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Heart attack doesn’t sideline Minocqua woman

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Betty Graham of Minocqua had a lot going against her when she arrived via helicopt​er in March 2012 at Ministry Saint Clare's Hospital in Weston.

Betty Graham, Minocqua Betty Graham, Minocqua

​She was having a heart attack caused by almost totally blocked vessels in a critical area near the heart. And at age 91, she was not considered a viable candidate for heart bypass surgery.

"This was as bad as it can be for a blockage," said Dan Gavrila, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Marshfield Clinic Weston Center. "Her left main coronary artery was 95-99 percent blocked, right in the area where it splits into two main branches. And there was the fact that she was having a heart attack right at that critical location."

With all those factors combined, Dr. Gavrila said he wouldn't expect to see such an involved case more than once per year or longer. He and his interventional cardiology colleague, Rohit Srivastava, M.D., placed three stents over a two-day period to push open the blocked vessels. While her advanced age was a key factor against performing bypass surgery, it did not factor into the decision to have the stents placed.

"People can feel good about this procedure," Dr. Gavrila said. "It doesn't really matter what their age is. They can return to having productive and meaningful lives, even if they are having a critical heart attack with severe life threatening complications."

Just a few years ago, cardiologists would not have taken on such a complicated case, he said.

It all seems hard to believe even for Graham, who drove to a friend's house because she was having pain in her left upper arm and chest, along with shortness of breath. Her friend drove her to Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff, where she said a staffer was startled when he saw her condition. It was familiar ground; she was a volunteer at the hospital for 18 years and recently returned there in July, when she resumed driving.

She was sedated for her 22-minute helicopter ride to Weston, where staff was waiting for her outside the hospital. "I don't remember much about it except for one of the crew members moving to block the sun from my eyes."

Graham had 26 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation. Medical staff kept a close eye on her for two months, when she was finally allowed to drive again. She's decided to give up bowling but hopes to be able to golf again this summer. She keeps busy with knitting, jigsaw puzzles and visits to a casino. As she put it, "I refuse to be a couch potato."

"She did very well, but she's very lucky. She was going to die if she didn't get those arteries open," said her Internal Medicine physician Richard Fossen, M.D.​, Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center.

Dr. Fossen credited the joint heart care team of Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care for coordinating all aspects of Graham's care. "The system worked just as it's supposed to for people suffering heart attacks in the Northwoods."​