Smiling through tears of happiness while surrounded by her two adult daughters and six grandchildren, 65-year-old Dolores Martins (who is clearly the heart and soul of her family) said: “I am just so happy and grateful to be here. I’ve had a wonderful life … all of this just adds to it.”
Ms. Martins made the emotional comments today during a return visit to North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) with her husband, daughters and grandchildren by her side as the two doctors who saved her life explained the first-of-its-kind solution to Ms. Martins’ unique situation.
For the last 30 years, the indomitable Ms. Martins, of Smithtown, has struggled with a host of medical issues. Aside from being on dialysis since 1989, she has undergone several surgeries that include: two failed kidney transplants, multiple graft and fistula placements, thyroid cancer, open heart surgery and other procedures that have kept her in and out of hospitals.
Yet her condition became more unstable when she was recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Traditionally, afib is easily treated with a beta-blocker. But in her case, this treatment caused her heart to stop for 4-12 seconds at a time. Her only hope was a pacemaker. (A pacemaker is typically placed under the skin with wires going through the large veins in the chest and arms, and, ultimately, into the heart). In Ms. Martins’ case, the veins in the chest and arms were clotted due to years of dialysis.
Apoor Patel, MD, director of Complex Ablations, a cardiac physiologist at NSUH, suggested a new-to-market, wireless mini-pacemaker by Medtronic.
“In place of wires, the entire miniature pacemaker is guided into the heart through a vein in the leg,” said Dr. Patel. “Then, it is directly implanted into the heart’s muscle, thereby avoiding the need to pass wires through the veins in the chest. But we realized early on that this, too, would be difficult because of the presence of an old IVC filter situated within the inferior vena cava. In other words, the filter was so dense that it was blocking passage of the pacemaker.”
At this point, Dr. Patel enlisted the aid of his colleague, Mitchell Weinberg, MD, director of Peripheral Intervention, NSUH, a vascular interventionalist, to figure out a solution to this complex problem.
“We used catheters, balloons and wires to create a temporary hole in the filter through which we were able to pass the pacemaker to the heart for implantation,” said Dr. Weinberg. “Fortunately, this does not affect the function of the filter and the procedure was able to move forward.”
It was a life-saving innovation. The procedure, which took place on April 18, lasted only two hours. With her new, miniature pacemaker in place, Ms. Martins’ problems were resolved. She returned home to her family within days, and is very happy to be able to celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary on July 1 with her large family by her side.
“When my daughter explained how sick I had been, it just made me cry,” said Ms. Martins. “Now that it’s over, I can tell you that I can’t believe I’m still here.”
Turning to the two doctors who saved her life, Ms. Martins said: “All I can say is thank you. I hope I’m around for a long, long time.”
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