From Jamaica to Columbia to Fix a Broken Heart
February 14, 2017
It is well known that Providence Health, founded by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, has a long history of giving back to the community here in Columbia. This compassion and generosity, though, stretches well beyond our city borders. Here’s one story of a patient flown overseas to repair her heart at Providence.
“It has been 250 days since my surgery, and I can honestly say it has been nothing like I expected from start to date,” says Shadeka McIntosh, speaking to us from her home in Jamaica.
Dr. John P. Sutton II
Dr. John P. Sutton, III
When Shadeka was a young girl playing with friends on the Caribbean island, she knew she needed more resting breaks than other kids. She just didn’t know why. Finally, in her twenties, she went to the local hospital to see what was making her tired and short of breath. An EKG and a visit with cardiologist Dr. W.A.A. Foster identified an atrial septum defect, otherwise known as a hole in her heart.
When Dr. Foster discovered the hole, he decided to phone a friend – Providence Heart and Vascular Institute’s cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon Dr. John Sutton, III, MD. “Dr. Foster was a friend of my father’s,” said Dr. Sutton, discussing the relationship between the Jamaican physician and his father who was a heart surgeon at Providence. “He had sent a handful of patients here to Providence over a period of twenty years for sponsored treatment. I was happy to continue the collaboration to help someone who may otherwise not get the care they need.”
After a 3-hour flight, Shadeka and her sister Marie arrived at Providence Health and were sitting in front of Dr. Sutton. “The top two chambers of the heart should be separated,” explained the surgeon, “but the blood in your heart is mixing between the two, and we want to patch that. Did you know you have a hole in your heart?” he asked.
“Not until recently,” she answered.
Dr. Sutton explained that he would place a patch in her heart so that the blood stays in the correct sides of the chamber, preventing her heart from getting over-flooded with extra fluid. He ended the visit asking, “Do you have any other questions?”
Shadeka had only one. “Will I gain weight?” Not an uncommon question for doctors, however, the slim-built Shadeka was hoping the answer would be yes.
“Well, this won’t have any impact on that,” said Dr. Sutton. She slouched with a playful frown.
Going into surgery, there was some initial concern that, because Shadeka’s heart had been functioning incorrectly for two decades, excess irreversible damage may have occurred. In the United States, atrial septum defects are usually discovered and addressed earlier in life.
“Some of the changes that she had experienced in her heart are things we don’t see very often in our medical community here, so it was interesting to see the impact of her condition over time,” said Dr. Sutton when the surgery was complete. “It was sort of a like a flashback to cardiac care in older times when these things had to be more advanced to be diagnosed.”
The surgery team, however, was able to repair all the damage without any issues.
The Kindness of Strangers
While in Columbia, Dr. Sutton’s patient stayed at the home of Katherine Miller, a contact arranged through Providence Health who generously volunteered to host Shadeka and her sister through recovery. Shadeka spent much of her time taking walks and sleeping, while Marie treated the family to delicious authentic Jamaican cooking. They did venture out to a Jamaican restaurant in town, too. “It was very good!” said Shadeka, “probably because it was owned by Jamaicans.” A broad smile spread across her face.
Her procedure and recovery were smoothly uneventful, yet that doesn’t mean easy. Shadeka confesses that she avoided pain medication because she didn’t like how it made her feel, and as a result, she felt more pain than she expected for the first few weeks. Still, she kept walking and doing breathing exercises as told, steadily building strength and stamina. “She was up and about shortly after surgery, and was doing very well very quickly,” said Dr. Sutton, who even cleared her for a short visit to New York City during her 40-day stay in the US.
“Katherine and her husband are remarkable people,” said Shadeka in our recent conversation. “I miss them and their wonderful dogs.”
Within a couple months, Shadeka and Marie were back in Jamaica with friends and family. “As time passed I was walking longer distances,” she says. “I also continued to research and read about my condition to learn as much as I could.”
Home Sweet Home
Today, Shadeka is healthy and thriving in her homeland of Jamaica. “I breathe better and I’m not as tired as I used to be,” she says. “I am happy and smiling. Every day I give thanks for such a miracle. Glory to God.”
Like most young women, part of her joy is that the scar is not as bright as she expected. “I even went to the beach in a bikini!” she says. Yet, she is most happy because she had heard that her previous condition can create problems in pregnancy. “I love kids and I want to have some one day.
“I just want to tell Dr. Sutton thank you. He is a remarkable surgeon. I wish him and the whole medical team all the very best in life. They are truly gifted.”
Compassion in Columbia
Here in the Midlands, Dr. Sutton continues his work at the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute improving and saving the lives of strangers. When asked why he participated in a case based so far away, for a patient who would be recovering across the ocean, Dr. Sutton said, “We have a long-standing tradition of caring for those with limited resources here at Providence.” From our Right Care Right Place program to our participation in the Free Medical Clinic and our early support of Healthy Learners, Providence has always found ways to provide care to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive it. “We are known to be good stewards to the local community. This was an opportunity to do something with a longer reach.”
For that, Shadeka is glad.