Marlena H. − A Patient’s Painting of Gratitude
For patients and visitors walking into the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center St. Margaret’s lobby, they are greeted not only by a friendly face at the front desk but by a beautiful, custom made painting of a mother and two children. This painting is a special welcome to moms and dads and embodies our staff’s hopes and well-wishes for new and growing families.
The painting is a gift from St. Elizabeth’s patient Marlena H. from Brighton, Massachusetts, who is an artist and also mom to Ewa, or Eve, age 1 and Phoebe, age 5.
According to Marlena, the painting represents the concept of motherhood and was inspired by her own positive pregnancy with Ewa and labor and delivery experiences at St. Elizabeth’s.
“Do not be fooled by big shiny lobbies and fancy maternity rooms in big hospitals. Let the doctors and nurses shine instead,” Marlena recommended. “I know this hospital is a small one, but because of that, I feel like the patients can have a better relationship with a doctor. If you do not want to be rushed and if you want to be listened to then this is a great place for you to have your baby.”
Marlena’s relationship with St. Elizabeth’s began after becoming pregnant with Ewa in 2016.
“Due to the many complications I had while pregnant with Ewa, I needed weekly visits to the hospital. Because of this, I had a chance to get to know people who work at the St. Elizabeth’s OB-GYN department, including the doctors, nurses, billing, and front desk,” said Marlena. “Many people gave me extra time, helped me with scheduling multiple doctor’s appointments on the same days, and helped me with the billing department. The people who work at St. Elizabeth’s helped me more than they had to on so many different levels. My painting is there to remind them how thankful I am for them being in my family's life.”
Marlena’s first pregnancy with Phoebe was a challenging experience. Her OB-GYN, who was affiliated with a different Boston-based hospital, mistakenly scheduled her for a C-section four days before her due date.
“That scared me and my husband William, and made me feel very disappointed in my former OB-GYN,” said Marlena. “I ended up with an emergency C-section two weeks later that left very painful scars for five years. I could not lift my arms up without very sharp pain. Since that time, I was truly a broken person; physically and mentally. For my second pregnancy, I decided to try a smaller hospital. I'm very glad I did because I'm a ‘healed’ person today.”
According to Marlena, St. Elizabeth’s is within walking distance of her home in Brighton. She was able to walk to the hospital for her appointment with her midwife, however, early in the pregnancy, Marlena began to experience complications, including gestational diabetes, anemia, was placed on a miscarriage watch and categorized as a high-risk pregnancy. At this point, obstetrician Jean Noel, MD, was called in to assist.
“I think during the second or third month I asked Dr. Noel what were the chances that the baby will survive,” explained Marlena. “He said about 50 percent. It was stressful.”
Marlena felt that with Dr. Noel and Erin Gonzalez, NP, she received time and attention, felt comfortable asking questions, and did not feel rushed.
“Pregnancy is an incredibly important time in a women’s life,” said Dr. Noel. “We associate this time with positive feelings, but for many women like Marlena, there are complications and, frankly, scary situations that require more intensive medical involvement. As a doctor, it is important to care for each mom as an individual and make sure that they are in a situation where they are receiving the best health care available. I was very happy for Marlena when she delivered beautiful Ewa.”
For Ewa’s birth, Marlena recalls being incredibly anxious. After careful follow up with Dr. Noel, Marlena was hospitalized a few days before Ewa’s birth. And, despite her fears, she said that Ewa’s birth was a magical experience.
“The room was full of people helping me,” said Marlena. “When Ewa was born, I held her immediately. I did not experience that with Phoebe. That was a day and night experience.”
And for her follow-up, Marlena felt a deepening gratitude toward the people who were involved in her pregnancy and labor and delivery care.
“I remember bringing my first daughter, Phoebe, with me to a follow-up appointment with our previous doctor. While she was happy to see Phoebe, her reaction was nothing link Dr. Noel’s,” Marlena recalled. “He asked me if he could hold her. He held her and rocked her. Those little things make a huge difference in mother’s life!”
With two active girls at home and a first-time kindergartner along with maintaining her art career, Marlena is busy these days. After Ewa’s birth, Marlena received a commission to work on a painting for a mom in Texas who was expecting twins. While working on this commission, she was able to channel some creative energy into the art she donated to St. Elizabeth’s. “I'm very honored that the hospital accepted the painting and that you find such a special place to share it with the public,” said Marlena.
And the public appreciates it. According to Margi Leffer, who works in administration in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, "So many people tell me how much they love this painting. I love seeing it each morning when I come to work.”
“Some people go to work to make a living every day, and then there are some people who live to make a difference through their work...every day,” said Marlena. “Thank you, St. Elizabeth's OB-GYN team!”
In 2014 my husband had open heart surgery at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. This was a very difficult time for our family. My family and I were truly grateful for the dedication and expertise level of care my husband received. But, what was especially significant during this stressful time and for which we were most grateful was having the Bikur Cholim room at the hospital.
The special Bikur Cholim room at St. Elizabeth’s provided us with a lovely rest area, kosher food at the highest level and a quiet place for prayer.
We appreciated having such a place available to us and we thank St. Elizabeth’s for their kindness and compassion in meeting a real need for observant family members.
Brenda T., Brookline, Massachusetts
Before retiring to spend half the year in Florida, Carl M., who goes by Mitch, of North Attleboro first had to do something about progressively worsening Atrial Fibrillation (AF). He was taking five or six arrhythmia drugs daily and suffered from chronic sluggishness and sleepiness. He had reached a point in which he would come home from his demanding job every day and take a nap, a behavior his wife became increasingly concerned about.
AF is an abnormal rhythm of the upper chambers of the heart causing electrical impulses traveling to the bottom part of the heart to create an irregular and/or fast heart rhythm. Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Swelling in the legs
- Fluid accumulation in the lungs
For Mitch, his AF was actively managed for several years. He was prescribed various medications, which he took until they no longer worked, and had two cardiac ablations each of which helped his symptoms for about a year-and-a-half-to-two years each time.
Then, in April 2016, after being evaluated for a third cardiac ablation, his cardiologist Dr. Waqar Cheema in Wrentham, Massachusetts referred him to St. Elizabeth’s cardiac electrophysiologist John Wylie, MD, FACC and cardiac surgeon Stanley Tam, MD, FACS, FACC to discuss a new procedure they were offering for patients with difficult-to-treat AF. The procedure, known as the Convergent Procedure, is a revolutionary treatment for patients with difficult-to-treat AF in which a cardiac surgeon and an electrophysiologist work together for a more permanent solution to manage persistent AF.
“Dr. Cheema told me it was time to go see the boys in Boston,” said Mitch. “The medication no longer worked and a third ablation didn’t look promising for long-term results. Dr. Cheema knew of a relatively new procedure that he felt I was a perfect candidate for.”
According to Dr. Wylie, the Convergent Approach is a powerful option for many people in whom AF is difficult to control. The procedure starts with a cardiac surgeon first performing a minimally invasive laparoscopic ablation across the back wall of the heart via a small incision in the abdomen. Then the next day, a cardiac electrophysiologist completes the procedure and checks for other arrhythmias by threading an ablation catheter through a patient’s femoral vein in the groin to the inside of the heart. Radio wave energy is sent through the tip of the catheter to create scar tissue at specific areas of the atrium where AF originates and completes a thorough ablation set in the heart. Electrophysiology diagnostics are then used to confirm the abnormal electrical signals were interrupted and that no other arrhythmias remain that need to be treated. Most patients treated with the Convergent Approach are able to go home within two to four days, resume a more active lifestyle, and may be able to stop taking medication to treat AF.
“Dr. Tam and Dr. Wylie were very thorough,” said Mitch. “Even my wife, who was nervous on my behalf, felt confident after we reviewed the procedure.”
Mitch spent a total of four days in the hospital and, besides the recovery from anesthesia, he stated he had no pain and, if not for the bandage, wouldn’t have known he even had the procedure. “I can’t believe how good I felt,” said Mitch. “I was pain free and started to feel my sluggishness and sleepiness quickly fade. When I walked my knees and back would hurt and now they don’t. I think I have better blood flow and just overall feel better.”
Mitch said the team of Dr. Wylie and Dr. Tam made appointments easy to schedule, worked collaboratively and generally took good care of him. He recalls, “one of the things I remember is that the procedure was scheduled for July 5, 2016. On the afternoon of July 4th, Dr. Tam called me at home to make sure I was feeling okay, answer any questions I had and generally reassure me before the next morning. I cannot speak highly enough of all of them; Dr. Cheema, Dr. Tam and Dr. Wylie.”
“This is the best I have felt in five year,” said Mitch. “I don’t know how bad I was feeling until after the Convergent procedure.”
Now, while enjoying retirement, Mitch is spending time with this wife, looking forward to meeting a new granddaughter who was born this past winter and walking to help address additional weight loss that he wants to achieve. “I’m hoping that I can lose enough weight that I no longer need the blood pressure medication,” said Mitch. “And, I’m hoping that at my check-up with Dr. Wylie in April 2017, I can also stop taking the blood thinner.”
At 87 years old, Angelo C. likes to stay on the go. The Winthrop, Massachusetts resident attends church every day, goes to the mall and grocery store once a week, and likes to hang out downtown. His motorized wheelchair and heart condition don’t slow him down.
Angelo, who has congestive heart failure, regularly sees Cardiologist Dr. Joseph Carrozza at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. As part of his treatment plan, Angelo is benefiting from the state-of-the-art CardioMEMS™ System, which features a miniature wireless monitoring system that is implanted in the pulmonary artery during a minimally invasive procedure to directly measure pulmonary artery pressure. What make this system unique is it allows Angelo to transmit pulmonary artery pressure data from his home to his health care team allowing for personalized and proactive management to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization so he can continue to enjoy his lively lifestyle.
“Angelo was a perfect candidate for CardioMEMs,” says Dr. Carrozza. “I explained to him that the greatest benefit of having the implanted monitoring system is that it will keep him out of the hospital.”
On March 20, 2016, Dr. Carrozza performed the hour-long, painless procedure to insert the monitoring system using a catheter into Angelo’s pulmonary artery. He was awake throughout the whole procedure and following the procedure, he had to stay still, without moving, for six hours. During this recovery period, the cardiac catheterization lab nursing staff cared for him.
“The nursing staff was fantastic and went above and beyond to help me,” says Angelo.
“I use The Ride to get back and forth to St. Elizabeth’s. When the driver arrived to take me home after the procedure, my six hours wasn’t up and they left. I had no way to get home. One of the nurses said ‘I’m going to take care of you.’ She arranged for an ambulance to take me home, as well as confirmed my insurance would cover the transport. She and another nurse stayed well after their shifts ended to make sure I was taken care of and got me into the ambulance. They didn’t go home until I got home.”
Nowadays, back at home in the early afternoon, Angelo takes a break from his daily activities to hook himself up to the CardioMEMS™ System for his reading. His fastest reading was three seconds, and the longest was 15 seconds. He feels the time it takes for a reading all depends on the positioning of his body.
“It is amazing that I am here, at my home, and my doctor, in Boston, can receive my exam and know if I am okay or if I need something, like an adjustment in my medicine,” says Angelo. “This is such a benefit to me, the patient. It is like having a doctor in my house everyday giving me an exam. What more could you want?”
When routine care turns into specialized care.
More than 52 years ago, Debbie A., of Arlington, Massachusetts, delivered all three of her children at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and has been receiving routine care at the hospital ever since. Recently, this routine care changed for the 75 year old after she was diagnosed with reoccurring breast cancer.
In November 2014, Debbie had a screening mammogram at St. Elizabeth’s Center for Breast Care and it showed a lesion on her left breast. Then, a biopsy confirmed cancer. Working with Jan Rothschild, MD, a breast surgeon at St. Elizabeth’s, Debbie had a mastectomy on her left breast in December. She had already had a mastectomy on her right breast when cancer was detected in 1989.
"I am the sole caregiver for my 47-year-old daughter who has multiple sclerosis and was diagnosed as a teenager,” says Debbie. “I’ll do anything to be here for my children and I knew when I first met Dr. Rothschild, whose smile beamed right through me, that I wanted her to be my doctor through this journey.”
Debbie’s recovery went well and she takes anastrozole, a chemotherapy medication, for further treatment. In addition to the care she received from Dr. Rothschild and her medical oncologist, Leslie Martin, MD, Debbie was also overseen by a nurse navigator who was her guide, mentor and advocate before, during, and after her treatment.
“All of the staff at the Center for Breast Care was wonderful and my nurse navigator, Cheryl, was unbelievable,” explains Debbie. “From day one, she made me feel that everything was going to okay. Knowing this made me feel good and confident.”
For the past 50 years, engineer Manuel G. has routinely worked seven days a week and played racquetball and competitive soccer. About 18 months ago he began needing naps to get through the day, doubling over to catch his breath while playing sports and experiencing heart palpitations.
“I felt like an old man. I didn’t have any energy,” Manuel, 71, of North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, said.
In May of 2014, he was diagnosed with persistent atrial fibrillation, a condition where a patient has a sustained heart rhythm disorder for more than seven days. A procedure called a cardioversion got his heart beating normally again, but only for a few days. A second one lasted about a week. His cardiologist then reached out to Dr. Michael Orlov, director of the Electrophysiology Laboratory at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. He underwent a third procedure called an ablation where Dr. Orlov used radiofrequency to produce scar tissue on Manuel’s heart to block abnormal electrical signals that cause his rhythm disorder. In less than two weeks he was back in atrial fibrillation and by the end of the year he had undergone a second cardioversion and another ablation, however, in his case, they did not correct his condition.
“I really, really, didn’t want a pacemaker,” he said. “That was out of the question for me.”
On the advice of Dr. Orlov, Manuel met Dr. Stanley Tam, a cardiac surgeon who had recently joined St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center from the University of Massachusetts Memorial in Worcester where he had served as chief of cardiac surgery. After consulting with Dr. Tam and Dr. Orlov, Manuel decided to undergo an ablation procedure called the “Convergent Approach” where the cardiac surgeon and electrophysiologist work as a team to perform a cardiac ablation. Using a minimally invasive approach with a small incision in Manuel’s abdomen, Dr. Tam performed an ablation across the backside of his heart. Dr. Orlov, the next day, threaded an ablation catheter through Manuel’s femoral vein in the groin to reach the inside of his heart to ensure the lesions were completed and connected, and then used electrophysiology diagnostics to confirm the abnormal electrical signals were interrupted.
“I’ve been in normal sinus rhythm since,” Manuel said. “I’m feeling the best I have felt in two years.”
Manuel, who has been married for 50 years and is a father and grandfather, is doing just that. In the summer heat and humidity, he was building a patio at his house and is once again playing racquetball.
“I’m really thankful to my doctors for giving me back my life,” he said.
Last year, when Lucy M. began experiencing problems with her breathing, she chalked it up to complications stemming from her asthma. She followed up with her pulmonologist who adjusted her medications. When the breathing problems persisted, she consulted with her primary care physician who referred her to a cardiologist. A heart catheterization revealed a narrowed heart valve, a condition called aortic stenosis.
In June of 2015, Lucy, 84, underwent a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. The procedure is one in which the technology allows physicians to replace a severely narrowed aortic valve due to aortic stenosis without a conventional chest incision or having to be placed on a bypass pump. In this much less invasive approach, a new valve is implanted either through a catheter that is inserted through the vein in the groin area and then carefully passed up into the heart, or through a tiny incision in the chest wall and implanted directly into a patient’s heart.
“I feel good, really good,” Lucy, of Haverhill, Massachusetts says. “I’m surprised I feel as well as I do.” Without the TAVR, she faced an uncertain future and is pleased she underwent the procedure.
“I’m 84 years old. I felt either it’s going to do good for me or it’s not going to do good for me, so I thought I would take the chance,” she says. “I want to prolong my life. I still feel young.”
She encourages others who need this procedure to give it a try. While she misses working, she doesn’t miss her commute. Faced with several other health issues, Lucy is content to spend time with her adult son and daughter and do “ordinary things,” including grocery shopping, laundry and cooking.
“If anyone has the opportunity, regardless of what age they are, they should take the chance. Always take a chance,” she says.