The Challenge: Sudden Onset of Broken Heart Syndrome
Tim Valentine of St. Marys, Pa. can’t believe what started out as a simple ear surgery turned into a much larger health emergency.
Tim went to UPMC Altoona on January 10, 2018, to have a scheduled surgery to repair a ruptured eardrum.
He expected a somewhat simple surgery without many roadblocks. Little did he know — when he awoke — he would have undergone a life-saving heart procedure.
Tim seemed to be fine leading up to his eardrum surgery. But, once Elliott J. Bilofsky, DO, and his team began operating, Tim’s oxygen levels dropped severely.
“My ENT surgeon said I was actually purple when he looked at me,” Tim explains.
Doctors couldn't get Tim’s oxygen to rise above 80 percent and intubated him right away, still unsure what the issue was.
The Short Path to UPMC: Heart and Vascular Institute
Consulting Tim’s wife throughout the process, as Tim was still under anesthesia, Dr. Bilofsky and the anesthesiologist ordered an urgent echocardiogram. An echo is an ultrasound test that assesses the heart’s pumping function and ejection fraction (EF).
Ejection fraction, or EF, measures the percentage of blood pumped out of the left ventricle each time the heart beats. It allows doctors to test the efficiency of the main pumping chamber of the heart.
A normal EF range is between 55 and 70 percent. Results showed Tim’s EF was 10 percent.
There was a request for an urgent heart consultation. Luckily, George Jabbour, MD, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at UPMC Altoona, was at Tim’s bedside within five minutes.
Tim’s oxygen levels dropped to 50 percent, and his blood pressure was extremely low. He was going into a deep shock state.
Time was of the essence.
Dr. Jabbour rushed Tim to the lab for an emergency heart cath less than 30 minutes later. Results confirmed that — although Tim’s arteries were clear of blockages — his heart was only pumping at 10 percent.
The Solution: A Temporary Heart Assist Device
Dr. Jabbour diagnosed Tim with “broken heart syndrome,” also called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress cardiomyopathy.
This condition occurs when a heart — overwhelmed by a stressful event — suddenly becomes stunned. This leads to an extreme drop in blood pressure and compromises the delivery of blood to vital organs.
Swift treatment for people with broken heart syndrome is crucial to increase the chance of a full recovery.
Dr. Jabbour placed a small pump — called the Impella® — into Tim’s heart to aid the left ventricle. This pump — a new technology at UPMC Altoona — mimics the normal heart functions. It does the work for the ailing heart, allowing it to recover from the shock.
Dr. Jabbour was confident that Tim's heart would be stronger in about 24 to 48 hours. Tim awoke in the ICU the next afternoon, unaware that he had heart surgery.
Dr. Jabbour removed the pump 24 hours after placing it, and Tim’s heart function recovered.
Initially feeling a bit shocked about what had happened while he was under anesthesia, Tim quickly found some humor in the situation.
“When Dr. Bilofsky came in to check on me, I jokingly asked him what had happened. I came in for ear surgery and woke up to find out they had operated on my leg and groin,” Tim laughs.
Tim looks back now at the day’s events and feels grateful. He's grateful to have been in the right place with the right team when he needed them most.
“UPMC Altoona is a beautiful facility, and the staff is great. I cannot say enough good things about everyone, especially Dr. Jabbour and his wonderful team,” Tim says.
The doctors and staff at UPMC Altoona are proud of their team efforts to address and correct Tim’s sudden issues.
Both Dr. Bilofsky and Dr. Jabbour say they were able to save Tim’s life that day because of their:
- Quick reactions to each other.
- Ability to work together seamlessly.
- Skilled surgical staff.
Tim had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Jabbour, who noted that everything looked great. Tim didn't need any more treatment or medication.
“I feel as good, if not better, than before,” Tim exclaims.
The Results: Back in Action After Heart Surgery
Now fully recovered from his broken heart syndrome, Tim and his wife are back to doing the things they love:
- Traveling to visit their daughters in Arizona and Nashville.
- Spending time outdoors.
- Oil painting, a hobby of Tim’s.
Tim remains thankful for the care he received at UPMC Altoona and recognizes that his outcome could have been much different.
“If I hadn’t been at UPMC Altoona and they hadn’t had the Impella there, I wouldn't have made it,” he says.
Impella is a registered trademark of Abiomed.
Tim's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
Read more Heart Disease patient stories
Want to learn more about broken heart syndrome? Visit our HealthBeat blog to read "Is Broken Heart Syndrome Real?"