Heart Patient Stories
At the bottom of John Fletcher’s heart there is more than gratitude and sincerity – there is the world’s smallest pacemaker.
Originally from Melbourne, Fla., John served in the Navy and went on to work for the space program at NASA. In the 1960s, John made a move to Florida’s Capital City and started a new career in finance and banking. Read more
The human body is remarkably resilient. For everything the human body goes through – with all of the various diseases, ailments and injuries encountered in a lifetime – it has a way
of repairing itself. Sometimes it is easy to take this for granted. Along with the body’s undeniable resiliency, it is often a person’s will to take the needed measures and steps to get better that helps speed along the healing process – and no one knows this better than Paul Tschieder. Read more
After two complications with internal bleeding due to blood thinners, Evelyn Sharpe could no longer take the medication intended to reduce her risk of stroke. Evelyn is one of three million people across the country diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (Afib) – a heart condition where the upper chamber of the heart beats too fast and irregularly. People with Afib have a five times greater risk of stroke. Afib patients are often prescribed blood-thinning medication to prevent blood clots, but for Evelyn, this was no longer an option.
“My brother had a stroke and I was concerned it could happen to me,” explained Evelyn. “Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a good alternative to the blood thinners.” But, when Evelyn met with her cardiologist, B. Clay Sizemore, MD, FACC, FSCAI, he had a new treatment option to share with her.
“Dr. Sizemore mentioned there was a new procedure being done at Tallahassee Memorial and I may be a good candidate,” said Evelyn. “So he referred me to the Electrophysiology Program at TMH.”
Evelyn met with Farhat Khairallah, MD, FACC, FHRS, in Thomasville, Ga. at the Physician Partners, Cardiac & Internal Medicine Specialists, Services Provided by Southern Medical Group, PA clinic. After a series of tests, it was confirmed that Evelyn was a candidate for the new procedure to place a special device in her heart known as WATCHMAN.
For people with Afib, a specific part of the heart called the left atrial appendage is the most common source of stroke-causing blood clots. The WATCHMAN device closes off the appendage and prevents clots from entering the blood stream, in turn, reducing the risk of stroke.
The Tallahassee Memorial Heart & Vascular Center was the first program in the Southeast, and third in the country, to commercially place the WATCHMAN device. Dr. Khairallah and interventional cardiologist Wayne Batchelor, MD, MHS, FACC, FSCAI, perform the minimally invasive procedure together in the cardiac catheterization lab.
“At TMH, we have been expanding our heart treatment options to bring the most advanced procedures possible to our patients,” explained Dr. Khairallah. “Patients do not need to leave Tallahassee for excellent heart care. In fact, patients across the Southeast now travel to TMH to receive innovative and state-of-the-art treatments,” added Dr. Batchelor.
Evelyn was one of the first patients at TMH to receive the WATCHMAN device. Forty-five days after her WATCHMAN procedure, Dr. Khairallah confirmed that Evelyn’s left atrial appendage was successfully closed.
“I have energy again and can’t wait to rejoin my fitness group,” said Evelyn. “Before the procedure, going to the grocery store was a chore and I often lost my balance. Now, I am walking more and enjoying life.”
On June 4, 2012 my heart suddenly stopped beating during an evening run. When I arrived in the ER, I had 99 percent blockage in a main artery and 80 percent in another. The heart surgeons at TMH performed a double bypass on my heart, and on December 8, 2012, I completed the Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic 50k.
Three years ago, I was serving the match point when I suffered a massive heart attack. Luckily, my partner immediately started CPR while someone called 911. The heart team at TMH used an advanced hypothermia technique to slow down my heart and allow it to heal. Today, I have no lasting effects and am back on the tennis court.
I cheated death twice — once during World War II when I survived a Kamikaze attack and again when doctors at TMH replaced my aortic valve through an artery in my leg. At 92, I was too high-risk for open heart surgery, but I was fading fast. Being able to have Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement at TMH saved my life.
At 92 years old, Joe Mills had survived a Kamikaze attack in World War II but was at risk of losing his life to severe aortic stenosis. The condition, which causes the aortic valve to narrow, obstructing blood flow through the body, leads sufferers to feel weak and short of breath and can lead to cardiac arrest or heart failure.
Considered too high-risk for a traditional operation, Joe was turned down for open heart surgery by multiple physicians before being identified as a candidate for a new minimally invasive procedure, transcather aortic valve replacement (TAVR). As only a small incision is needed with the TAVR procedure, it is generally much easier on the body than traditional surgeries, while offering the same benefits.
While still waiting to hear if his insurance would approve the operation at a hospital nearly 300 miles away, Joe learned that TAVR had been introduced right here at Tallahassee Memorial. Without hesitation, he became the second person to undergo the procedure at TMH.
“It was an operation that came at the opportune time. My heart wasn’t as strong as it should be and the procedure allowed me to continue with my life. Who knows where I would be without it...” says Joe.
For patients like Joe, the chances of surviving aortic stenosis are approximately 50 percent without treatment, so this procedure offers patients not only better quality of life but also a greater chance of survival.
“The operation was performed with no difficulties, and I’ve held my own since then,” says Joe who is now able to carry on all his usual activities from working in the yard to singing in his church choir.
He is also enjoying time with his family, which has grown even since the operation with a new great granddaughter born in November and two more grandchildren on the way.
“Right now, I don’t see any limitations,” says Joe. “I’m planning to hang on until at least 100. I’ve got too many things to do.”
“We had about three birthday parties for him this year,” says wife Christine. “He really lived it up.”
Several times a week my heart would suddenly begin to race, and I’d become short of breath and feel faint. I never knew when it might happen, and I was concerned about losing consciousness while driving. My heart team performed a procedure at TMH called an ablation to repair the areas of my heart causing the problem. Today, I’m episode-free, without worry and very grateful!
For most people with atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly, blood thinning medications are vital to stave off the associated risk of stroke. When these medicines create complications, however, patients are left with few options for treatment.
One such patient, Doris Oberhardt, 76, understands the dilemma all too well. Six months after she started taking the blood thinning medication Coumadin, serious internal bleeding brought Doris to the Tallahassee Memorial Intensive Care Unit where she required multiple blood and plasma transfusions to reach stable levels. While the bleeding stopped, the source was never determined.
From that point forward, Doris was unable to take Coumadin, leaving her at very high risk of experiencing a stroke. She moved in with her daughter and was left reliant on an oxygen tank, a walker, and regular sessions with a physical therapist, occupational therapist, and a registered nurse who visited her at home.
“When you live with that risk of stroke, it makes you apprehensive all the time. Anytime you feel a pain, or feel a little dizzy, you worry that this could be it,” Doris recalls.
She had resigned herself to this quality of life until one day Interventional Cardiologists Wayne Batchelor and Farhat Khairallah identified Doris as a candidate for the Lariat procedure, an innovative, minimally invasive operation that reduces the risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation patients who cannot take blood thinners. Doris would later become the first to undergo the procedure at TMH.
“I was a little anxious but excited,” she says. “I could see that if it worked, it would dramatically improve my quality of life—and it did.”
Within four days of the procedure, Doris had returned home and was back to her normal activities. With renewed energy and freedom from the threat of stroke, Doris was able to quit using her oxygen tank and walker and discontinue her routine appointments with the nurse and therapists.
Today, she is able to work part-time and live independently in her own home and has not had a single episode of atrial fibrillation since the surgery.
“I live as normally as possible, and I feel great,” she says.
When Jeffrey Keel began experiencing shooting shoulder pains during exercise, he instantly knew something was wrong with his heart. Seven years prior, at 41 years old, a similar shooting pain led to a triple bypass, as a result of three clogged arteries.
Jeffrey was experiencing the side-affects of a Chronic Total Occlusion (CTO). Over time, one of his bypassed arteries had reclosed and become 100 percent blocked.
Like other CTO patients, Jeffrey’s heart had developed small alternate channels to go around the blockage and maintain some blood flow, preventing a heart attack from occurring. However, these channels could not handle the amount of blood that the blocked artery would, and everyday tasks such as checking the mail, walking the dog or cleaning the house had become impossible. Any activity that required just a small level of exertion created shooting pains that quickly diminished Jeffrey’s quality of life.
Prior to developing his CTO, Jeffrey lived an active lifestyle. He had started a career as a musician and traveled often with his band, Big Kettle Drum, performing shows to raise money for children and their families battling cancer. When possible, he incorporated exercise into his schedule and made a conscious effort to eat better – an effort that had resulted in a near 40-pound weight loss. All of this was jeopardized when the CTO appeared.
A few years ago, Jeffrey’s only treatment option would have been lifelong medications to help his angina (chest pains), because he wasn’t an ideal candidate to have another open-heart surgery. Even with medication, there was the possibility that physical activity would be difficult and the end of his music career was almost certain. Luckily, interventional cardiologists at Tallahassee Memorial had discovered a new way to help him.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011, the procedure involves using new technology and techniques to bypass blockages by entering the wall of an artery and using stents to create an alternate tunnel for blood flow to the other side. Arteries in the wrist or groin are used to access the heart, so the chest is never opened.
Jeffrey’s CTO treatment went extremely well. After just one day in the hospital, he returned home two days later. He returned to the gym weeks later to test out his unclogged artery. While deconditioning had made jogging on the treadmill tough for Jeffrey, being able to workout without any signs of angina was the confirmation he needed that the CTO intervention had worked.
Today, he is back touring with his band and already has plans to go back to school for his third career as a cath lab technician.
While many people resolve to improve their health at the start of the year, a sudden crisis ensured Paul Badeau followed through on the goal.
Having experienced some mild chest tightness during the holidays, he called a primary care physician on January 2 to schedule his first routine physical in about 13 years. That afternoon, severe chest pain led Paul to the Bixler Emergency Room where he quickly fell into cardiac arrest, collapsing in pain at the foot of the triage station.
Treated with a therapeutic electrical shock to the heart, he spent three days in the hospital only to return the same week in need of intensive care for internal bleeding.
“To be 43 and having a heart attack—it changes your life,” says Paul. “When you are shocked at 300 joules, you decide to make some changes.”
Although he had never had serious health problems in the past, Paul also had not been particularly health conscious, shirking exercise and selecting foods that scored points for taste rather than nutrition. Despite his resolve to lead a healthier lifestyle, his back-to-back medical emergencies had left him worried and unsure what to do next.
“I was terrified to do anything that might be too much for my heart,” he says.
Fortunately, Paul found guidance and support through Tallahassee Memorial’s Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program. The expertise and presence of the staff gave him a needed sense of safety and reassurance as he began changing his eating habits and diving into a new exercise regimen.
The program consists of physicians, nurses, exercise physiologists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, and wellness coaches, and works collaboratively with the Tallahassee Memorial Lipid Center, Diabetes Center, Bariatric Center, Behavioral Health Center, and the Cancer Center’s smoking cessation programs.
“It’s a great program that is well-run and topnotch. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been available,” says Paul.
Having lost 30 pounds since he began his new routine, Paul continues to stay active and maintain a healthy diet. He has finished his training with the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program but works out at Premier Health & Fitness Center several times a week and also stays fit by running and golfing.