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Your heart is in good hands: UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's Hospital has performed open heart surgery for more than 40 years

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Susan Rompot, heart care patient

Therese Plummer wasn’t feeling quite right when she got up on the morning of March 29, 2014. Her symptoms—pressure in her back and chest, nausea, and a strange, coldsweat—seemed to come and go, but Plummer finally agreed to let husband Jim drive her to St. Luke’s Hospital.

“St. Luke’s has always been our hospital so that’s where we went,” says Plummer. “Thank goodness we did.”

Dr. Keith Kopec, the cardiologist on call in St. Luke’s emergency room, told Plummer she showed signs of a heart attack. “I called my daughter to let her know I was being admitted so they could run some tests,” Plummer recalls. “That’s the last thing I remember for the next 20 days.”

Plummer would later learn she experienced a “perfect storm” of events, including an unusual reaction to blood thinners that had her blood clotting at an alarming rate. She went into full cardiac arrest during a procedure in the catheterization lab to open her blocked artery with a stent.

Fortunately, Plummer was in experienced hands. Dr. James Levett, cardiothroracic surgeon with Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa, explains, “In a situation like this, you can’t waste time. Mrs. Plummer needed to get to the operating room right away. We have a very experienced cardiac surgery team and we have a cooperative effort with the cardiologists in the cath lab to quickly assess the situation and move the patient where she needs to go.”

St. Luke’s has long been a leader in heart care. The hospital has the area’s longest running open-heart surgery program, providing life-saving treatment for patients with severe arterial blockage and other serious heart disease. The surgical team’s expertise includes coronary bypass surgery, valve surgery and minimally invasive operations.

“People in our community can feel very confident about the level of heart care available at St. Luke’s,” says Dr. Levett. “For example, we’ve been doing bypass surgery with multiple arterial grafts for 15 years—a procedure, which produces better long-term results for patients. Most other programs don’t do it or are just starting to perform this technique.”

Dr. Levett adds, “We continue to expand our services to benefit our community and keep St. Luke’s on the forefront of cardiac technology. We’re installing an ECMO system—new technology, which enables us
to provide extended life support for patients who experience severe cardiac arrest or a pulmonary embolism. And we are developing a more extensive electrophysiology program for patients with abnormal heart rhythms, including maze surgery for atrial fibrillation.”

Susan Rompot, 59, of Cedar Rapids says her cardiologist, Dr. Georges Hajj, referred her to Dr. Levett after discovering three blockages in her arteries. “I was very lucky,” admits Rompot. “I could have had a heart attack at any time.”

Instead, she underwent open-heart surgery in July 2016, followed by cardiac rehab at St. Luke’s. “It was eye-opening to me that I needed major surgery, but I’m very thankful they caught the problem before there was any heart damage,” says Rompot. “My surgery went well and recovery was faster than anticipated.”

Rompot adds, “I highly recommend St. Luke’s. I wasn’t worried when I went into surgery. I knew I was in good hands.”

Therese Plummer agrees. “I’m alive today because of the team at St. Luke’s. They have everything you could want to help you heal and become a complete person again. Now I feel fabulous. I don’t worry about my heart at all."