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.
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.”