For Miranda*, CardioMEMS allowed her to see her 24th
grandchild. Last April, Miranda, who underwent bypass surgery almost
five years ago, found herself unable to breathe. Doctors found she
was retaining large amounts of fluid related to heart failure. Her
medical team was able to relieve the retention problem and suggested
she try CardioMEMS, the first and only FDA-approved heart failure
monitoring system proven to reduce hospital admissions among heart
failure patients classified as Class 3 or worse.
CardioMEMS is a small monitor that measures the
pressure inside the pulmonary system. “It’s a gold standard way to
measure the body fluid,” says Dr. Matthew Weinberg, a cardiologist
and director of the Congestive Heart Failure Clinic at ProHealth
The device comes with a pillow on which the recipient
lies each day. The pillow downloads pulmonary pressure information
daily and sends it to clinic staff. If irregularities or worrisome
trends are detected, the device recipient is contacted and changes
in medicines or food intake are made.
The implantation of CardioMEMS is a simple procedure.
A small incision is made in the leg, a catheter is run to the heart,
and the device is inserted. It’s the size of a small coin and
contains loops, which eventually embed into the side of the vein. It
remains charged by blood flow and never runs out of energy.
The beauty of CardioMEMS is that it detects potential
problems patients may not even know they’re experiencing. It reduces
hospital visits and cuts down on the number of crisis events, all of
which eventually weaken an already-compromised heart.
Weinberg says there are currently 20 patients under
monitor at the heart clinic. No one has returned to the hospital
since receiving CardioMEMS.
As for Miranda, the Waukesha County resident and
former nurse is ecstatic. “It really has changed my life,” she says.
“It’s extended it for sure.”
For Gerren*, her breast cancer diagnosis was a
complete shock. The young mother of two is an athlete and
participates in marathons and triathlons.
But another shock came when it was discovered that
the very drugs combating her cancer were responsible for decreasing
the efficiency of her heart.
Enter the team at the Karen Yontz Center for
Cardio-Oncology at Aurora Health Care. A little more than one year
old, the center includes a group of health care individuals from a
wide spectrum of medical specialties. The team works together for
patients fighting cancer who may be at risk of developing heart
issues because of the cancer treatment.
Dr. Vinay Thohan is part of the team. He explains
that it’s more than a coincidence that cardiovascular problems are
the leading cause of death for cancer survivors. In general, cancer
survivors have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease than the
rest of the population, he adds.
The cardio-oncology program seeks to identify people
undergoing chemotherapy who may be prone to heart problems and then
intervene early, before more damage is done. “Prevention is a lot
better than treating,” Thohan says.
Also part of the team’s mission is education, early
and a plan to use Aurora’s vast patient record
database to find past chemo patients who may have developed heart
problems that went undiagnosed.
In Gerren’s case, her decrease in heart activity was
identified during chemotherapy treatment, and doctors suspended the
treatments to deal with her heart issues. Chemotherapy was then
successfully resumed, and today she is cancer-free and training for
her next race.
The Team Approach
For Carol*, it started with shortness of breath just
over one year ago. She visited her doctor.
And then she was told she had three months to live.
When the 68-year-old Muskego resident was undergoing
chemotherapy for a condition similar to multiple myeloma, the
therapeutic agents used to fight the cancer began to cause cardio
toxicities. It resulted in a condition called amyloidosis, a disease
that occurs when the substance amyloid builds up in tissues or an
organ. In Carol’s case, it was the heart. Along the way, she also
had to deal with Factor 8, a blood-clotting disorder that produced
black and blue marks all over her body.
It’s a condition that usually occurs in men. In fact,
one of Carol’s doctors told her he had not seen a diagnosis in a
female in nine years.
Cases like Carol’s — where the condition is more
complicated than heart failure caused by a bad pump, or a
straight-forward chemotherapy to cure a common cancer — can be
almost impossible for a single doctor to diagnose and treat. It
requires a team of specialists, and Carol found one such team at
Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Nunzio Gaglianello,
a doctor on Carol’s team, explains that Froedtert is a quaternary
care center, offering advanced levels of medicine that are highly
specialized and not widely accessed.
“There are experts at your disposal all the time,” he
According to Gaglianello, as many as a half dozen
specialists in the oncology, cardiac and other fields are monitoring
Carol’s case on an ongoing basis.
He says Carol has responded well to the initial
chemotherapy meant for her myeloma. She will undergo a stem cell
transplant with hopes of solving the Factor 8 and amyloidosis
problems. After that, there is the possibility of a heart transplant
in her future.
But that’s OK with Carol. From her perspective, she’s
already a winner, as she’s outlived the initial three-month
prognosis. Doctors are optimistic about the success of the stem cell
transplant, but Carol remains humble. “If it doesn’t help me, maybe
it’ll help somebody else,” she adds.
*Patient last names omitted for privacy.