Patient Care

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Features URMC’s Novel Heart Treatment in Oct. 24 Episode

Oct. 18, 2013
Cardiologist, neurosurgeon used ‘medical superglue’ to destroy mass growing in Clyde woman’s heart

Jamie Arliss didn’t get to watch University of Rochester Medical Center doctors save her life, so she’ll tune into “Grey’s Anatomy” to see how it was done -- Hollywood-style. The Thursday, Oct. 24, episode is inspired by the innovative heart care Arliss received here in 2010. She is the first person in the world to have a golf-ball-sized mass in her heart destroyed with lifesaving medical superglue, of sorts. 

“I can’t wait to see how they tell the story and what it looks like,” said Arliss of Clyde, Wayne County. “I have been a fan of Grey’s Anatomy for years. My daughter and I never miss it.”

“Grey’s Anatomy” airs at 9 p.m.

Jamie Arliss

Arliss came to URMC five years ago with a rare heart problem and her survival is destined for the medical history books. That’s why the writers for the award-winning medical drama penned this episode. 

Nancy Kiu, medical researcher for “Grey’s Anatomy,” recounted a telephone conversation with cardiologist Christopher Cove, M.D., who has cared for Arliss for the past several years at URMC’s Heart and Vascular Center.

“As Dr. Cove was talking about the real case, there was a moment where we all looked at each other and said: ‘this is probably one of the coolest cases we've ever heard.’ As you can imagine, for a show that's been on for 10 seasons, that's no small feat,” Kiu said recently.

Cardiologist Christopher Cove, M.D., listens to Arliss' heart beating normally now.

Arliss’ heart problems were discovered in 2008 and after months of diagnostic testing, doctors determine an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) was growing along the wall of her heart. An AVM is a messy tangle of vessels that diverts blood away from the heart. They are most commonly found in the brain and sometimes the lungs. URMC cardiologists conferred with colleagues across the country and no one had ever seen anything like it, other than during autopsies and the mass was considered the cause of death. 

Cove and colleagues had failed in several attempts to destroy the AVM and stumbled upon a possible solution after talking with neurosurgeon Babak Jahromi, M.D., Ph.D. Jahromi treats AVMs in the brain through liquid embolization – a delicate technique that involves threading tiny tubes, or catheters, from the groin into the brain to inject a glue-like substance into the tangle of vessels, shutting down blood flow and destroying the mass.

There was plenty of drama in this case: the cardiologist had never used medical super-glue and the neurosurgeon was not used to working in the heart.

Babak Jahromi, M.D., Ph.D., neurosurgeon

“There was an amazing resemblance between the tangled abnormal blood vessels we saw in Jamie's heart, and the AVMs we treat in the brain,” Jahromi said. “The only difference was we had no established precedent for treating an AVM in the heart - we had to rely on our collective experience in the heart and in the brain, and in Jamie's trust in us to find a solution."

The pair collaborated to see if the technique could be successful in the heart and after lengthy discussion, the Arliss and the doctors moved forward with the intricate procedure Dec. 9, 2010. 

“As a doctor, you prepare for something like this your whole life -- something that has never been done before that has a dramatic affect on someone,” Cove said. “We both knew this was something truly remarkable. At the same time, we were scared because we weren’t sure of the outcome.”

 It took 10 times the amount of Onyx, the medical super-glue, to fill all the vessels in the AVM, which was astounding to the team. 

And in an ending made for Hollywood, Arliss’ survival was an incredible relief and fodder for worldwide discussions. The AVM is shrinking and Arliss has moved on from worrying about her heart to enjoying her life as a wife, mother and nurse.