Heather Pavese is no stranger to heart troubles. In 2012, she had a mechanical heart valve put in back due to an aortic aneurysm. Shortly after moving to North Carolina in 2018, Heather suffered a heart attack and recovered with the help of WakeMed’s care team and got connected with cardiologist Dr. Raj Fofaria for ongoing care.
Deterioration of Heather’s Mechanical Heart Valve
This past summer in June 2020, Heather wanted to travel home to see her family in Portland, Oregon, but she wanted to get medical clearance before traveling due to COVID-19 concerns. She checked in with Dr. Fofaria and had an echocardiogram that revealed significant deterioration of the mechanical heart valve. She was referred to Dr. Judson Williams, and it was determined that she needed a new valve due to a rare blood clotting disorder that her previous surgeons didn’t know she had.
On August 24, 2020, Heather arrived for surgery and immediately fell in love with her care team. She recalls her experience, “Every nurse I encountered cared for me like I was a member of their family. It was so comforting to be in the care of people who treated me like I was a person and not just another patient.”
Shortly thereafter, however, Heather experienced a rare and life-threatening blood transfusion complication known as a transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI). Heather’s lungs immediately started filling with fluid, making it difficult for her to breathe and get oxygen to her blood and organs. Her life was in danger, but WakeMed’s team responded quickly by performing extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) through a new program introduced at WakeMed in the spring of 2020. Venous-arterial (VA-ECMO) is a type of advanced life support that works as a temporary replacement for the heart and lungs – providing support for days to weeks while doctors treat the underlying issue. ECMO ensures the body has enough blood flow and oxygen by temporarily managing the workload of the heart and lungs.
A Care Team Heather had Come to Love
Once placed on ECMO, Heather was transported to Duke University Medical Center for further treatment and monitoring. After a little over a week, Heather was stable but still needed a lot of ongoing care and monitoring. She opted to return to WakeMed to continue her care and recovery closer to home and family under the care of her surgeon, Dr. Judson Williams and the care team she’d come to know and love.
“I will never forget the way my WakeMed care team treated me – washing and braiding my hair when I couldn’t do it myself, encouraging me to get up and move, so I could recover faster and providing the best care I could have imagined for nearly an entire month. I am so grateful to Dr. Williams, Dr. Fofaria and every nurse and staff member we encountered.”
“I’m so glad Heather opted to get her heart checked when she did – many patients overlook symptoms or fail to get regular check-ups like they should. In this case, Heather took the prudent approach and it could have saved her life,” explains Raj Fofaria, MD.
Heather Today and Feeling Better Than She’s Felt in Years
Today, Heather is feeling better than she has in years. She’s back to playing golf regularly and being active again – after months of slowly declining health and fatigue that she’d mostly overlooked. “After the procedure, I immediately had so much more energy. Today, I feel great and I’m ready to golf to my heart’s content.”