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A Lighter Heart

Jane Wheeler, 91, of Rydal, has always had a zest for living. The retired publications editor enjoys meeting with friends, a good mystery novel, and keeping pace with the news. About ten years ago, under the advisement and care of her Abington Memorial cardiologist Charles Gottlieb, M.D., she received a pacemaker. The procedure helped to correct atrial fibrillation, and Jane soon returned to her daily activities.

In summer of 2010, however, she began losing her energy. “I was just dragging around,” she recalls. “I began rejecting invitations from friends to go out. If I was walking, I’d have to keep stopping along the way and resting. I’d start looking for the nearest bench.”

Her condition deteriorated to the point that she called 911 and got to the Emergency Trauma Center at Abington Memorial Hospital.

“Jane was experiencing congestive heart failure,” explains Robert A. Watson, III, M.D., chief of Abington’s Division of Cardiology and co-director of the hospital’s Comprehensive Heart Failure Program. “CHF occurs when the body doesn’t adequately pump enough blood to support the heart’s function.

“Jane was also suffering from one of the more serious complications of CHF—when the body retains salt and water which saturates body organs and tissues.”

Patients with fluid buildup begin gaining weight quickly, with swelling in the abdomen and legs and shortness of breath due to congestion in the lungs. Dr. Gottlieb admitted Jane to the Heart Failure Unit immediately where he enlisted the assistance of the Comprehensive Heart Failure Team. Her organs, already under stress from decreased blood flow, were struggling to cope with about 50 pounds of extra fluid.

Maureen Hummel, cardiology nurse practitioner and clinical director for the CHF Program, explains, “The Comprehensive Heart Failure Team takes a multi-faceted approach to treating patients with the disease. We work in tandem with the patient’s cardiologist at all times. Our goal is to enhance health and quality of life through innovative treatment options.

“Jane was very ill, and we determined that she could benefit from aquapheresis,” Hummel continues. “This advanced technique enables us to effectively remove fluid and sodium without damaging other organs.” Most patients have had a significant improvement in symptoms due to fluid overload.

Aquapheresis, also known as ultrafiltration, is a process that removes the blood through peripheral or central venous catheters. Salt and water is filtered from the blood gradually through a console containing two pumps. The excess is collected in a special bag, while the blood is safely reintroduced to the body in less than a minute. Patients are monitored by the CHF team throughout the process. The length of treatment depends on the patient’s condition, but individuals begin feeling better and better as the extra pressure is eliminated.

For Jane, aquapheresis was a lifesaver. “I can’t say enough about the Comprehensive Heart Failure doctors, nurse practitioner, and nurses, as well as my longtime cardiologist, Dr. Gottlieb,” she exclaims. “I had exceptional care. Everyone was so wonderful to me during the three weeks I spent at the hospital, and ever since.”

With the CHF team’s careful monitoring, Jane has not experienced that dangerous fluid buildup again. “I go back every three months for ‘tune-ups’ of my medications,” she says. “But I really feel like I enjoy living again, thanks to the CHF people at Abington Memorial Hospital.”

For more information or for physicians who want to refer a patient for aquapheresis, please call Maureen Hummel at 215-481-4100.

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