By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – In 1998, at a time when many local and regional heart patients were deferred to Nashville hospitals for more advanced care, Linda Good was hesitant to go. The recent weeks of fatigue and shortness of breath she’d been experiencing were determined to be the result of blockages that would need to be treated via open heart surgery.
Good, however, wanted to be close to home, her husband, Lester, and her family; and, thanks to the young but growing heart center at Cookeville Regional Medical Center, she wouldn’t have to travel far for treatment.
Twenty years later, Good still has the heart-shaped pillow, signed by the doctors, nurses, and staff at CRMC, where she underwent open heart surgery – the hospital’s first such procedure. The signatures are a little faded and some names are hard to make out but Linda and Lester fondly remember the care and kindness extended to them during their stay and in the time since.
“I knew everything was going to be okay,” said Lester.
“At that time, the hospital had spent $7.5 million on this new surgical wing; so, I figured they weren’t going to let anything happen to the first (open heart surgery patient),” he added, with a laugh.
The team handling Linda’s case – a quadruple bypass – had spent approximately four months preparing for such a procedure.
“It’s a lot of class time, education … you know, you don’t ever really put that to the test until you’re standing in front of that patient,” said Jeff Robinson, RN and CRMC ICU Clinical Care Coordinator. “That’s why a lot of us had a significant amount of fear and anxiety. We had the book knowledge but we had yet to play that out.”
The hospital went to perform 125 heart surgeries that year, following Good’s procedure. Last year, CRMC’s surgeons saw more than 365 heart cases.
Cherry Ramsey, a CVICU nurse who cared for Linda on her second day in the hospital and her first post-op walk, recalls “We had to get the beautician here to get your hair fixed and your make up on.”
“Absolutely!” Linda responded.
After all, the first open heart surgery performed at the hospital attracted a lot of attention and Linda wanted to look her best should anyone want to photograph her.
There were skeptics of the procedure and wild rumors that followed. One such tale, reportedly overheard in a local beauty shop soon after, suggested that CRMC’s cardiac surgical team didn’t actually live nearby but instead flew in via helicopter to perform procedures.
As the heart surgery program grew, skepticism and rumors faded. In 1998, from April to December, CRMC saw more than 125 cases; growing to more than 260 the following year.
“It grew very quick,” said Paul Robinson, who was part of Linda’s cardiac care team. Since then, he estimates he’s been a part of at least half of the heart procedures involved at CRMC
The cardiology care offered by the hospital has grown exponentially since Drs. Alex Case and Bunker Stout founded the program in 1994. As volume grew, the team felt confident in taking the next step and offering open heart surgery. While a few of the faces in the unit have changed over the years, the team has achieved new milestones and received numerous accolades for their accomplishments.
Today, it is estimated CRMC captures 80 percent of the Putnam County market, and more than 50 percent of Cumberland County and surrounding area.
Open heart surgery opened the door for the hospital’s cardiology program to progress; performing angioplasty procedures and stints.
“It helped both areas grow for the whole program so that we could deliver a full-service (cardiac care facility) for our patients,” said Dr. Case.
To date, more than 12,000 cardiovascular-thoracic surgeries and more than 5,500 heart surgeries have been performed at CRMC.
“This place is it; it’s where you should come,” added Linda, who says she’s had no problems since the surgery 20 years ago.
Procedures and medical advancements have continued to change and evolve along with technology. These days robotics programs, like those using the da Vinci robot, can assist with some cardiothoracic procedures; reducing downtime and minimizing surgical incisions. CRMC is also the first hospital in the southeast and the second in the US to use a new, implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) with SmartShock Technology to lessen unnecessary shocks in patients.
To learn more about The Heart Center at CRMC, visit www.crmchealth.org or call (931) 783-2350.