When Melanie Gutzmer’s primary doctor in Columbus insisted that she give the new cardiologist in town a try, she was leery of getting her hopes up. She feared hearing the same answers she’d already heard from two other cardiologists: that they weren’t sure what was going on but would continue to monitor her situation.
She took the insistence to heart, though, and in March 2011 — after battling symptoms for several years with no relief — met with BryanLGH Heart Institute (BHI) cardiologist Nadarajah Srikumar, MD, at his full-time practice in Columbus. Within a week, he diagnosed her illness: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disorder affecting 1 in 500 Americans, in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick and affects blood flow through the heart and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.
“At my first visit with Dr. Srikumar,” Gutzmer says, “he took the time to read my medical chart in detail and had prepared a series of questions for me to answer.” His patience when asking and answering questions allowed them to work well together to determine effective solutions.
After his medical examination and review of echocardiograms, and with a clear understanding of her symptoms, Dr. Srikumar did a heart catheterization — one of the procedures he performs when he treks once a week to the BryanLGH Heart Institute’s main campus in Lincoln.
“The symptoms were there for a reason, and he wanted to know why,” Gutzmer says. “This is something no other cardiologist had ever suggested.”
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy often goes undiagnosed because many with the disease have few, if any, symptoms. Gutzmer, however, faced them daily. “In addition to having ‘normal’ symptoms in exertion mode — shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and lightheadedness — I had these in resting mode, as well.”
Because of the unusual symptoms, after his diagnosis Dr. Srikumar referred her to Mayo Clinic’s hypertrophic cardiomyopathy clinic in Rochester, Minn., for consideration of treatment options.
“Dr. Srikumar advised me prior to going to Mayo what my options may be; therefore, there were no surprises,” Gutzmer explains. “He did an excellent job educating me on the disorder and its treatment options.” While she is aware the disorder may lead to surgery to reduce the muscle thickening, first things first: a twice-daily medical therapy of a beta blocker — a drug that relieves stress on the heart — along with dietary management and a supervised exercise program under the direction of Dr. Srikumar. Also on the horizon may be Dr. Srikumar’s placement of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator — an electronic device that monitors heart rate and rhythm and delivers energy to the heart muscle when the device detects an abnormal rhythm.
Gutzmer is grateful for Dr. Srikumar’s diagnosis of the disorder that places people at risk of dangerous abnormal heart rhythms that can cause sudden cardiac death.
“My family is at high risk, and we never would have known,” she says. “Not only could the diagnosis save my life, but some day the lives of my sons, if they should ever develop the disease.”
Melanie’s sons, who participate in football, wrestling and baseball, have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the genetic mutation that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. “Now they will be monitored annually, so the risk of sudden death is much lower,” she says. In addition to children of those with the disorder, siblings also are at risk. As a result, medical professionals urge close relatives of anyone with the disorder to talk with their doctors about getting screened for the disease.
BHI physicians say their pursuit is to create personal relationships, provide compassionate care, put patients first and deliver a better future to the more than 30 communities across four states they serve.
Gutzmer can testify to this. “BryanLGH Heart Institute and Dr. Srikumar are second to none,” she says. “My life and the life of my family are much better today. It was a very trying experience to first hear of my condition, but the incredible professionalism and sincere demeanor of Dr. Srikumar and the BHI team made my transition as a heart patient easier.”
Today with the help of medication, Gutzmer’s symptoms are fewer. “They used to be several times per day and now are limited to weekly and sometimes even further,” she says. That’s welcomed news to Dr. Srikumar. “One of the greatest accomplishments for me is when I am able to help my patients know exactly what is going on and then help them decide on treatments to make them feel better,” he says.
“Every day is a new beginning, and the medical professionals I was blessed with make each day toward rehabilitation and a higher quality of life that much better,” Gutzmer concludes. “Technology and God’s grace allow me to see another day and my family with each sunrise.”
To find out more about the BryanLGH Heart Institute, click here.