Heart Patient Regains Independence With New Technology

Sixty-seven year old Carla Phillips has lived alone for nearly 30 years and has always been very independent.

“I do mow my own lawn. I do mop my own floors. I do cook for myself; I do my own laundry, run the sweeper, dust. I do all those daily chores that most people do,” she said.

Carla had that same “can do” attitude when she went through radiation and chemotherapy for cervical cancer in 2009. She beat the cancer, but the treatment weakened her heart.

“My heart would pound real hard and then it was like someone just reached their hand in and grabbed your heart and squeezed it,” Carla explained. “My vision would start to go black and I would just go weak. And I’m like, ‘What in the world is going on?'”

Then one night when Carla’s granddaughter was visiting, the pain in her chest became unbearable.

“I hit the deck here one night. I thought I was dying. I could not get air, and my granddaughter was with me and she called 9-1-1 because I was on the floor,” explained Carla. “It was scary, I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. I wasn’t ready to die.”

Carla was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes it, but it’s a weakening of the heart muscles that decreases the function of the heart and can be deadly.

“Carla was at risk for something called sudden cardiac arrest, which affects a lot of people,” said Johan D. Aasbo, DO, ProMedica Physicians Cardiology. “We don’t know how many people die from this each year, but we know it’s somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 patients or people a year.”

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Because she lived alone, the previously independent Carla started to live in fear.

“Am I going to have a heart attack? Oh my God, what if I’m alone? They’re going to find my bones in the house,” worried Carla. “All kinds of things go through your head, so you don’t sleep good, you stress eat, you gain weight. It’s just a snowball.”

Cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Johan Aasbo told Carla she was a prime candidate for a fairly new technology, a device called an S-ICD. It’s a defibrillator that doesn’t have to be attached to the heart. Instead, it’s implanted just under the skin–a surgical procedure with minimal risks. That makes it a great option for heart patients who need a defibrillator to prevent sudden cardiac death but are too fragile to undergo a major heart surgery.

The S-ICD monitors Carla’s heart around the clock and if it detects a lethal heart rhythm, it will deliver a shock to keep her heart beating and buy her time to call for help.

The S-ICD monitors Carla’s heart around the clock and if it detects a lethal heart rhythm, it will deliver a shock to keep her heart beating and buy her time to call for help.

“For Carla it was everything she needed it to do potentially and with less risk,” said Dr. Aasbo. “I tell patients: Think of it as the lifeguard sitting in the chair and he’s very still and he’s doing nothing and you’re in the pool and you look up at him and go, ‘Is he watching me?’ and the answer is yes.”

Carla is thankful for Dr. Aasbo and the device that helped her regain her independence. “I just thank God that Dr. Aasbo came into my life because he’s made it possible for me to still be here, mentally, physically–you know, to be present,” she said. “I’m not ready to kick the bucket; I’m not ready to go. I’ve still got a lot of things that I want to do and take care of.”

Meet ProMedica’s team of cardiac electrophysiologists.