When Gail McCann retired in 2012, she decided to enroll in a clinical trial through Sutter's Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) and in Medicare for her medical care needs. She based her choice on positive recommendations from both her mother and her husband, Bill McCann, who urged her to join the “lucky people” who enjoy the benefits of PAMF’s excellent care. Gail had no idea how fortuitous these choices would prove to be.
Sutter has cutting-edge research and advanced cardiology procedures.
In 2014 Gail sought emergency care at a local hospital for “odd” symptoms. She was seen immediately and released a few hours later with strict orders to see her primary care physician (PCP) within 24 hours.
“The care at PAMF is so action oriented,” marvels Gail. “I was seen within a day by Dr. Karen Jackson, even though my PCP was on maternity leave, and scheduled for a second visit within a week.”After an array of lab tests and an MRI, it was confirmed that Gail had actually suffered a small stroke before her emergency visit. She was also diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib).
“Although the date was December 23rd, PAMF helped me with all tasks as if there was not a major holiday fast approaching,” recalls Gail. “I like the way all different departments work as one.”
Gail was put on anti-coagulants and also had an ablation procedure to control her AFib. Her team of physicians grew to include cardiologists, Lynette Lissin, M.D., Chad Rammohan, M.D., and Melissa Kong, M.D. as well as neurologist Minal Bhanushali, M.D. and cardiovascular imaging specialist, Deepu Nair, M.D. When she suffered a subsequent stroke in 2016, the team approach became increasingly important as each member added new perspective and creativity toward problem solving for Gail.
“A unified approach can improve outcomes for patients,” says structural interventional cardiologist, Chad Rammohan, M.D. “Our multidisciplinary approach allows specialists to discuss the best approach for the patient and present a uniform recommendation. That is how the team of physicians decided to propose the WATCHMANTM protocol and clinical trial for Gail.”
The WATCHMANTM device was recently approved by the FDA in 2016 and is designed to help people who have AFib, but for whom long courses of blood thinners could be more dangerous than standard treatment.
For many AFib patients, the cause of stroke can be traced to the left atrial appendage, a pouch off the heart that is closed off when the device is implanted, lowering the risk of stroke. Their work is not only focused on this one procedure, but includes a host of advancements from transcatheter aortic valve replacement and mitral valve repair as well as traditional surgery and medications.
“Patients are coming to PAMF from all over the Bay Area for some of the most advanced structural interventional cardiology procedures available,” says Dr. Rammohan. “This field is absolutely exploding. When I finished my training, none of these specialized techniques existed and now they are available to patients throughout our network. I can only imagine what the next decade will bring.”
“Some of the most exciting and valuable innovation in the cardiovascular service at PAMF and across the Sutter Health Network is not necessarily related to a particular novel procedure or new technology,” says Conrad Vial, M.D., PAMF cardiothoracic surgeon and Sutter physician executive. “Rather, it has more to do with how we organize care, how we form treatment plans, and how we carry out follow-up for our patients.”Across the network, physician specialists have restored the patient to the center of care. They have redesigned the process by asking themselves, from the patient’s point of view, “How can we improve care?”
Grateful for a Generous Community and Leading-Edge Research
As Gail continues her rehabilitation and recovery, she has started attending regular tai chi classes as well as physical and occupational therapy to regain her strength. The Bay Area native is enjoying time with children and grandchildren, getting back to outdoor activities and a more normal routine with Bill.
“It feels good to be able to feel good again,” says Gail. “My team made me feel comfortable about all of my options, even when I repeatedly asked for the same information. I extend my heartfelt thanks to the entire team. It is good that I don’t have to worry about these clots anymore.”
Gail and Bill know that many of the cardiovascular innovations available at PAMF might not have been possible without generous gifts from the community.
“I thought I might skate through life with just my one stroke, but it turned out to be much more complicated than that,” says Gail. “I want to thank anyone who has ever given or is considering giving to PAMF. We are motivated to do anything we can, too. In fact, I wish I could give PAMF a million dollars. But I haven’t bought the right lottery ticket yet. I guess I’ll keep looking.”