Listen To Your Heart

Doris Croker has no shortage of things keeping her busy. Whether she’s spending time with one of her five grandchildren, going bowling with her Village of Deaton Creek teammates, playing Bocce or cheering on her husband Phil at his softball games, she enjoys living life to the fullest. Even when a sudden jolt of chest pain and shortness of breath caught her off guard, Doris didn’t let it stop her.

“I didn’t have chest pain all the time, it was only when my heart rate was elevated from moving quickly or exerting myself,” Doris explained. “So I wasn’t too worried.”

While she knew this was something abnormal, she thought it may just be a part of growing older. As long as she could control it and avoid that dreaded feeling of someone grabbing and squeezing her chest, she could continue on with her daily life.

Doris was finally forced to confront this feeling when a trip to Washington, D.C. with her husband, Phil, had her doing the very activities she had been avoiding — walking fast, going up and down stairs and doing this for days on end. She had to tell her husband.

“With all the different sites and the walking tours, we were going up and down stairs and trying to keep up with tour guides, I just couldn’t avoid the chest pain,” Doris said. “As soon as I told Phil about this symptom, he made me promise to go to the doctor as soon as we got home.”

Having been a longtime resident in Braselton, Doris chose to schedule her appointment at The Heart Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC). After she described her symptoms to the physician assistant, the first step was to have an echocardiogram, a test that uses ultrasound to create a picture of the heart and enables the physician to evaluate heart structure and function

However, because the results of the test were inconclusive, Pavani Kolakalapudi, MD, a non-invasive cardiologist at The Heart Center of NGMC, was consulted.

“What was most concerning about Doris’ case was the fact that her symptoms and the results of the echocardiogram didn’t match up,” said Dr. Kolakalapudi. “Because the underlying cause of her symptoms remained unclear, I knew she would be a great candidate for HeartFlow Analysis.”

Traditionally if coronary artery disease was suspected, doctors had to rely on invasive heart procedures such as catheterization to make an official diagnosis. Now, with HeartFlow Analysis, providers are able to get this same in-depth information by utilizing a CT scan to create a 3D model of a patient’s coronary arteries and uncover any potential blockages.

“We are excited to have been the first in the state of Georgia to offer this life-saving technology,” Dr. Kolakalapudi said. “With HeartFlow analysis, we can detect partial blockages in the coronary arteries — and treat them — before a patient suffers a heart attack or cardiac event.”

The day after Doris’ screening, Dr. Kolakalapudi called her.

“You know it’s never a good sign if the doctor calls you the very next day and asks you to come in,” Doris said. “I still remember that phone call and asking Dr. Kolakalapudi if I could come in after my hair appointment, I couldn’t believe it was anything too serious.”

When Doris went in later that day, she learned that one of her coronary arteries had a 75% blockage and another had a 50% blockage.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Doris recalled. “None of my routine tests had ever detected any issues.”

To ensure that she received care as quickly as possible, Ryan Whitney, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at The Heart Center of NGMC, placed three stents that same afternoon.

“Since having those stents placed, I haven’t had any chest pain at all,” Doris said. “But in looking back, I realize that all those episodes of chest pain happened for a reason — they were telling me to go to the doctor before it was too late.”

Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon for health warning signs, like chest pain, to be ignored or missed.

“When it comes to heart disease, we frequently see women downplaying their symptoms or delaying care,” said Dr. Kolakalapudi. “As a result, when women finally do seek treatment, they’re often diagnosed with more severe or advanced levels of heart disease.”

While reflecting on her experiences at The Heart Center of NGMC, Doris said she feels grateful — for HeartFlow Analysis, for her extraordinary support system and most of all, for a life free of chest pain and limitations.

“You may think that you have control over your health, or you may tell yourself that it’s something that will eventually just go away,” Doris said. “But I’m living proof that isn’t always the case.”

To learn more about The Heart Center of NGMC, or to request an in-person or video visit with one of our distinguished cardiologists, call 770-343-4239 or visit heartngmc.org/beat.