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Conviction of the Heart

Emily moved from New York to Philadelphia in July 2009. She had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (a diseased heart muscle) and vividly recalls her interaction with a New York physician prior to coming to the region.

“I was weak, short of breath and dizzy,” Emily says. ”The doctor took my blood pressure and it was really low. He just looked at me like ‘What’s the point? There’s nothing we can do to save you.’

“So I was resigned to thinking I was coming back here to die from congestive heart failure,” Emily says. Fighting through feelings of futility sparked by the New York doctor’s comments, Emily asked her Philadelphia family doctor who she would use if faced with the same circumstances. “Without hesitation, my doctor referred me to John Wertheimer, MD. Dr. Wertheimer entered me into the Comprehensive Heart Failure Program at Abington Memorial Hospital.”

Emily was amazed to hear a much different view from CHFP cardiologists Dr. Wertheimer and Ronald P. Emmi, DO. “In fact, everyone I met on the team – the doctors and nurses – all said, ’We work with people who are very compromised all the time. It is possible to improve your condition.’ They were so kind and encouraging.”

In May 2010, the CHFP team began working with Emily, placing her on medications to help strengthen her heart. According to Dr. Emmi, “Emily’s ejection fraction was between 15 and 20% when she first came to us. Ejection fraction measures the percentage of blood in the left ventricle that is pumped out to the body’s organs. A normal ejection fraction is around 60%. When it’s less than 35%, it may cause shortness of breath and unstable heart rhythms that pose the danger of sudden cardiac death.”

The team also monitored Emily’s “CRT-D,” a combination defibrillator and cardiac resynchronization device, while they adjusted her medications. The CRT-D is a pacemaker-like apparatus that’s implanted in the chest to help improve the heart’s pumping function. It offers extra protection by triggering the heart back into a normal rhythm if it begins beating erratically, and potentially saving her life.

Heart Failure Clinical Director and Nurse Practitioner Maureen Hummel explains, “Fine-tuning the patient’s medications is a very careful process. We monitored Emily closely through echocardiograms, outpatient visits, blood work and other non-invasive testing. With Emily’s last echocardiogram, we were pleased to see that her ejection fraction had risen to 45% and her blood pressure had greatly improved. Her previously enlarged heart has shrunk back to its normal size and her functional capacity has greatly improved, so we’re also very happy with that.”

As is Emily. “I have never dealt with medical providers anywhere who are as caring and as attentive to every detail about my health. Unlike other doctors, they don’t compartmentalize,” enthuses Emily. “Everything that’s happening with me is important to them. Whether my blood pressure is a little low or I have a sniffle, they want to know about it. Ever since I started with the program, I have felt so empowered.

“I was frightened initially, and I would always take my best buddy with me in case something happened while I was alone,” she adds.” The CHFP team made me feel so secure, because they spent so much time tweaking my medications and now, they keep just as close an eye on me.”

These days, the re-energized Emily can be found going to concerts, visiting more frequently with her two grown sons and daughter in nearby states, designing cards and invitations on the computer, and walking her cocker spaniel, Raven.

“I’m not afraid to do things by myself anymore. I went from being told I was going to die to finding these phenomenal people at AMH. Not only do I have a life, I have a quality of life,” Emily concludes.

“I just love them all so much.”

For more information about the Comprehensive Heart Failure Program at Abington Memorial Hospital, call 215-481-4100 or log on to www.amh.org/heartcare.

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