In Sickness and Health
On their first date, Bernie and Debbie Michaels went to a New Year’s Eve party. Bernie’s aunt had set them up at the last minute and like many first dates, there were awkward moments – like the midnight kiss. However, that night was the start of a lifelong relationship and on June 13, 2019, they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
Recently, the couple lived through a dramatic version of a classic wedding vow, “in sickness and in health.” Bernie remembers a particular day when he wasn’t feeling well and Debbie, a retired nurse, insisted he go to Urgent Care. The doctor examined him and told 86-year-old Bernie he should be in the hospital. “They called an ambulance,” Bernie says, “and when I got to Baystate Medical Center, they diagnosed me as having a pericardial effusion, which is fluid collecting around the heart.”
THE CALMING EFFECT OF A LOVED ONE
“I met Bernie in the intensive care unit,” says interventional cardiologist Dr. Amir Lotfi. “His situation was critical. He had a large amount of fluid in the sac around his heart, which was causing him to have a low blood pressure.”
Dr. Lotfi remembers Bernie’s wife, Debbie, asked if she could be with her husband before he went into surgery. “I absolutely said yes because having a loved one there would provide a calming effect for Bernie,” says Dr. Lofti, who had been Debbie’s cardiologist for years.
“I was grateful,” Debbie says. “The way they treated Bernie made me feel very confident.”
AFIB AND THE BLOOD THINNER CHALLENGE
Dr Lotfi, cardiologist Dr. Marshal Fox and their team stabilized Bernie but were then faced with a challenge. Bernie has atrial fibrillation which increases the risk of stroke five-fold.
He takes a blood thinner to help prevent a stroke but because of the bleeding in Bernie’s pericardium, he could no longer be on a blood thinner long term.
Dr. Lotfi and Dr. Fox recommended Bernie have the new WATCHMAN procedure which involves placing a tiny device in the heart. The WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device helps prevent blood clots and stroke and offers an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners.
THE FIRST WATCHMAN PATIENT
Bernie was hesitant about the procedure at first. But he and Debbie did some research, talked with the doctors, and decided it was the right thing to do.
“I had confidence in the medical team and that they’d make sure I got the care I needed. Everyone was wonderful answering my questions,” Bernie says.
“Bernie was our first WATCHMAN patient,” Dr. Lofti says. The WATCHMAN procedure requires the surgeon to deploy the device in the left atrial appendage – where clots are most likely to form in people with atrial fibrillation. It’s through innovative procedures such as the WATCHMAN that Baystate Health is able to help patients live their best lives, Dr. Lotfi says.
“My experience at Baystate was top drawer,” Bernie says. The professionalism and compassion of the entire staff – from the doctors and nurses to the valets and the people delivering his meals impressed him.
Debbie remembers how respectful the staff was. She noticed caregivers listened and got to know Bernie as a person. As Debbie got to know the team, she felt they would be there for any patient, no matter their age or background.
NO WORRIES, JUST RADIO WAVES AND LOVE
Bernie, an active volunteer at the Vintage Radio Museum in Windsor, Connecticut, was soon back at work and enjoying his passion without worrying about his health. A Ham radio operator since he was a teenager, Bernie still gets a thrill out of talking with someone on the other side of the world in Morse code or voice on a little radio that uses as much energy as a 100-watt bulb.
“My worries about a stroke are reduced by 98 percent,” Bernie says. He feels his overall well-being and outlook on life have improved. “I got the treatment I needed and I walked out the doors of the hospital as healthy as I could possibly be.”
Dr. Lotfi says, “The procedure is important but the most rewarding part for me is ensuring the person can go out and enjoy their life and be with their family.”
“I am extremely and sincerely so grateful,” Debbie says, “to this hospital and Dr. Fox and Dr. Lotfi. Without them, I don’t think Bernie and I would’ve had the last two years we’ve had together.”