THE SILENT CULPRITS
A local woman’s frequent fainting leads doctors to a quiet killer
(September 6, 2011) Venice, Fla. — For nearly two years, Mary Miles experienced fainting spells. She never knew when they would strike; in her room, while out to dinner or simply just walking down the hallway. Miles would start to feel ill and pass out where she stood. The 87-year-old Venice resident knew it had something to do with her heart, but no medication seemed to work in stopping the spells from occurring. At one point, her doctor even thought they were due to overmedication and reduced her dosages. But one episode of fainting landed her in the emergency room - and revealed the true culprit behind these attacks.
It started just before dinner in the independent living facility where Miles lives. “I hadn’t been feeling well for several days,” Miles recalls, “so I left my room door unlocked for a friend to check on me periodically. When she came in to get me for dinner, she said she was frightened by what she saw - I was shaking all over and didn’t look well at all.”
Miles’ friend called in one of the nurses to check on her. It was when the nurse took Miles’ pulse that they realized that something was terribly wrong. Her pulse rate was only at 37 beats per minute - well below the normal rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. The nurse immediately called 911 to have Miles transported to Venice Regional Medical Center for emergency care. It was there she encountered her “miracle maker,” Jonathan Fong, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon at Venice Ocala Heart Institute, who diagnosed her condition and immediately went to work to treat her.
“Mary had two silent culprits, a blockage in her left carotid artery in addition to coronary disease,” says Fong. “Because the carotid artery carries blood from the heart to the brain, this blockage was reducing blood flow to her brain, causing her to have fainting spells. It was a condition that needed immediate attention to reduce further, more serious issues, such as a stroke.”
Oddly enough, Miles may have been one of the lucky ones. For many people with carotid artery blockages, the condition is often silent, with no symptoms until a transient ischemic attack, or “mini-stroke,” occurs. And in other cases, a full-blown stroke attacks before a blockage is ever found. But in Miles’ case, her fainting spells and reduced pulse rate were strong indicators of her condition, helping Fong treat her illness before more severe attacks occurred.
Fong performed a procedure called a carotid artery endarterectomy on Miles, removing the blockage from her carotid artery to restore blood flow to her brain. Prior to the procedure, he also implanted a pacemaker to keep her heart rhythm at a normal rate during the endarterectomy.
Only three weeks after her surgery, Miles said she was already feeling so much better after having the procedure. “It was like Dr. Fong performed a miracle,” Miles says. “I haven’t had a single fainting spell since the surgery. My pulse is back to normal - around 84 beats per minute on average - and my blood pressure is perfect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had blood pressure this great since the 1970s!”
“Everyone involved in my treatment was just wonderful,” Miles continues. “And I really can’t say enough about Dr. Fong - he’s fabulous! I just feel so fortunate.”