Innovation helps Suffolk patient

Published 8:15 pm Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dorothy Heron first noticed something was wrong one evening four years ago while she was praying.

Still living in Kingston, Jamaica, at the time, Heron began to feel as though someone was pressing hard on her chest. She drank some water, and the pain subsided, not to return until a year later, when the same pain returned.

At that point, Heron could not walk and felt shortness of breath, and her daughter took her to the doctor, but she was still without a clear diagnosis.

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Six months later, the chest pain returned in the evening. After praying and going to bed, she did not feel any pain until the following afternoon, and she felt herself about to collapse. She soon did so, unaware of what was happening as she was face down on the table.

At that point, Heron was admitted to the hospital, and she was told she had a stroke. She stayed in the hospital for a week and then returned home, feeling better.

But two months later, the pressure returned, and Heron said she felt as if she was going to die.

Fast forward to April 2019, when she came to the United States to live in Suffolk. Heron was still experiencing chest pains, so her daughter took her to Main Street Physicians in downtown Suffolk.

She learned that she had a blocked artery, and she was referred to cardiologist Dr. Jayaraman Venkatesan, and to Dr. Chad McKenzie with Bon Secours Vein and Vascular Specialists.

McKenzie ordered an ultrasound, and it showed that the artery on the left side of her neck was blocked. At the time, he had been learning and working with a new procedure to care for carotid artery disease, which is the buildup of plaque, or fatty deposits, in the carotid arteries that deliver blood to the brain.

Heron was a high risk for regular surgery due to her symptoms and high amount of blockage in her artery. But after diagnosing Heron, McKenzie determined that she would be a good candidate to be among the first patients in Hampton Roads to receive a new, minimally invasive surgery.

“Her anatomy for the approach was good,” McKenzie said. “She was symptomatic. … Her TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) were predicting a major stroke that was going to happen.”

He said having a TIA is a warning sign that a full-on stroke is inevitable.

The new procedure, known as TransCarotid Artery Revascularization, reduces the risk of stroke, minimizes incisions and scarring and shortens the procedure and recovery time.

Heron was just the second patient in Hampton Roads to undergo the procedure at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center, with McKenzie performing the surgery.

The procedure, according to McKenzie, involves making a small incision just above the collarbone to allow access to the carotid artery as a sheath, or short hollow tube, is placed in the carotid artery.

During the surgery, a circuit outside the body reverses the flow of blood away from the brain and safely back into a vein in the leg, which protects the brain by keeping away plaque that may come loose and go to the brain and cause more strokes. It also allows the doctor to put the stent — an expandable and flexible mesh tube — where the artery is blocked to prevent a stroke and allow for long-term plaque stabilization.

“The feature of this particular stent is that you need it to be flexible to take the turns of the carotid artery,” McKenzie said, “so that it holds its circle even in the turns. So when you turn your neck to look around, it goes with you.

“The engineering that makes a stent for a carotid successful is that it has to be strong enough to hold the lesion open, but soft enough to endure life, because blood pressure is hitting it every second, and you’re turning and laughing and coughing, so you want it to not fall apart eventually.”

It will then grow into the artery, McKenzie said, “and it’s like a skeleton for your artery.”

Heron had successful surgery July 11 and was out of the hospital in two days.

“She was a little bit anxious about doing the surgery,” said Heron’s daughter, Annie Jones. “I think most people are, because they don’t know if you’re going to survive the surgery. And because of her strong belief in God, that gave her some kind of comfort to know that the surgery would be a success.”

Heron recalled hospital staff members praying with her as she was going into surgery. The hospital also has recorded prayers broadcast over the intercom, but there was also a nurse praying alongside her.

“I heard somebody was praying, but I did not see the person,” Heron said.

The surgery was over in about an hour, and she has had no further symptoms since.

McKenzie said she was fearful of what would happen but has been pleased with the outcome.

“Somewhere inside her she may not admit it, but she’s glad she doesn’t have some disfiguring surgery,” McKenzie said.

At follow-up appointments Sept. 17 and Oct. 1, Heron learned that the inserted stent was performing as expected, and she no longer experiences shortness of breath.

“Her post-procedure ultrasound looks great,” McKenize said. “Her incision has healed and she’s had no further symptoms since her interventions. That’s your burden of proof.”

She can do all of the things she used to do — chores, water her plants, exercise, walk to and from her gate.

And pray.

“I pray a lot,” Heron said. “I’ll sit down and talk to God, and I’ll read my Bible.”

She no longer feels the pressure in her chest, but feels something much better.

“I feel better, I sleep good and I can get up in the night, and I pray and I talk to God. I can do a lot of things. … I don’t feel any pain.

“It’s a great relief,” Heron continued. “It’s a very great relief.”
“For us, too,” Jones said. “Believe me, believe me, because there were certain times when I would be worried as to if this thing is going to send her into the other life, you know what I mean? And sometimes I would get a phone call, maybe from my niece back home (in Jamaica) who she was staying with, or my daughter back home when my daughter was there. And I would be like, ‘Oh my God, is this going to be bad news?’”

It gave Jones a helpless feeling, but she no longer feels that way now.

“It’s a burden lifted from our shoulders,” Jones said. “One less thing to worry about.”

Reflecting on her experience, which began in the middle of her praying, Heron reverted to her faith.

“The first time when I got this feeling, and when I felt I was going down, I heard a voice speaking to me, saying, ‘Go and drink some water.’ And I knew it was the voice of God. He spoke to me, and each time … I would hear, ‘Go and drink some water.’ And that was the thing that would keep me.”

Heron’s daughter, Michelle Jones, pointing to Annie, said, “That was her in the back room, shouting, ‘Go and drink some water.’”

Heron, they would all say, has an unquenchable faith.

“God is good,” Heron said. “God is really good.”