HEALTH NEWS: Santa Clarita Teacher Beats Heart Condition
Providence Holy Cross doctors explain the procedures that
fixed the problem.
Life came full circle for Jim Tanner last year when he
brought his wife Genevieve to Providence
Holy Cross Medical
Center for heart surgery.
The long-time Santa Clarita couple was greeted by Cathy Yee,
a registered nurse and former student of Jim's in the William
S. Hart Union
High School District.
The Tanners are known in Santa Clarita for shaping the lives
of students - from toddlers to teens - for nearly 50 years.
Genevieve, a former surgical nurse at a local hospital, is a
teacher and a director in a community pre-school, focused on helping youngsters
get the best possible start. And for decades, Jim influenced the futures of
thousands of students in the Hart District, where he served as a teacher and
guidance counselor at Hart High
School and as a guidance counselor, vice
principal and principal at Placerita Junior
"I always felt my biggest challenge was doing the right
thing for kids, doing what was necessary to help them become good citizens of
society," Jim said.
With four children and nine grandchildren of their own, this
busy couple focused on physical activities to maintain their health. Jim works
out in the cardiovascular room at the local YMCA, while Genevieve enjoys
walking and water aerobics.
For years, physical stamina never seemed to be a problem for
either Tanner. Then, mysteriously, things changed for 74-year old
"I would go walking and barely make it to the top of a
hill," Genevieve recalled. "I had to really slow down. I had to force
myself to get through the day sometimes. I thought I wasn't able to do
things I used to do because of my age."
Genevieve soon learned her symptoms were
heart-related. Doctors diagnosed Tanner with aortic valve stenosis, which
requires valve replacement surgery, and atrial fibrillation (AF,) a common
heart rhythm disorder caused by a problem in the conduction of electrical
impulses in the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart. The risk for
developing AF increases with age and is most common among people 65 years and
older. AF produces a fast, irregular heart beat that may cause
discomfort, fatigue and lack of energy in many patients. While not
usually life-threatening, if left untreated, AF may lead to stroke, heart
failure or heart muscle disease.
"The most common, first line of treatment for AF is
medication therapy, including blood thinners, to prevent blood clots and
stroke, and other drugs to control the heart rhythm" explains cardiothoracic
surgeon Michael Soltero, MD. "The problem is that sometimes drugs fail to
keep the heart in rhythm, or patients are unable to tolerate side effects from
the drugs. With blood thinners in particular, the risk of hemorrhage is
substantial among the elderly."
Dr. Soltero recommended surgery for Genevieve, explaining
the procedures. AF patients have a number of therapeutic options to treat the
condition, including electronic device placement, catheter ablation and
surgery. The modified Maze procedure is a surgical option that is being
performed more frequently for patients with a specific type of AF - paroxysmal,
or intermittent, AF originating in the pulmonary veins.
In this procedure, surgeons block the conduction of abnormal
electrical activity in the heart by creating a series of small lines, or cuts,
in the left atrium using radiofrequency energy. The scar tissue that
forms interrupts the abnormal circuits that cause AF, which enables restoration
of normal sinus rhythm. The modified Maze procedure is usually performed
in conjunction with another procedure, such as coronary artery bypass or valve
surgery, which adds about 15 to 20 minutes to the procedure.
After talking with Dr. Soltero, the Tanners had full
confidence in his ability to successfully improve Genevieve's condition. She
would undergo a modified Maze procedure and have her aortic heart valve
replaced during the same operation.
The idea that she would be undergoing open heart surgery,
however, remained daunting but she scheduled the surgery at Providence Holy
Cross, where Genevieve had delivered the couple's third child and where Jim
later had an operation to remove a kidney stone.
In the end, the surgery was a success, and the Tanners were able to make a
quick transition back to their normal life. Genevieve is not only free of AF
and the related medications; she's back at work as a preschool teacher and
enjoying time with her husband and family.
And her prognosis is good. In fact, Genevieve had a recent
appointment with her cardiologist, Dr. Jack Patterson, and the good news was
that she doesn't have to return for two years.
"The success rate among patients like Genevieve Tanner with
isolated paroxysmal AF is 75 to 80 percent. These patients are
essentially cured and will no longer require medications to treat or reduce
symptoms of AF," Dr. Soltero said.