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New technology repairs art teacher’s ‘hole in the heart’ to reduce stroke risk

Heidi Easley was going over her Monday morning to-do list when suddenly letters and full words were missing off the page. Terrified, she grabbed her phone to search the internet for a cause, but couldn’t read anything.

“One of my biggest fears came true,” she said. “I lost part of my vision for over ten minutes. I started crying hysterically and then it felt as if my brain was squeezing in on itself. I realized that my health, my life, may change forever.”

Heidi, a mother and high school art teacher who owns her own art business, experienced intermittent symptoms in the past that seemed unusual — like numbness in her hands — but nothing this severe. Her husband rushed her to the emergency room, and after several negative tests she was instructed to follow up with an eye doctor and neurologist.

“The eye doctor said it was an ocular migraine,” Heidi said. “She said it’s pretty common and they’ll come and go periodically, but it’s nothing permanent. I went to the neurologist a few weeks later just to confirm that I was fine and not dying.”

After testing with Roger Blair, MD, a neurologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth, Heidi was shocked to discover she’d suffered a transient ischemic attack, or “mini stroke.”

20160803-13658970_1801884633388517_6375612534987874461_n“I thought, ‘What’s happening to me?’ I’m only 37 years old!” she said. “I’m not the perfect ideal of health, but I wouldn’t say I’m not healthy. I’m so thankful I went to the neurologist. It’s so important to listen to your body, pay attention to your symptoms and take the time to get checked.”

She was referred to Farhan Ali, MD, an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth, who confirmed she had a patent foramen ovale (PFO), an opening between upper chambers of the heart.

“Before birth, everyone has a hole in their heart to allow blood to bypass fetal lungs,” Dr. Ali said. “The hole closes up on its own for most newborns, but for one in four people the hole remains. Millions with a PFO live their whole lives without problems, but the opening can potentially allow dangerous clots to travel up to the brain and cause a stroke.”

Heidi was the first patient in Texas to undergo a PFO closure procedure using the AMPLATZER™ PFO Occluder, the only FDA-approved device designed to seal PFOs and prevent blood clots from entering the brain. The minimally-invasive procedure, offered only at Baylor Heart and Vascular Services at Fort Worth, is outpatient and takes about 20 minutes to complete.20160922-lc6a2103

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“In the past, doctors closed PFOs with larger devices that weren’t meant to be used for this procedure,” Dr. Ali said. “Patients now benefit from new evidence-based technology that seals the hole in their heart and significantly reduces their risk of recurrent stroke.”

Forty percent of people who suffer a stroke from an unknown cause, also known as a cryptogenic stroke, have a hole in their heart.

Forty percent of people who suffer a stroke from an unknown cause, also known as a cryptogenic stroke, have a hole in their heart. New studies show that patients who received the AMPLATZER Occluder have a reduced risk of recurrent stroke by 45 percent over medical therapy alone.

“I was so scared I would have to walk around worrying about having a stroke or have to take blood thinners forever,” Heidi said. “The idea that I could be fixed was very hopeful.”

Take this quiz to find out if you’re at risk of developing heart disease.

About the author

Megan Jacob
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Megan Jacob has worked in health care public relations for eight years. She loves telling stories about patients, groundbreaking new treatments, and caregivers making an impact on the lives of others.

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New technology repairs art teacher’s ‘hole in the heart’ to reduce stroke risk