Heart failure often starts with a whisper. At least that’s how it started for Karin C., who worked as a unit representative at Newton Medical Center’s emergency department for more than nine years. She manages hundreds of cardiac emergency patient admissions and transfers in and out of Atlantic Health System’s Newton-based hospital. But even her job couldn’t have prepared her for what would happen to her own heart on January 27, 2023.
A Self Diagnosis and a Clinical Diagnosis
During the 2022 Christmas season, 55-year-old Karin noticed her breathing had become strained. But she shrugged off her shortness of breath as a brewing bronchial issue due to cold weather and a hectic holiday schedule.
When she finally visited the local urgent care center in Sparta, the medical team sent her to Atlantic Health System’s AdvancED Urgent Care in Mountain Lakes. Right away, the physicians noticed she was experiencing a cardiac emergency. They started a heparin (anti-clotting medication) intravenous drip and arranged for an immediate transfer to Morristown Medical Center’s Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute for emergency cardiac care.
“Being on the other side of patient care was terrifying,” says Karin. “Atrial fibrillation (AFib) was causing my heart to race at 160 beats per minute and sending my blood pressure through the roof. I had no fever, no chest pain, just a heart that wasn’t working.”
Moving Into Critical Care
At Morristown Medical Center, Karin’s echocardiogram showed her heart functioning at less than 10%. She was experiencing cardiogenic shock, where the heart cannot pump enough blood to support a patients’ oxygen needs. After placing Karin on an Impella® heart pump for mechanical circulatory support, Amirali Masoumi, MD, director of Atlantic Health System’s cardiogenic shock program, and his team stabilized Karin’s heart with a cardioversion procedure – but only temporarily. When she awoke from sedation, her heartbeat continued to fluctuate and function at less than 10%.
“Dr. Masoumi explained exactly what was happening and promised that he was committed to my well-being,” said Karin. “I had an outpouring of support from my Atlantic Health family and my personal friends and family. I felt that my entire care team was completely invested in me, keeping me hopeful when I was at my lowest.”
Dr. Masoumi added, “What we did in those few critical moments would help save Karin’s life – and heart. We had to support her cardiac function while treating other issues and make sure she had adequate blood flow to her vital organs.”
If something didn’t change soon, Karin was going to need a heart transplant. Dr. Masoumi’s team arranged to have her transferred to New York University’s Langone Transplant Institute. But first, Dr. Masoumi wanted to try a second cardioversion – and this time, it worked. The goal was now to evaluate Karin for a heart transplant so she’d be ready if her heart deteriorated further.
The Transfer to NYU Langone
Karin arrived at NYU’s Cardiac Care Unit to meet the transplant team on February 13, and shortly thereafter received some good news.
“They downgraded my condition,” says Karin. “My heart maintained a strong beat and there was no need for a heart transplant, maybe a pacemaker was all I needed.” Then, more good news came. All Karin needed was medication to regulate her heartbeat, and she was discharged from NYU on February 21.
“This was the most incredible news I could imagine,” says Karin. “The NYU doctors said that what Dr. Masoumi did at Morristown was the reason my heart got stronger. It’s the reason I left NYU without a heart transplant. Dr. Masoumi and his team saved my life.”
Karin’s heart now consistently beats as normal and her echocardiograms show it continues to improve.
“It’s hard to put into words how much the Morristown Medical Center cardiac care staff means to me,” she says. “They have given me the precious gift of life. They put their own hearts into saving mine.”
Feeling better today than she did before her episode, Karin is more conscientious about her well-being. She is power walking with friends, hitting the gym, spending time with her son, and participating in the NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Celebration of Life in New Providence.
She says, “Now, when a patient comes into Newton Medical Center’s emergency department with a heart condition and needs to be helicoptered to Morristown Medical Center, I say to them, don’t you worry. You are going to the best place possible. And it’s the truth.”
Be Proactive About Heart Health
Stay up to date with your annual visits to prevent and detect more serious issues and learn about risk factors for heart disease.