Heart Device Patient Story
Rhythm of Life: Heart device helps woman get back to everyday life
With no family history of heart disease, Janice Rausch had little reason to suspect an ailing heart was making her short of breath and fatigued during a trip to northern Wisconsin. If anything, she figured her emphysema was sabotaging her getaway.
After difficulty breathing and chest pains prompted a visit to the local emergency department during her vacation, an echocardiogram revealed something far more serious: nonischemic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that decreases the heart's ability to pump blood, but isn't related to coronary artery disease. Furthermore, she had a condition known as ventricular dyssynchronization in which an "electrical" malfunction was preventing the left side of her heart from pumping at the same time as the right side.
Back home in Milwaukee, she was treated by Mahmood Al-Wathiqui, MD, PhD, FACC, a Froedtert Health Medical Group cardiologist. After ruling out the presence of a virus that can cause cardiomyopathy, Dr. Al-Wathiqui referred Janice to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin's Electrophysiology Clinic at Community Memorial Hospital for further assessment and possible treatment.
"I'm a golfer and I was having a hard time doing that and even everyday things," Janice said. "I'd tire quickly and be gasping for air walking through a grocery store or playing with my grandchildren."
"In the heart, there are two sets of specialized cells that act like wires to conduct electricity in the heart and signal it to squeeze together at the same time," explained Dalip Singh, MD, FACC, a Medical College of Wisconsin cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology. "In Janice's heart, the left wire was blocked."
Dr. Singh recommended Janice have a device implanted below her left collarbone that would do two things. First, it would address the dyssynchronization and keep her heart chambers beating at the same time. Second, it would protect her against sudden cardiac death, a risk associated with her condition, by shocking her heart back into proper rhythm if needed.
The battery-operated device goes to work right away, and patients generally experience gradual improvement during the next few months as the heart muscle gains strength. Janice says she quickly noticed an improvement.
"I could actually walk through the aisles at the grocery store without stopping every little bit or leaning on a shopping cart for support," she said. "I also feel so much more secure knowing the device will restart my heart if it ever stops."
The implanted unit offers patients like Janice an additional level of security, thanks to a wireless antenna inside the defibrillator. It "talks" to a telephone-size console in her bedroom and the information is transmitted to Community Memorial. If the unit were to malfunction, detect fluid accumulation in Janice's lungs or shock her heart, the device would automatically communicate with hospital staff.
"I am absolutely impressed with the care I received," said Janice of her care at Community Memorial. "The care and the concern they showed while I was there and after I came home was outstanding."