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Rachel K's Story (Heart Tumor in Rare Location)

Rachel K Headshot Rachel, a resident of Stamford, is a social worker and devoted mother of two. For the past few years, she had been experiencing dizziness, fatigue, and increasing shortness of breath from daily activities such as walking up a flight of stairs. Now, at just 38 years old, Rachel was diagnosed with a 6-cm. atrial myxoma, a heart tumor in a rare location and something she had never even considered. 

“My situation was different for two reasons,” recounts Rachel. “The tumor I had was very difficult to diagnose due to its silent nature and I was told I had to have urgent open-heart surgery just four days from diagnosis.”

From the beginning, Rachel credits her primary care physician, Dr. Inga K. Tuluca, for ordering an echocardiogram at Tully Health Center to investigate what appeared to be a heart murmur. That’s when the tumor in her right atrium was discovered. “Right atrial myxomas are much less common, and the tumors are typically much larger than those located in the left atrium,” elaborates Dr. Michael Coady, Chief of Cardiac Surgery, Co-Director of the Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute. “Fortunately, about 75% of these tumors are benign, but they affect females almost three times as frequently as males. Their cause remains unknown, and in most cases, they’re sporadic.”

Rachel was in shock, to say the least. But within just minutes, Dr. David Hsi, Chief, Division of Cardiology, Co-Director of the Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute, came to meet her personally. “Dr. Hsi walked me through each piece of the process in a way I could understand. He then indicated my surgeon would be Dr. Coady. I really appreciated Dr. Hsi’s follow-up phone call that night and the following day to go over my diagnosis and prepare me and my family for the surgery.” Prior to her surgery, Rachel had specialized CAT scans of the heart, which further confirmed its near-immediate need. The tumor’s size was blocking the blood flow, which in turn could have led to pulmonary embolism (artery blockage).

Rachel describes her transition from Dr. Hsi to Dr. Coady as, “perfectly seamless,” thanks to Yoji Patil, Clinical Care Coordinator. “Yoji made sure I knew exactly where to go on the day of my surgery,” she recalls. Rachel adds, “I felt completely confident in both doctors’ ability to take care of me. Dr. Coady was very knowledgeable and took the lead—he even spoke to my husband and parents, and Dr. Hsi kept in contact with everyone during the surgery.”

In brief, Dr. Coady describes the five-hour procedure: “I performed a resection of the right atrial myxoma which meant stopping the heart and cutting out the tumor along with its attachment to the right atrial wall.”

Following her surgery, Rachel spent roughly a week recuperating at Stamford Hospital. “From the surgeons and nurses, to the coordinators, and technicians, each person was just as great as the one before,” Rachel states. Her peace of mind is, “exponentially better,” and she’s looking forward to feeling like a new person and confidently fulfilling her life with what makes her truly happy: her family and staying active.

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