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Mercy Heart Center nurse saved after recognizing heart-attack symptoms

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As an ICU nurse at a Columbus, Wisconsin hospital, Morgan Saxe regularly cares for critically ill patients. But, at 39 years old and in seemingly good health, she never imagined she would be on the receiving end of that type of care – especially hundreds of miles from home.

However, Morgan found herself in that very situation when a routine road trip turned into the trip of her life. She was on her way back home to Wisconsin after visiting her sister in Omaha, Nebraska for the weekend when about 30 miles west of Cedar Rapids, she began experiencing what she thought was heartburn. In the car with her mother and her aunt, Morgan stopped to purchase antacids. Still, the pain continued.

At the urging of her mother, Morgan searched the web for a nearby hospital, and they headed for Mercy.

Once in Mercy’s emergency room, Mercy Cardiologist Ryan Hollenbeck, MD, FACC, FSCAI, said Morgan exhibited classic signs of a heart attack; she was experiencing shortness of breath and chest pressure and appeared pale and sweaty. An electrocardiogram (EKG) confirmed Dr. Hollenbeck’s suspicions. Even before Morgan’s mother could park the car and get inside, Morgan was on her way to Mercy’s cath lab.

Once there, Dr. Hollenbeck said Morgan’s condition was even worse than anticipated.

“We took pictures and immediately saw the problem,” Dr. Hollenbeck explained. “She had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a condition where the main artery to the heart was torn apart. This creates a second path for blood flow and prevents blood from getting to the heart. Morgan had the single-most extensive SCAD I’ve ever seen. The entire left coronary artery essentially fell apart.”

Dr. Hollenbeck – in consultation with Mercy’s Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeon, C.C. Lee, MD, FACS – determined Morgan would need emergent open heart surgery. Soon after, Dr. Lee was operating on Morgan to repair the extensive damage. The surgery was successful.

Morgan said she still finds it hard to believe that she had a heart attack. Other than being a smoker, she felt she had a healthy lifestyle. She said she’s thankful she found her way to Mercy and that she got the care she needed from Mercy’s heart team.

“I believe having an open heart program here was the only chance for this patient,” Dr. Hollenbeck said. “If she would have needed to be transferred, I don’t believe she would have made it.”

“It just could have been a lot worse; things could have gone horribly,” Morgan said. “If it had to happen, I couldn’t have asked for things to go any better than they did.”

As she reflects on her experience, Morgan said she was extremely grateful to all the Mercy caregivers she encountered.

“I’m so thankful that I was somewhere where I could be taken care of the way I needed to be taken care of,” Morgan said. “Not just the surgery, but in other ways, too. I cannot thank everyone enough – every single person I came in contact with. I didn’t have one bad experience. It was the best you could ask of a bad experience. I thank everyone who works there for the great care I received. It was a whole big circle of caring.”

Morgan said she was especially touched by all of the Mercy caregivers who stopped by her room in the days following her surgery to see how she was doing.

Back in Wisconsin and after 12 weeks of intensive cardiac rehab, Morgan returned to her nursing work, four months after her surgery.

*COVID-19 has been shown to cause heart-related issues. Those who have been exposed and/or have known heart-related issues, need to be on alert for symptoms, such as: discomfort in the chest; pain or discomfort in one or both arms; or shortness of breath, as these could lead to new or worsening heart issues. If you’re experiencing heart-related issues or other health concerns, don’t put off your care. Mercy and clinics have been functioning for months with safety measures in place. At Mercy’s Heart Center, you can receive care before it leads to worsening heart issues. If you or a loved one is experiencing serious heart-related symptoms, please call 911.

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