Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - 50

A

s a mom with
a toddler son
and a newborn
baby girl, Susan Blevins'
heart was full. What
her heart was not, was
fully functioning.
It was during the delivery of her
daughter in 2007 that Blevins first
felt the flutter in her chest. She was
only 31, yet a cardiologist confirmed
that she had an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.
"It's unusual for someone to develop
an arrhythmia that early in life," says
University of Virginia Health System
cardiac surgeon Leora Yarboro, MD.
"Typically it is a genetic or structural
abnormality that is the cause. For
Susan, it was genetic."
Genetic testing revealed that Blevins
had rippling muscle disease (RMD), a
rare condition that can impact the cardiac muscles and lead to a thickening
of the heart (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). "My mother died at age 33 of
heart failure; her father and sister also
died at an early age with heart issues,"
Blevins shares.

Finding ANSWERS

50

FAL L 2 0 1 8

Blevins came to UVA Health System
looking for a solution, a way to fix her
broken heart. "I had two ablation procedures at UVA to fix the arrhythmia
and everything seemed OK. I was back
to doing normal things," says Blevins.
"But once doctors started to take me
off of the medications prescribed after
the procedure, I started having symptoms again."
She had two different pacemakers implanted over the next year, but
Blevins' heart continued to fail. Dr.
Yarboro determined the only solution
was to place Blevins on the waiting list
for a heart transplant. To sustain her
heart function until a donor heart could
be found, Blevins received a left ventricular assist device or LVAD, a mechanical
pump that helps the heart pump blood
to the rest of the body.
"Susan did fairly well for almost a
year, but the LVAD was only supporting
the left side of her heart," explains Dr.
Yarboro. "There was a concern about
clotting and increasing weakness on the
right side of her heart, so we changed

out the LVAD and put in another VAD
on the right side as well. This was a
big operation."

Keeping the FAITH

Unfortunately, it seemed this procedure
was just too much for Blevins' body to
handle. Her kidneys and liver began to
fail. A brain bleed led to a stroke, and
she was placed on a ventilator and a
machine that pumps and oxygenates the
blood outside of the body in an effort to
give the heart and lungs a rest.
"Patients on biventricular support
have very limited long-term survival. A
heart transplant was the only way she
was going to live," says Dr. Yarboro.
Unfortunately, Blevins was too sick to
remain on the transplant list.
For weeks, Blevins remained sedated.
Her family took turns making the
three-hour drive to ensure someone
was always there by her side. "They
didn't know if I'd recover," says Blevins.
"Their greatest hope was for my kidneys and liver to regenerate and start
working again."

PHOTOS BY JACKSON SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY

Seven years after her daughter's birth,
Blevins' condition took a turn for
the worse. She was working as an ER
nurse at a hospital near her home in
Southwest Virginia when she began
feeling short of breath and alerted her
colleagues. Blevins was having a heart
attack, and doctors determined it was
the long-term, uncontrolled arrhythmia
that was causing her heart to fail.

2018 marked Susan
Blevins' first Mother's
Day with a new heart.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia

Contents
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - Cover1
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - Cover2
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - Contents
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - 2
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - 3
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - 4
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Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - 50
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Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - Cover3
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2018 - University of Virginia - Cover4
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