Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 is the day Susan Bolick’s life changed. She had an upper-respiratory infection that turned out to be a serious situation with her heart. Upon admission to the critical care unit a few days later, she learned about the radial heart catheterization procedure only being offered regionally at Catawba Valley Medical Center.
In mid-2012, Dr. Luke Byrnes of Catawba Valley Cardiology became the first cardiologist in the region to perform a radial heart catheterization – a revolutionary diagnostic and treatment technique for coronary artery disease. This innovative method, which goes through the wrist as opposed to the femoral artery in the groin, reduces recovery times, bruising and the risk of severe bleeding.
It was Dr. Byrnes who visited Susan in December, suggesting the procedure as a way to determine what was happening with her heart. Susan explained, “At that point, we didn’t know if I was having a heart attack or what? I looked at him in stunned silence while I tried to process his request. I never expected to have my name and heart cath in the same sentence.” She finally responded, “I have no cardiovascular disease risk factors. How can this be happening?”
Susan was not only feeling bad, but shocked by this development. “Dr. Byrnes was patient with me as I tried to get my head around what was going on in my body! He came across very humble and concerned. It gave me the confidence I needed to trust him to proceed.”
Byrnes says comfort is another major advantage to this new procedure. “Being able to offer the radial access, gives our patients a more comfortable option. If someone has back pain, for instance, the need to lie flat for hours following the procedure has been eliminated. Plus, working people can get back to their job more quickly. In the future, we see people being able to have same day discharge.”
Susan recalled the procedure, “The cath team placed me on the table, under what looked like a giant Styrofoam box above my chest. They gave me medicine in my IV that relaxed me while I laid there awake and watching. Dr. Byrnes was on my right and I could see the monitors on the left. I was able watch the catheter go into my heart and I could see the puff of dye they used to check the blood flow.
“I couldn’t believe it, but I felt no pain. It is hard to imagine that someone could be inside your heart and you cannot feel it! What I remember most is how at times, I felt Dr. Byrnes gently patting my wrist. It felt like he was comforting me and I thought, ‘how sweet’, but then I realized he was probably wiping up blood.”
In the end, Susan was diagnosed with Myocarditis. “It was a scary time! Most people complain about being in the hospital, but I tell you I was so thankful to be there. I was so physically wiped out that I couldn’t get out of the bed or even sit up. My nurses gave me such confidence because they were both technically competent and compassionate as they looked after me,” Susan said.