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Pam Van Wuyckhuyse

A story about a heart attack

Pam Van Wuyckhuyse knew that May 15, 2004 was going to be one of the most important days of her life.

PamAs it turns out, it was—but in ways that she had never even imagined.

As Pam went about her wedding preparations that morning, she couldn't get over her feelings of excitement. "I just had butterflies in my stomach. I attributed that to nerves. After all, it was my wedding day."

When her maid of honor arrived, she confirmed Pam's suspicion: It was the excitement. She assured Pam that those feelings would subside as soon as Pam finished taking her wedding vows.

But they didn't. At her reception, Pam still felt exceptionally nervous. As she danced with her new husband Mark, she told him how she couldn't get over these feelings. Looking back, she remembers another odd feeling: One of watching herself from above as she danced with Mark.

Next she danced with her father, then a nephew. She then began to feel extremely warm and went outside for fresh air. Her sister, an EMT, and another nephew, a firefighter, insisted on calling an ambulance to have her checked out. "Just to be sure," her nephew told her.

The ambulance arrived and one of the EMTs, Glenn Nicolosi, hooked her up to an EKG. Pam recalls, "I was watching my sister and nephew looking at the EKG, and the expression on their faces—their eyes bugged out! That's when I knew something was really wrong. Then Glenn said, 'We don't have any more time for talking. We've got to lock and load.'"

Pam was loaded into the ambulance and Glenn gave her baby aspirin to chew. He would later say to Pam, "Do you remember me yelling at you in the ambulance? That's because we were losing you." Pam was taken to the emergency department at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Dr. George Pancio was the cardiologist on call. He told Pam what would be happening. Pam responded, "I'll do anything you want me to, just please don't cut my gown."

Pam was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab. Dr. Chris Cove, Associate Director of the lab and Dr. John Bisognano found the blockage that had caused Pam's heart attack. With balloon angioplasty, they cleared that artery. They then placed a balloon catheter in her aorta to assist her heart by inflating and deflating in synchronization with her heartbeat. In consultation with other doctors on the team, the decision was made to put Pam into a drug-induced coma to protect her while decisions were made on the best course of treatment.

"They had to decide whether I needed an artificial heart, if I should be put on the transplant list," Pam says. "They decided I needed a quadruple bypass."

The operation was performed by Dr. Todd Massey on May 17, two days after Pam's wedding.

After surgery, Dr. Bisognano came in to introduce himself to Pam, knowing that she would not remember him. "He said they were so pleased to be able to give me back to my husband," Pam recalls. "I'm so thankful for a hospital like Strong. Without their expertise, I wouldn't be here."

While Pam has many great memories of her new life with Mark, she doesn't remember much of her special day. "I really don't have many memories from my wedding day. I remember dancing with Mark. I remember asking them not to cut my gown. But I don't remember my ceremony at all. When I first woke up , I thought maybe I had been in a car accident on the way to my wedding. But my friends assured me, I really am married!"

Pam and Mark's honeymoon to Hawaii had to be postponed. They ended up going exactly one year later. "We were there on May 15, our anniversary," Pam says. "We went up to the top of the mountains. We did everything. I was so thankful that we were able to take that trip and finally complete our honeymoon."

When she got back to Rochester, she returned to URMC Cardiology —this time for an implantable defibrillator. "Because of the damage to my heart from my heart attack, they told me I was a prime candidate for sudden cardiac death," Pam says.

Sudden cardiac death is usually caused by a heart rhythm problem, generally ventricular fibrillation—when the lower chamber of the heart quivers (fibrillates) instead of beats. As a result, blood can't be pumped to the brain and body.

If Pam's heart ever goes into fibrillations, the defibrillator will shock her heart back to its normal beat. "I haven't needed it yet," Pam reports.

Now, some three years after her wedding day, life is good for Pam and Mark. She enjoys gardening, working in her yard and taking walks with her husband. And her dress? Safely stored away.

And still in one piece—just like Pam's life.