Anne Catino, R.N.,Vice President of Nursing and Chief Nursing Officer at Holy Redeemer Hospital, knows how important it is to carefully research healthcare decisions. In the Winter 2014 LifeLinks issue, she encouraged readers to “ask as many questions as you need to until you understand what your healthcare team tells you.” This past August, when faced with an unexpected health crisis, she took her own good advice.
A Surprising Diagnosis
It started when Catino took time out of her busy schedule to keep a regular appointment with her endocrinologist, who told her that her heart was beating rapidly and irregularly. A subsequent electrocardiogram revealed a common heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation (a-fib), which is caused by abnormal electrical pathways in the heart. These pathways create signals that can cause the heart’s upper chambers (atria) to quiver, rather than beat effectively. Typical symptoms include palpitations, a fluttering sensation in the chest, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, or light-headedness, but Catino has experienced none of these.
“I had no idea I’d been walking around with this,” she says. “I felt perfectly fine.”
She knew, however, that her condition was serious. Blood that isn’t pumped out of the atria might pool and form clots, which cant ravel to the brain and cause a stroke. So she put herself in the hands of her capable colleagues, including cardiologist Valaine Hewitt, M.D., who performed a cardioversion procedure, using an electrical shock (administered under anesthesia) to bring her heart back into normal rhythm. The outpatient procedure seemed to work, and Catino went home to rest over the weekend.
The following Monday, she was back to work and attended a morning meeting with Cass Egan, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer. Egan asked if she had been medically cleared to return to work by the occupational health nurse. “I felt fine, but I agreed to go, just to be safe,” Catino says. “That’s when I discovered I was still in a-fib.”
She was then admitted to the hospital, where over the next three days she underwent four cardioversions. Going from caregiver to patient was difficult for Catino, but it gave her a new appreciation for her colleagues. “I was overwhelmed by the care, emotional support, and the overall patient experience provided,” she says. “it made me so proud to be a part of Holy Redeemer.”
A Surgical Solution
Unfortunately, cardioversion didn’t work, so Dr. Hewitt recommended cardiac ablation, a procedure in which the heart tissue responsible for the abnormal signals is removed with a targeted burst of energy. This procedure isn’t performed at Holy Redeemer, but the hospital collaborates with physicians at nearby health systems, including Penn Medicine and Doylestown Hospital, to provide cardiac ablation and other complex cardiac services for the Holy Redeemer patient community.
Catino did her research, relying on Dr. Hewitt’s advice, considering the options offered by her employee insurance plan, and tapping her network of friends and contacts at Penn and Doylestown. Her priority was to find care that was of the highest quality.
“Of course I wanted great care, but I also wanted to stay close to my home in the Lehigh Valley,” she says.
Dr. Hewitt referred her to Robert Sangrigoli, M.D., who along with his colleague, cardiologist John Harding, M.D., performs ablation and other cardiac procedures at Doylestown Hospital. Drs. Sangrigoli and Harding also serve on the medical staff at Holy Redeemer.
“We’re very fortunate to have these clinical collaborations that allow us to provide comprehensive cardiac services to our community,” Egan says. “Our employees and our patients know that they don’t have to choose between convenience and quality.”
Catino’s confidence was buoyed after her first meeting with Dr. Sangrigoli. “He took the time to really educate my husband and me about atrial fibrillation and cardiac ablation,” she says.
The procedure, which required an overnight stay at Doylestown Hospital, was successful. “The staff were caring and knowledgeable, and Dr. Harding, who discharged me, answered all my remaining questions and gave me confidence that all would be well,” Catino says.
Catino knows she’s not quite out of the woods yet. She continues to get regular electrocardiograms, takes blood-thinning medications to lower her risk for blood clots, and avoids caffeine and alcohol. But she’s back at work and feeling great.
“My story is a testament to the importance of advocating for yourself when a problem arises,” she says. “Research your options, know the scope of your insurance benefits, and get your regular checkups – and follow-ups even if you feel fine. You are the best guardian of your own health.”