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‘Big City’ Care in the Heart of West Tennessee

August 08, 2019

The signs of a heart attack can be very different for men and women. One fact remains the same for both—time is of the essence. Fortunately for one licensed practical nurse in Paris, Tennessee, the help she needed to save her life was only an hour away at West Tennessee Healthcare.™

In early spring 2017, 45-year-old Aven Sutton was cooking dinner for her family as she did most nights. “I felt a strange pain across my chest, was hurting down my left arm and had a burning feeling in my mouth under my tongue,” she said. “Initially, I thought it was acid reflux or maybe anxiety, but something was different. I just had a feeling that it was something catastrophic like a heart attack.”

Sutton woke her husband because something in her knew they needed to go to the emergency room. “Initially, everything seemed to be normal. My vital signs looked good, even my electrocardiogram (EKG) and heart rate seemed fine,” said Sutton. “As soon as they took the EKG leads off, I crashed. When they hooked me up to the monitor, I was in ventricular fibrillation (VFib), a type of abnormal heart rhythm that can be life threatening if not treated immediately. I had to be defibrillated seven times in order to stop the fibrillation of my heart.”

Once Sutton’s heart was in a sustainable rhythm, the decision was made to transfer her to a facility in Nashville that could better manage her condition. But bad weather thwarted that idea. Ironically, this turn of events turned out to be the biggest blessing. Worried that she could crash again, medical professionals arranged for Sutton to be taken to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, the flagship hospital of West Tennessee Healthcare.

“By the time I got there, I was very hypotensive. And despite being on a ventilator, my vital signs were not good. That first night in intensive care, I crashed several times and was deteriorating rapidly,” said Sutton.“The doctors were not even sure I would make it to the cath lab.”

Fortunately for Sutton, Jackson- Madison County General Hospital has a hybrid operating room designed specifically for vascular and cardiothoracic patients. It is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a life support system that partially replaces the function of the heart and the lungs that can buy valuable time for doctors to further assess the patient or treat the underlying disease. Sutton also required an Impella device which provides temporary ventricular support in people with depressed heart function. With the support of these technologies, the medical team was able to perform cardiac catherization to help determine what was causing the issues with Sutton’s heart.

“If it were not for ECMO and the Impella device, I would be gone,” said Sutton. “I thought ECMO would only be available in a major medical center. The fact that it is available in Jackson just blows me away still.”

Despite numerous complications, Sutton gradually improved enough for an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to be connected to her heart. This small electronic device continuously monitors and controls fast, and sometimes life-threatening, electrical problems in the heart. Sutton was also strong enough to start cardiac rehabilitation. Ten weeks from the day of the initial attack, she returned to work.

“While I had no typical presentation, if I had delayed listening to my symptoms and not sought immediate help I would not have survived,” said Sutton. “To land in Jackson, where they had everything I needed in one place was such a blessing and that it was only an hour from home made it so much easier for my family to be with me. It still just blows me away that access to this level of care is right here at West Tennessee Healthcare.”

We’re here for you—whenever you need us.

In order to make it a bit easier on cardiac patients, West Tennessee Healthcare Heart and Vascular Center operates cardiology outreach clinics in Camden, Dyersburg, Lexington, and Paris. Staffed by area cardiologists, patients can receive treatment
and advice from their cardiologist close to home.