Published on October 10, 2016

The right care at the right time

“It felt like an elephant was on my chest.”

Not once did Carmen Chambers imagine that she would spend the last days of a long-awaited vacation fighting for her life.

Carmen ChambersBut this past May in Philadelphia—more than 1,000 miles away from her Florida home and everything familiar—Carmen suddenly began struggling to breathe and sweating profusely. She had chest pain too. “It felt like an elephant was on my chest,” she recalls.

Carmen didn’t know it yet, but soon testing at Mercy Fitzgerald would reveal a nearly total blockage in an artery feeding her heart.

“Fortunately, tests also showed that she hadn’t had an actual heart attack—yet,” says David Addley, DO, FACC, cardiologist at Mercy Fitzgerald. “But she was at an extremely high risk for one.”

Dr. Addley performed the cardiac catheterization that detected the blockage and urged her to have it treated right away.

He suspected the blockage may also have been to blame for two problems a heart ultrasound had found: a leaky heart valve and a poorly pumping heart. And both were causing fluid to build up in Carmen’s lungs—another reason for her trouble breathing.

The right decision

“Here was a doctor I had never met before telling me I had serious heart problems,” says the 56-year-old mother and grandmother. “But I felt his care and concern as soon as he came into my room. So I put my life in his hands.”

It was a good choice.

Chambers walkingAfter the catheterization confirmed the severe blockage, Dr. Addley advised Carmen to undergo a balloon angioplasty. Sameer Khandhar, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at Mercy Fitzgerald, performed the minimally invasive procedure. He opened up Carmen’s artery with a balloon-tipped catheter and then inserted a tiny mesh tube—called a stent—to help keep the artery open.

The procedure went smoothly, protecting Carmen from a very likely heart attack and increasing blood flow to her weakened heart.

And it also dramatically improved her leaky heart valve, a problem that causes blood to flow the wrong way in the heart. That improvement also likely meant that her blocked artery was indeed responsible for the leaky valve, rather than an abnormality in the valve itself.

Carmen also was hospitalized with dangerously high blood pressure, which Dr. Addley successfully treated. “And getting her blood pressure down may have improved her valve’s functioning too,” he says.

A promise honored

“Dr. Addley told me he’d take care of me—and that’s exactly what he did. He checked up on me until the very day I left the hospital,” Carmen says.

That was one day after the angioplasty. And the day after that she was boarding a plane to Florida—breathing comfortably and having no more chest pain.

“Once she was on appropriate medicine to protect her heart and a thorough reevaluation found nothing more concerning, I was comfortable sending her home to her own doctor—and happy for her too,”
Dr. Addley says.

Looking back, Carmen often thinks about her symptoms’ timing.

“They could have occurred anytime,” she says. “I was a heart attack waiting to happen. But God works in mysterious ways. And I think He may have wanted me to be in Dr. Addley’s lifesaving hands.”