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Patient Stories

A Perfect Storm
By Healthy Life 2006 Fall

Bob Matthias, 55, of Lynn, arrived at NSMC's Emergency Department on a cold February night, all but unconscious. When he awoke in the NSMC Heart Center two days later, he learned how close he had come to dying.

A physician described the heart attack that brought Matthias to the hospital as the "perfect storm." Relatively small in size, the attack hit a critically important part of his heart—one of the two papillary muscles which maintain integrity of the mitral valve—where it could do maximum damage.

Because his attack was uncommon and he had gone into shock, he needed to be diagnosed and operated on immediately to stay alive. "NSMC's ability to provide both emergency angioplasty and cardiac surgery on-site saved this man's life," says David Roberts, M.D., NSMC Medical Director of Cardiology. "No other hospital on the North Shore offers this combination of services—both of which were essential to Bob's diagnosis and treatment. If he had gone to another hospital on the North Shore, he would have required transfer into Boston or elsewhere for the surgery and he wouldn't have made it."

Dr. Roberts and his team determined that Matthias had a blockage in his right coronary artery. They conducted an angioplasty—a minimally invasive procedure using a balloon to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels—to re-establish blood flow to his heart. In most cases, this is where the story ends, but Matthias was still unable to breath on his own. Dr. Roberts suspected there was also a mechanical problem with Matthias's heart. After an echocardiograph confirmed that he had a torn papillary muscle, within minutes Matthias was off to an operating room. Dr. Thomas Vander Salm, M.D., NSMC Chief of Cardiac Surgery, replaced Matthias's heart valve and conducted a graft to completely bypass the blocked artery. Matthias was very lucky: within an hour and a half of his arrival at the emergency department, he was undergoing life-saving cardio vascular surgery. "I've been given a second chance," says Matthias. "If not for the doctors and nurses at NSMC, I wouldn't be alive today."