Advanced technology finds “widow maker” in time

General Wellness
Patient Story

This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of Women’s Health Source.

Marie Sindaco thought she was safe from heart disease, even though her father, his brother and their father all died of heart attacks in their 50s. “I thought I inherited everything from my mother. We had so many other things in common,” says Sindaco.

Wake-up call

But in 2015, when Sindaco was 59, a blood test ordered by her endocrinologist showed that she had high cholesterol. She was referred to Thomas Phiambolis, MD, director of Cardiac CT Angiography at the Lankenau Heart Institute, for a coronary calcium score test. This non-invasive test takes an image of the arteries of the heart. The test found plaque was building up. The health history from her father’s side was a risk factor after all.

Dr. Phiambolis prescribed a statin, a medication that lowers cholesterol, to reduce Sindaco’s risk of heart disease. But she experienced such bad muscle aches that she stopped taking it after three months. “The following year, I had a burning chest pain whenever I was active. It was like the pain you feel when you run outside and breathe in cold air,” says Sindaco.

New technology proves lifesaving

Because she had painful symptoms and an increased risk for heart disease, Dr. Phiambolis sent Sindaco for a test called a CT angiogram, which lets doctors see the arteries that supply blood to the heart. “If we see a severe blockage, we send those patients to the cath lab as soon as possible to have a stent put in. But sometimes, like with Marie, we see a blockage and can’t tell if it’s preventing normal blood flow,” says Dr. Phiambolis. Fortunately, Dr. Phiambolis had access to the HeartFlow FFRCT Analysis. This advanced diagnostic tool provides a more detailed assessment of a patient’s arteries.

HeartFlow technology created a 3D computer model showing how Sindaco’s blood flowed through her arteries. The report revealed that her left descending artery was severely blocked. A blockage in that artery is known as a “widow maker” because the artery supplies blood to a large part of the heart. Sindaco had a cardiac catheterization, which allowed a stent to be placed in her artery and restore blood flow to her heart.

“HeartFlow does an excellent job determining if plaque buildup is blocking blood flow,” says Dr. Phiambolis. “Before this advanced technology, we would send all patients with symptoms and questionable blockages to have a cardiac catheterization to see whether they needed a stent. Now, HeartFlow Analysis helps us identify and send only those requiring surgery.” Lankenau Medical Center is the first hospital in the Philadelphia area to offer HeartFlow.

Committed to prevention

After Sindaco’s stent procedure, Dr. Phiambolis administered a new type of cholesterol-lowering medication called a PCSK9 inhibitor, which acts against a protein that prevents the body from removing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from the body. As a result, Sindaco’s cholesterol numbers have dropped down to healthier levels—without any muscle aches.

Determined to protect her health for the future, Sindaco shed pounds and is maintaining a healthy weight. She also eats a healthy diet with lots of fish and veggies. “I’m glad I had a stent placed in my artery to open the blockage in time, thanks to the advanced imaging capabilities of HeartFlow.”

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654).