Bessie Moustakas walks through Easton Hospital's main entrance three times a week. Her glowing smile greets all the people she passes en route to Cardiac Rehabilitation.
The regulars who exercise there all say hi to Bessie as she hops on the treadmill. Some ask when she is bringing lemon bars again. Soon an exercise physiologist takes her blood pressure. It all seems fairly mundane.
But for those who know Bessie, she is a miracle, considering a year ago when she was in a medically induced coma and faced a 20 percent chance of survival.
Heart disease, the number one cause of death for women, is often a silent killer. Nearly two-thirds of women die without having had any previous symptoms.
Bessie was one of the lucky ones. "Three months prior to my heart attack, I had symptoms," she says.
During the day, she'd be fatigued for no reason or have pain in her right arm.At night, she'd wake in a cold sweat. She ignored the warning signs.
Bessie also had a family history, having lost her father to heart disease. Plus her cholesterol was high.
"My doctor told me I needed to be on medication for it," she says. "But I was trying to bring it down naturally."
She had just gotten her latest blood work results and saw her approach wasn't working, so she made an appointment to see her doctor. But then it happened.
All the symptoms she'd experienced hit at once. Then she started vomiting. Her son called the ambulance, and by the time she was at the Easton Hospital Emergency Room, the cardiac catheterization team was ready.
Easton Hospital has a door-to-balloon time around 60 minutes - it's a measurement of the time it takes a patient to enter the hospital until a blocked artery is cleared.
To save Bessie the Easton Hospital team took several actions. First, she was sedated and intubated in hopes to prevent the vomit from entering her lungs. Next, Joseph Schiavone, MD placed a stent in her left coronary artery which was 100% blocked.
While her right coronary artery was 90% blocked, it could not be cleared until Bessie was stable and strong. The doctors and ICU staff placed her in a medically induced coma to help her heal.
RajeeveThachil, MD worked tirelessly to ensure her lungs were in fact clear.
But her heart began to fail. "She developed cardiogenic shock which has an 80% mortality rate," says Dr. Schiavone. "She was placed on a ventilator and balloon pump to support her heart, but it felt like there was something more going on."
His instinct was correct. An echocardiogram revealed her mitral valve ruptured. She needed emergency open heart surgery. "She had a better chance of survival in the operating room than in recovery," says Dr. Schiavone.
Cardiothoracic surgeon Richard Angelico, MD performed the procedure and open heart pioneer Antonio Panebianco, MD assisted. "Many surgeons would not have taken the risk," says Dr. Schiavone. "But Dr. Angelico did what was best for the patient as he always does."
Bessie survived. The surgery went well. But she was weak and remained on a ventilator for 10 days.
When she was finally able to thankher doctors, she recalls Dr. Angelico saying, "You are a miracle. Now it's time to decide what to do with your new life.'"
Her life was focused on recovery, and that was an uphill battle. "I was so weak when I woke up, I couldn't lift a fork or comb my hair," Bessie says.
She was in the hospital for a month. When she left, her daughter helped with everything.
When Bessie started cardiac rehab, she was still using a walker. "I was not confident," she says. "And did the bare minimum."
But she has made great strides. As she increases the speed on her treadmill, she looks around. "The people here are so positive and supportive," she says. "They feel just like family."
Which is why she brings in treats once a month for the staff and patients. "My daughter bakes them," she says. "She'll do anything for me and the people at Easton Hospital."
250 South 21st Street
Easton, PA 18042-3892