It’s one thing for us to tell you about our services; it’s another for our patients to tell you their success stories. Also see our cardiac surgery patient stories and structural heart disease patient stories.
"Without the LAAC procedure, I would need to take blood thinners for the rest of my life, which is a disqualifying factor for working on submarines."
“After I summited Mt. Rainier, Dr. Dandamudi asked me to let him know how it went. I told him my heart performed beautifully in the altitude.”
"It was so convenient to have all these tests done within one single visit. Each test was done by a different individual, and they were so professional."
Prior to his recent experience at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, Dominik Musafia, 47, was "a skeptic of modern medicine." That's why it took him a while to see a doctor when he was having health problems.
A divorce attorney, Dominik is used to stress and fatigue from working long hours. But in summer 2013, he noticed he was more than just a little tired. At a Fourth of July gathering, he was finding it difficult to play Frisbee with friends. His friends insisted he see a doctor, which he reluctantly did.
That physician, a cardiologist, found that Dominik was having premature atrial contractions (PACs), but said that there was absolutely nothing for him to be concerned about. "After stress testing, he told me I had the cardiovascular system of a 27-year-old," remembers Dominik, who still felt something wasn't quite right.
“When you've had heart problems, you really appreciate a return to normal life, whether you are engaging in 'extreme activities' or just walking up a flight of stairs.”
About six months later, Dominik's heart converted into atrial fibrillation or AFib, a condition often characterized by an irregular and rapid heart rate. By itself, AFib is not considered life-threatening. However, if left untreated, it can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and complications such as blood clots.
"I thought, 'Well, I've been to a cardiologist, and I'm told I need to live with it,'" says Dominik. "Also, I really didn't have time to deal with it." After a while, however, Dominik's heart health started deteriorating, and he was having difficulty doing "ordinary" things like walking up the steps in his house. He took a friend's advice to see a cardiologist at the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.
The Virginia Mason Franciscan Health cardiologist "knew immediately" that the AFib Dominik was experiencing was serious and did an ultrasound that showed his heart had enlarged and his heart efficiency had substantially decreased. The cardiologist put Dominik on medications to lower and regulate his heart rate, and he underwent two cardioversions in which he was sedated while attempts were made to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm. Likely due to the length of time he waited to come to Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, both were unsuccessful.
Eventually, Dominik underwent cardiac ablation while in AFib. A catheter was inserted through the groin to the heart to eliminate the confused electrical signals within the heart's atrium that cause atrial fibrillation. His heart converted into regular rhythm during the procedure, and after two days, Dominik was walking around normally and was back at work the following Monday. Within four months, he was completely off all medications, and his heart continues to stay in rhythm.
"I feel as good as ever," says Dominik, who got married four months after the procedure. He spent his honeymoon in Fiji. When he and his wife went out in a kayak in stormy conditions on a multimile trek, Dominik says he relished being outdoors, on the water, and embracing life to the fullest. "When you've had heart problems, you really appreciate a return to normal life, whether you are engaging in 'extreme activities' or just walking up a flight of stairs."
When Jeffrey Bernharrdt came down with a bad cough in fall 2014, he wasn't concerned at first. After all, he was only 43 and had enjoyed good health all his life. Jeffrey went to the doctor and got prescription-strength cough medicine. But the "deep and heavy" cough persisted.
Jeffrey was also feeling fatigued, but he could easily attribute that to working two jobs—one with the King County Department of Transportation, and another with a high school where he is the girls varsity basketball coach. What was puzzling was the weight gain. "I was about 15 pounds heavier than I had ever been," says Jeffrey, whose eating habits had not changed.
“There was a closer hospital to us, but I knew I wanted to be seen at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.”
One morning, when Jeffrey walked out to get the paper, he felt like he was going to collapse. At his doctor's office, he was found to have an irregular heartbeat. Jeffrey was referred to heart and lung specialists for further testing and treatment.
But before that could happen, Jeffrey became very ill and spent the 2015 Super Bowl Sunday throwing up. His fiancée convinced him he needed to go to the emergency room (ER), and they drove to Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. "There was a closer hospital to us, but I knew I wanted to be seen at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health," says Jeffrey. "I trust Virginia Mason Franciscan Health."
Tests performed in the ER were inconclusive, but Jeffrey was admitted and continued to get worse. It wasn't long before Jeffrey was in cardiogenic shock, a condition caused by the heart's failure to supply enough blood to the organs. Blood pressure falls, and the organs may begin to fail. Death can occur if the condition is not recognized and treated immediately.
Jeffrey passed out and says he woke up while being transported to surgery where a balloon was used to take over pumping for his heart. After the emergency operation, Jeffrey was in the Intensive Care Unit for nine days. He had checked into the hospital weighing 300 pounds, and by the time he was released, he was down to 240. The weight gain was due to fluids that built up when his heart wasn't functioning properly.
After his initial hospital stay, Jeffrey underwent two cardioversions to shock his heart back into a regular rhythm. But after a short time, he was again experiencing an irregular heartbeat. In June 2015, Jeffrey underwent a cardiac ablation in which a catheter is inserted into the groin and sent to the heart to eliminate the abnormal electrical signals causing the irregular heartbeat.
The ablation was a success, and Jeffrey has maintained a good heart rate and normal blood pressure ever since. He has been able to stop taking three of the medications he was on and is feeling his old energy return. "I trust my doctors at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health completely," says Jeffrey. "I want to tell other people not to be afraid to go to the doctor when you think something is wrong. I've learned to listen to what my body is telling me."
According to a 2008 Seattle Times article, Ken Muscatel, PhD, 57 at the time, was the oldest driver on the international hydroplane circuit. He told The Seattle Times reporter that even though he hadn't won a race since starting in 1991, he stayed at it because "I like it, and I can." In addition to racing, Ken was also putting in long hours as a consulting neuropsychologist, work he is still doing.
Ken had always been in good health, but around 1999 he began experiencing an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation. He was seen at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and has been a cardiac care patient ever since because, says Ken, "the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health doctors understood from the beginning how important it was to me to stay active."
“If it hadn't worked, I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life.”
Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a disruption of the electrical signals that regulate the heartbeat. The condition causes mental and physical fatigue. If left untreated, it can be a contributing factor in the development of strokes and heart attacks.
Ken underwent a cardiac ablation in which a catheter is inserted through a vein in the groin and threaded to the heart to correct electrical problems that may be causing the heart to beat irregularly. Cardioversion was also used to address the AFib. Cardioversion uses electrical impulses to shock the heart back into rhythm while the patient is under anesthesia.
With careful monitoring and treatment by his Virginia Mason Franciscan Health cardiologists, Ken continued racing until 2011. In November of that year, he went to Qatar to race but decided not to drive because he wasn't feeling well. Around this time, Ken was also losing weight. On Christmas Eve, he was admitted to the hospital with endocarditis, an infection of the inside lining of the heart chambers and valves.
After a week in the hospital and treatment with antibiotics, Ken underwent open-heart surgery. "It was risky because I had been so sick," remembers Ken. After only a few post-op days in the hospital, however, Ken was well enough to go home. A week and a half after the surgery, he returned to work part time, and three weeks later was back working full time.
Then on Halloween 2012, Ken found himself back at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health with what he thought was the flu. It turned out Ken was experiencing the effects of a dissected descending aorta. Because of restricted blood flow, Ken's kidneys were also failing. His vascular physician, in consultation with a kidney specialist, devised a plan to not only correct Ken's dissected aorta, but also to get his kidneys functioning again. "If it hadn't worked," notes Ken, “I would be on dialysis for the rest of my life."
Today, Ken still enjoys hydroplane racing ... from the sidelines.
Louanne Shelton, 83, is a competitive ballroom dancer and former piano teacher. And while she's always been able to keep the beat, her heart has not. In 2002, Louanne had her first episode of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat, fatigue and other problems. Eventually, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health physicians were able to step in, treat Louanne's AFib, and get her right back out on the dance floor.
Music has always been a big part of Louanne's life, so it's not too surprising that after a lifetime of teaching and playing the piano, she took up ballroom dancing in her early 70s. Louanne had shared a love of music with her husband, Warren, a flute player and school orchestra leader. When Warren died and Louanne's osteoarthritis affected her piano playing, friends suggested she go dancing with them. Louanne stepped onto the dance floor and found she didn't want to step off. It wasn't too long before she became a competitive dancer participating in contests as far away as Hawaii and British Columbia.
“Thanks to my care at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, I was back on the dance floor three months after my second knee replacement.”
Even when she broke her hip a few years ago and had two knee replacements within the same year, Louanne's interest in dancing never flagged. "Thanks to my care at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, I was back on the dance floor three months after my second knee replacement," says Louanne.
But the atrial fibrillation that started in 2002 was a bigger challenge. "At first, it didn't happen very often," says Louanne, "but after a while, it became a nuisance." One day, she passed out while driving on the freeway. Luckily, the traffic was crawling, and she came to before she hit another car.
Louanne spent that night at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, and two days later, a pacemaker was implanted in her chest to ensure that a slow or irregular heartbeat wouldn't cause her to pass out again. Louanne's physicians eventually recommended she undergo a cardiac ablation in the hope that it would bring her heart back into rhythm once and for all. During an ablation, a catheter is inserted into the groin and sent to the heart where it is used to cauterize the electrical signal or signals that are malfunctioning and causing an irregular heartbeat.
"It took me a couple of years to make the decision to have it done," says Louanne. "I don't know why it took me so long because it was the right thing to do. Everything went smoothly. I was in and out of the hospital in one day." Louanne says she could tell right away that the ablation was a success. Since the procedure was done, her heart has stayed in rhythm, just as she does on the dance floor.
"Even though I'm doing really well now, there are still times when I walk into the studio and think, 'I'm not going to be able to do this today.' Then I hear the music, and I'm ready to go!"