To Jennifer May, a medical supply warehouse employee, feeling exhausted after a hard day’s work is part of the trade.
The Jacksonville native lives by the motto "work hard, play hard." Together with her husband, Brett, and their dog, Oreo, May travels whenever she can to remind herself that every day can bring a new adventure.
However, at just 40 years old, she noticed a flutter in her heart that made working her day job and living life to the fullest impossible.
Faint of heart
In Fall 2018, May developed palpitations, a feeling that her heart was pounding fast and was ”going to burst” inside her chest.
At first, she tried to ignore the sensation, but it soon worsened and began to impact her performance at work. After just a few minutes of standing, May felt short of breath – as though she had been running – and needed to sit down and rest.
“It got so bad, I had trouble sleeping,” May said. “I started to withdraw from my family because the feeling in my chest would give me such bad anxiety. It was unbelievably scary.”
After remembering the comprehensive care her niece received for a neuromuscular disorder at Baptist Health, May decided to self-refer to Baptist Heart Specialists at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville to try to put a name to her condition.
“I trusted Baptist Health’s care,” May said. “I knew that I was going to be taken care of.”
May had her first visit with Baptist Heart Specialists in July 2019 to seek relief for new chest pains. Working together, cardiac electrophysiologist Aaditya Vora, MD and interventional cardiologist Salil Patel, MD, FACC, met with May and decided to order a full cardiac workup. This included stress tests, a way for physicians to see how the heart handles strain, and a special imaging test called an echocardiogram to see inside the muscle.
Soon after, May was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, increasing blood pressure and making it more difficult for blood to be pumped throughout the body. Dr. Vora then evaluated May to see if a defibrillator could control her irregular heartbeat.
“This condition can put patients at risk of developing an irregular heartbeat or having a heart attack,” Dr. Vora said. “Even athletes who are seemingly healthy can be severely impacted or die from this condition. It’s critical for anyone who is young and experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or a faster heartbeat than normal to get evaluated by a cardiologist.”
According to Dr. Vora, May did not require a defibrillator due to her overall good health. After months of trying to manage May’s symptoms with beta-blocking medications to lower her blood pressure, Dr. Patel realized May required an exceptional solution.
“We didn’t want her to undergo an invasive heart procedure, such as open-heart surgery, if she didn't have to, especially due to her young age,” Dr. Patel said. “Leaving her with lifestyle-limiting symptoms was ultimately not an option, so we wanted to find a balance between alleviating her symptoms and subjecting her to the potential risks of an open-heart procedure.”
Out of the box
In need of a solution that was out of the ordinary, Dr. Patel referred May to Siddharth Wayangankar, MD, interventional cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists, to discuss her options for minimally invasive cardiac procedures that would cure her disease.
As an alternative to open-heart surgery, Dr. Wayangankar offered May a state-of-the-art heart intervention to improve blood flow through the thickened areas of her heart. Called an alcohol septal ablation, the procedure enables patients to recover quickly, typically in one or two days.
During this procedure, patients are awake under twilight sleep (a type of anesthesia where patients remain conscious), while a device called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel and travels all the way to the heart. It then delivers 100% alcohol to areas where the heart muscle is too thick. This causes the tissue to shrink and die, restoring blood flow and greatly decreasing symptoms.
“Ms. May did not want open-heart surgery to address her condition, making alcohol septal ablation an ideal option,” Dr. Wayangankar said.
According to Dr. Wayangankar, Baptist Jacksonville is one of the very few hospitals in the country to offer this unique procedure. May was also Dr. Wayangankar’s first alcohol septal ablation performed at Baptist Health, but he is an expert in the procedure from his time outside the health system.
“I had two options, so I decided to go with the one that was much less invasive,” May said. “You only get one heart after all.”
‘I feel free’
After receiving her ablation in December 2020, May said the difference she felt was like day and night.
“I feel so much better, I was back to myself just one day later,” May said. “I can finally sleep. I can exercise or even just walk without feeling fatigued or out of breath. For the first time in four years, I feel free.”
Now 42, May is once again able to enjoy the prime of her life. She has since switched to a leaner, mostly plant-based diet and has started jogging regularly to maintain her heart health. She urges others to not delay care out of fear of the unknown and believes the help she received changed her life for the better.
“If you feel something is wrong, get checked. The treatment may be what you needed all along,” she said. “It made a difference for me.”
Baptist Heart Specialists use cutting-edge approaches to treat patients with a wide range of heart diseases. To schedule an appointment with a heart specialist near you, visit baptistjax.com/heart or call 904.720.0799.