Nellie Smith was suffering from severe abdominal cramping and was convinced she needed to have her gallbladder removed. The problem with having this routine surgery however was Nellie’s heart. Nellie had survived a heart attack seven years ago and was told that her heart disease was severe. Multiple vessels around her heart were narrowed. She had previously been very active, but following her heart attack found that she tired very easily, was frequently short of breath and experienced chronic chest pain. She hoped to avoid further heart procedures by taking medications.
Eventually, Nellie’s abdominal pain became so severe she found herself at Bay Medical. Her cardiologist Dr. Michael Stokes was called to assess her heart health and delivered dire news. The blockages around her heart had left her with only one main vessel supplying blood flow to her heart and her ejection fraction (a measure of how well the heart is pumping blood) was only 15%. In this condition, it was far too risky to have surgery on her gallbladder and it was very high risk to perform a standard cardiac catheterization to open her heart blockages as well.
Fortunately, Bay Medical is the only hospital in the region with a unique technology designed to support heart function during high-risk cases. Dr. Stokes contacted his partner Dr. Amir Haghighat, one of three local cardiologists trained to use the Impella, the World’s Smallest Heart Pump, to help with Nellie’s case.
The Impella is roughly the size of a small writing pen and, using guide wires, can be inserted through a small incision in the groin area and navigated through the major blood vessels into the heart. The device can continuously keep blood pumping while the dangerous work of opening multiple blockages takes place.
Unlike an open surgery, a cardiac cath requires only mild sedation and patients are awake and able to interact with their physician. Nellie was able to see the images on screen of her blood vessels during the procedure and noted that “as he opened each blockage, it was like a road map suddenly began to appear on screen.” The previously blocked vessels filled with blood to feed the heart muscle. “I felt a difference immediately, right there on the table,” said Nellie.
The next day in the hospital, Nellie was up and walking around the cardiac nursing floor. “I feel really good,” she says. “I’m looking forward to going home, cleaning my house and cooking a meal. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was too tiring and too difficult to do those things before.” To her surprise, Nellie noted that she was no longer experiencing abdominal pain. She excitedly put her grandchildren on notice to expect “a NEW Granny” when she returned home.
Prior to the availability of Impella technology, patients like Nellie would not be able to have a cardiac procedure to open narrowed vessels due to the high risk involved. In many cases, bypass surgery would be too risky as well, leaving these patients with little hope of recovery. CVI cardiologists Dr. Samir Patel, Dr. Amir Haghighat and Dr. Thompson Maner have used the Impella technology to give many of these patients deemed too high-risk a second chance. “This is why we’re always learning and working to bring the latest technology to Bay Medical,” says Dr. Haghighat. “To have a great save like this one and to give those grandkids ‘a NEW Granny’ is why we do what we do.”