain, quickly became a matter of life or death. Coach Nelson went to the nearest emergency department where tests revealed a tear in his aorta, resulting in critical blood supplies being cut off from major organs. The McLeod HeartReach ambulance quickly transported him to McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, where Dr. Christopher Cunningham, a top McLeod Vascular Surgeon, went to work. Using x-ray imaging, Dr. Cunningham skillfully guided a catheter through the artery and sealed the tear with a stent graft. Thankfully, when Coach Nelson was in the match of his life, our vascular expertise served up the healthcare ace he needed.
Pasty knew something was wrong when she couldn’t catch her breath and walk the forty yards to her beloved garden. Shortly after, Patsy experienced a heavy chest and was rushed to McLeod Loris where doctors determined she had suffered a heart attack. Patsy’s condition required critical attention and the skilled team at McLeod Loris quickly transferred her to McLeod Regional Medical Center, where renowned McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Scot Schultz told Patsy she required a quadruple bypass. Utilizing the latest techniques and leading edge technology, Dr. Schultz and his team skillfully performed the complex bypass and had Patsy up walking the very next day.
“To all of my physicians and nurses at McLeod, I’ve never had such wonderful care from any other hospital. Thank you for giving me a second chance at life,” said Patsy. Today, the only thing taking Patsy’s breath away is her beautiful garden.
The average person is often unable to tell when their heart goes into atrial fibrillation. In Mike Cullipher’s case, he said he always knew when those 15 to 30 second rapid heart beating episodes occurred. The Mullins resident began seeing McLeod Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Anil Om for the treatment of atrial fibrillation in 2001.
Atrial fibrillation, also called AF or A-Fib, is one of the most common irregular heart rhythms. An abnormality of the electrical system of the heart, A-Fib is a rapid beating of the upper chambers of the heart, which prevents the heart from pumping blood adequately to the lower chambers.
People who suffer from atrial fibrillation may experience heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness, and mild to severe chest pains.
“Many patients also experience feelings of weakness or fatigue, caused by the heart’s diminished pumping ability,” explained Dr. Rajesh Malik, a McLeod Electrophysiologist.
Over the next fifteen years, Mike’s condition was managed through medication and eventually an ablation, a procedure to correct heart rhythm problems. Performed in the same manner as a heart catheterization, an ablation delivers heat, cold or radio energy through the groin to destroy the tissue that triggers the abnormal rhythms.
The ablation worked for a short time but ultimately Mike’s atrial fibrillation returned. In 2015, he was referred by Dr. Om to Dr. Malik.
“Dr. Malik informed me that at this point in my life my heart was in persistent A-Fib -- meaning all the time,” said Mike. “It was like my heart was running a marathon.”
A healthy heart beats between 60 and 90 times per minute. In A-Fib the upper chambers of the heart can fibrillate up to 500 times a minute. Because the heart is beating so fast and irregularly, the heart’s pumping action does not work properly when the pumping does not function correctly, the blood will not completely empty from the chambers making the blood more likely to pool and to clot. If a clot pumps out of the heart, it can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke.
“People who have atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not have this condition,” said Dr. Malik.
“When my wife Sharon and I met with Dr. Malik, he shared with us that there have been very few patients in his medical career whose irregular heart rhythms he could not correct,” said Mike “I was one of those patients. He was determined to get my heart back in normal rhythm. His resolve gave me confidence that he was going to be dedicated in helping me achieve it.”
Dr. Malik believed Mike’s best chance of recovery was the MAZE procedure.
The MAZE procedure is a surgical intervention for heart patients whose atrial fibrillation cannot be controlled by medications or for those who are undergoing open-heart surgery for other reasons. MAZE cures A-Fib by interrupting the electrical patterns that are responsible for the irregular heartbeat.
With the MAZE procedure, a McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon uses a radiofrequency probe to burn lesion areas in the heart tissue without damaging the heart. These lesions, placed in strategic areas of the upper chambers of the heart, generate scar tissue that redirect the electrical pattern so the heart can pump in a normal way.
In December 2015, McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. S. Cary Huber performed the MAZE procedure on Mike. Because his case was so complex, Dr. Malik assisted Dr. Huber in the operating room.
“With cases like Mike’s, after I have completed the MAZE ablation, Dr. Malik will perform inter-operative electrical mapping. During this procedure, Dr. Malik inserts a specially designed catheter into the heart to test the electrical activity where the irregular arrhythmia was occurring to ensure that the ablation was successful,” explained Dr. Huber.
“Dr. Huber told me I could expect my heart to continue to have A-Fib episodes after the surgery while it was recovering,” said Mike. “One week after returning home I felt the moment my heart went back into a normal rhythm, and it has never gone back out since then.
“I am amazed at how much this surgery has changed my quality of life. The atrial fibrillation kept me from enjoying my favorite past times like hunting and fishing. My wife and I are also big supporters of our four grandchildren at all of their sporting games. Unfortunately, I had to miss most of their games because my health would not allow it,” said Mike.
Mike is also a member of the 2nd Chance Ministries gospel quartet. Prior to the MAZE procedure, he did not have the breath to sing and had to stop performing. Today, Mike is happy to report that he is back on the road again with the group.
“I am very thankful to Dr. Om, Dr. Malik and Dr. Huber for being those instruments in God’s hands that not only changed my life but saved it,” said Mike. “Throughout the many office visits and bedside care in the hospital, I found a sincere compassion from them that I will never forget.
“They had a strong determination to ‘help me get better’ even in light of a case that was as difficult as mine. And, they ALWAYS had words of encouragement. I am forever grateful to each one of them. I love them for caring about me. I cannot say enough about the great team at McLeod,” added Mike.
For patients like Mike, the McLeod Heart and Vascular Institute provides the most comprehensive and sophisticated heart care for patients from the midlands to the coast. Dedicated to extraordinary cardiovascular care, McLeod is one of the top hospitals in the nation for cardiac and vascular care, according to the most recent hospital ratings by Healthgrades, the leading online resource for comprehensive information about physicians and hospitals. These top honors include the 2016 Cardiac Care Excellence Award, 2016 Coronary Intervention Excellence Award and Top 5% in the Nation for Cardiology Services.
It was a Tuesday unlike any other for Randy Rouse, a native of Dillon, South Carolina. He describes February 23, 2016 as a “regular workday.” After leaving work, Randy attended rehearsal at the Performing Arts Center in Florence, South Carolina, where he plays the trumpet with the Francis Marion University Concert Band.
He arrived at his home in Latta around nine in the evening. As he sat in the driveway, Randy was gathering his instrument and backpack, along with a few things from work.
“I did not notice anything out of the ordinary until I got out of the car,” recalled Randy.“I was having trouble getting my items organized to bring into the house. I believe that was the beginning and first noticeable symptom of the stroke I experienced.
“I could not seem to get my things together, so I decided to take half of the items in and then go back for the remainder.”
The symptoms and confusion continued to worsen as Randy attempted to open the door to his house
“When I got to the door, I remember trying several keys in the lock to unlock the door. At the time, this did not strike me as odd. By that point, my mind was totally disorganized in its thought process,” said Randy. “Not once did I think ‘I have to put the right key in the door.’ Luckily, I could see my wife, Debra, through the window talking on the phone.”
Debra, who would have normally been upstairs at that time of night, was downstairs in the kitchen talking to their son. She noticed Randy was having trouble entering so she came to open the door.
Randy recalled the interaction they had, “She spoke to me, but when I spoke back to her my speech was beginning to slur. Debra immediately called 911. Within a few minutes, a police officer came by to check on me and the ambulance arrived shortly.
“I remember the ambulance ride completely,” said Randy. “During the ride, I started experiencing problems on my right side. My right hand and arm went numb, but I was not experiencing any pain. I had an overwhelming sensation that things were just slowing down. Shortly after arriving at the McLeod Dillon Emergency Department (ED), I began to feel nauseated, and I got sick.”
There was a quick response by the emergency providers awaiting Randy’s arrival in the ED. “The last thing I remember about that night was the staff rushing to care for me after one of the tests showed bleeding on my brain,” said Randy
The calm of the emergency technicians in the ambulance, the speed of the receiving nurse at the McLeod Dillon ED door, the responsiveness of all the nurses and staff, and the processes that were followed mimicked “a symphony of care” for Randy that evening.
“This was a frightening experience for my wife as she stayed by my side and began to understand the severity of the stroke,” said Randy. “Debra was comforted by the genuine compassion and care shown by those caring for me that night. She found confidence in their reassurance and communication about quick, lifesaving decisions that were being made. She knew they were making choices that were best for me.”
All of the medical professionals involved in Randy’s care after that point credited his superlative, positive outcome to the treatment he received emergently in the McLeod Dillon ED.
Randy is the Part Owner and Station Manager for HomeTown TV8 in addition to the Financial Administrator and Media Pastor for Dillon Church of God. Steve Johnson, Vice President of Operations and Advertising and also Part Owner of HomeTown TV8, was shocked when Randy was back at work on Monday -- only days later.
“I could not believe as critical as he was less than a week before that he had recovered to the point of returning to work,” said Steve. “We know that the care and intervention he received in Dillon was the reason his symptoms disappeared almost as quickly as they had appeared. I am grateful for the lifesaving services and high quality medical care McLeod Dillon provides.”
Randy worked limited hours the following week as he continued to rest and regain his strength.
Today, Randy is under the care of his primary care physician, Dr. Granville Vance at Dillon Family Medicine.
“I still notice a little forgetfulness here and there,” admitted Randy. “Dr. Vance has explained that my memory will continue to improve over the next few months.”
Going forward, Randy is taking medication that will better control his high blood pressure, which was a contributing factor to his stroke. “I am blessed and highly favored,” added Randy.
On May 10, 2016, Teresa Ward traveled to her job at First Bank in Cheraw, South Carolina, where she has been a customer service representative for 15 years. The work day progressed like any other day, with one difference -- Teresa began to notice that she was having shortness of breath and a general lack of energy.
When she arrived home from work, Teresa lay down on the couch to rest. “My son, Brian, was home by that time. He immediately sensed something was wrong with me, and that I was not myself,” said Teresa. “He kept insisting that I go to the hospital. I had suffered a heart attack in 2013, and he feared that I was experiencing the very same warning signs.”
A nursing student at Northeastern Technical College, Brian continued to push Teresa to go to the hospital throughout the evening. She refused, believing she would begin to feel better. A few hours later when Brian heard Teresa panting for air and struggling to breathe, he made the decision to quickly transport her to the Emergency Department (ED) at McLeod Health Cheraw.
On the way, Brian called the Emergency Department and communicated Teresa’s condition, medical history, current medications and how far away they were from the hospital. Upon arrival at McLeod Health Cheraw, the ED team was ready and waiting to begin treatment.
Teresa was unresponsive and barely breathing when she arrived at the hospital. She had a faint pulse and within seconds was in respiratory and cardiac arrest. The ED team of Dr. Foy Connell, Mike Hutson, RN; Tonya Blackwell, RN; and Respiratory Therapist Sherman Manning, performed CPR and intubated Teresa so a ventilator could be placed to assist with her breathing. Minutes later, Teresa entered into pulseless Ventricular Tachycardia. The team had to shock her heart twice with a defibrillator to restore the heart’s rhythm. Once stabilized, Teresa was transported to the Intensive Care Unit for monitoring.
“Immediately, prayer requests poured in from churches all over Chesterfield and Marlboro counties through social media, my church family and friends,” recalls Teresa. “The news of my condition went to all the right people at exactly the right time.”
The next day, Teresa was transferred to McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, South Carolina, for a heart catheterization procedure. After she arrived, physicians began to wean her from the sedation and ventilator. She slowly became conscious of her surroundings and began to breathe on her own.
McLeod Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Brian Wall performed Teresa’s heart catheterization. During the procedure, Dr. Wall placed a stent in the left anterior descending artery of Teresa’s heart to open the blocked area.
On May 14, Dr. Rajesh Malik, a McLeod Electrophysiologist, delivered the news to the family that the heart attack had severely damaged Teresa’s heart muscle. Her ejection fraction, the measurement of how well the heart pumps with each beat, was only 20 to 25 percent, where an average ejection fraction is 55 to 60 percent.
Dr. Malik explained to Teresa that she would need to wear a LifeVest, which is a defibrillator worn by patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. The LifeVest provides protection by continuously monitoring the patient’s heart and, if a life-threatening heart rhythm is detected, the device delivers a treatment shock to restore normal heart rhythm.
It also allows the patient’s physician time to assess their long-term arrhythmic risk and determine if an implantable defibrillator is needed.
“I was completely devastated by the news, but my faith remained strong. I know that God has miracles for every one of us, if only we believe and receive them,” said Teresa. “Faith as big as a mustard seed is all that is required for a miracle, and I had just the right amount of faith.”
That evening, Teresa and her family and friends prayed for her healing. By the time she fell asleep that night, she was at peace, comforted by her faith and ready to face the outcomes ahead.
The next morning, Teresa had a second echocardiogram performed in preparation for the LifeVest. During the test, Teresa noticed that the technician appeared surprised by what she was seeing. When Teresa asked what caused her concern, the technician said that something looked very different from the last one she performed, and that Dr. Malik would need to speak with her about it.
Teresa recalls that when Dr. Malik walked in her room he had a huge smile on his face. “He told me, ‘Somebody has been praying in here and God has heard their prayers. This is amazing news. The echocardiogram indicates that your ejection fraction improved significantly. We have never seen such an improvement so quickly at this hospital; this is truly a miracle.’” This outcome meant Teresa would no longer be required to wear the LifeVest once she was discharged from the hospital
On June 7, Teresa had a follow-up appointment with her primary care physician, Dr. Alex Newsom at Cheraw Family Medicine. After a thorough examination, Dr. Newsom gave her a good report and emphasized the importance of properly taking her medication. He also prescribed cardiac rehabilitation for monitored exercise to strengthen her heart, and reminded her to seek immediate medical care if she experienced any warning signs of a heart attack.
Teresa has been maintaining her good health and following her doctor’s orders. She exercises three times a week at McLeod Cardiac Rehabilitation and in early August, she was able to return to work at the bank.
Impressed with all of the medical staff at McLeod Health Cheraw, Teresa said, “Their compassion and attentiveness to my needs have comforted me every time I have been in the hospital.”
Dr. Gabe Simpson, an Emergency Medicine physician, Medical Director of the McLeod Cheraw Emergency Department and Chief of Staff for McLeod Health Cheraw said, “Quite simply, God is the only one who can give healing and we have asked Him to make us healers and to make this Emergency Department and this hospital a place of healing. I watch Him heal in this ED every day. Teresa is further proof of this and we thank God for saving her life and for letting us be a part of her healing.”
Dr. Simpson explained that the Cheraw Emergency Department has upgraded to the latest GE cardiac monitoring, “enabling us to provide better care for critically ill patients. We also have plans in place to expand our ED, building a larger state-of-the-art facility to better serve our patients in times of crisis.
“I am grateful for the dedication of our ED physicians, nurses and staff to our patients. I know how hard they work and witness firsthand their willingness to learn even more to become providers of excellent emergency care. When the people of Chesterfield and Marlboro Counties, like Teresa, need emergency care our goal is t o provide the best care possible,” added Dr. Simpson.
“We are truly blessed as a community to have the excellence of McLeod Health right here in our own neighborhood,” said Teresa.
Today, she encourages people to know their family history, listen to their doctor and take their prescribed medication consistently.
“Heart attacks do not discriminate,” said Teresa. “I am fortunate that I survived my heart attack. I feel better today than I have in a long time thanks to the excellent medical care I received and my participation in cardiac rehabilitation.”
A fast car and motorcycle enthusiast, Paul Winter loves life. For years, he’s had the opportunity to teach others the skills of racing. These days, he especially enjoys the great outdoors, including big game fishing.
A diagnosis of polycystic kidney disease ultimately affected Paul’s joy of racing. This condition occurs when clusters of noncancerous cysts develop within the kidneys. Diagnosed in 2000, Paul’s kidneys slowly deteriorated over the next ten years resulting in his need for dialysis. Patients require dialysis when the kidneys cannot filter blood, remove waste, toxins and excess fluid.
Dialysis is a process using a hemodialyzer (artificial kidney) that mimics the function of a normal kidney. An Arterial Venous Fistula, a surgical joining of an artery and vein allowing blood flow from the artery to the vein, was placed in Paul’s arm to provide safe access for dialysis to be administered. Having dialysis three times a week, Paul needed sufficient arterial access to accommodate the dialysis’ large gauge needles.
A fistula offers the least amount of infection risk and lasts longer than other dialysis-related procedures.
Eventually, Paul developed aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the large blood vessel branching off of the heart. He was informed that the high blood flow in his dialysis fistula contributed to this heart condition.
At the end of 2015, Paul underwent heart surgery during which his dialysis access fistula was ligated, or closed off. A venous catheter was placed in his shoulder to provide access for his dialysis treatments. Long-term use of a venous catheter can lead to infection, and the simple inconvenience and lack of comfort was challenging for Paul.
“The past-times I enjoyed were realistically no longer things I could do. My health had deteriorated drastically in such a short period of time,” said Paul.
During a dialysis session in early 2016, Paul’s nephrologist in Supply, North Carolina, Dr. Sivanthan Balachandran, discussed an option with Paul of having the catheter removed.
Dr. Balachandran recommended that Paul see Dr. David Bjerken with McLeod Vascular Associates in Little River, South Carolina. Dr. Bjerken specializes in dialysis access creation and revision. Paul was interested in learning more about Dr. Bjerken and what he could offer.
“My research indicated that Dr. Bjerken was highly respected and qualified for my case, so I made an appointment with him,” said Paul.
“When Paul came to see me he was in a wheelchair and had a venous catheter in place for his dialysis treatments,” said Dr. Bjerken. “In my career, Paul’s condition was one of the more challenging cases I have treated. There were some lingering effects from his pre-existing fistula. I knew I could find a way to repair his vein, but it would be difficult. I had to be creative in surgically repairing the compromised areas.
“It involved a very complex reconstruction to allow immediate use of the fistula as well as removal of the catheter and relief from its associated dangers.”
“Dr. Bjerken is an artist,” said Paul. “I came to him hoping he would be able to offer me a solution for the vein in my right arm. This procedure was tricky, and I knew it was going to take a doctor with the appropriate training to repair the fistula and create a new pathway for my dialysis access. To locate a doctor that specializes in dialysis reconstruction is incredible, especially so close to my home.
“I was pleased with the quick result of this procedure,” said Dr. Bjerken. “The severity of Paul’s condition from his first appointment to where he is now, reflects the positive effects of this reconstruction.”
“The efficiency of McLeod Seacoast also made my experience seamless,” added Paul. “The wonderful, well organized staff was comforting. This area is very fortunate to have this level of expertise available to them.
“Thanks to Dr. Bjerken I can now enjoy the things that I once found fulfilling that eluded me for a period of time. I would recommend McLeod Seacoast and Dr. Bjerken to anyone.”