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December 2, 2012

Valley woman first to undergo noninvasive heart procedure in Terre Haute hospital

TERRE HAUTE — When Tina Spain noticed earlier this year that she had shortness of breath, she never suspected that she had a heart problem.

And, she never thought she would soon make local medical history by being the first person at a Terre Haute hospital to undergo the nonsurgical closure of a hole in her heart.

Spain was at the Providence Medical Center office of Dr. Neil Kabous on Thursday for a checkup just 16 days after her surgery. She returns to work at GE Aviation on Monday, after receiving a good report from Dr. Kabous, who performed the minimally invasive procedure.

“He is fabulous,” Spain said of Dr. Kabous and the repair to her heart, which would have required weeks of recovery if undertaken through open heart surgery. “Terre Haute does not realize what his knowledge brings to this community.”

A quality control inspector at GE Aviation, Spain said she had quit smoking this past March as part of her own wellness efforts. She had gotten out of shape after moving to Indiana in 2001, the Danville, Ill., native said.

When she had a seizure in June, she went to a neurologist for testing, but no neurological cause was found for the episode. She was then sent to a cardiologist, and testing found an atrial septal defect -- an ASD -- or, an opening in the tissue wall between the two upper chambers of the heart. The opening was allowing blood to flow between the chambers, changing the pressure in the heart and causing problems such as the shortness of breath.

In September, Spain had another seizure episode that landed her in Union Hospital, and it just happened that Dr. Kabous was on call at the time and was able to talk to Spain about a surgical technique that he had been trying to introduce in the Terre Haute medical community.

Testing also revealed that Spain had suffered a small stroke as a result of the ASD, and that the likelihood of her having another stroke because of it was high. Kabous explained to her that closing the hole in her heart could prevent further strokes.

“The 45 minutes that he sat with me in the hospital talking, and his bedside manner, he seemed like the guy with the best knowledge,” Spain said of her decision to be the first patient to undergo the procedure in Terre Haute.

Talking about the procedure and Spain’s recovery, Kabous told the Tribune-Star that if the hole in her heart had not been plugged using a septal occluder that is inserted into the heart via a catheter, the likelihood that another stroke would occur for Spain was anywhere from 10 to 30 percent.

“She had a minor stroke that she recovered from, but the next stroke, maybe not,” Kabous said. “I believe in my heart we have lowered her risk of recurrent stroke exponentially.”

Kabous said the procedure is something he has been trying to bring to the local medical community for several years.

Closing a hole in the heart is nothing new to science, he said, as surgeons have been performing that procedure for more than a decade.  But it has involved major surgery with the chest being cracked open and the patient’s blood flow diverted to a heart lung machine while the heart is stopped.

In this non-invasive procedure, a catheter was inserted in Spain’s leg. The device was guided through Spain’s blood vessels to reach her heart, and the device was then released to plug the hole and remain there permanently.

Rather than having a lengthy recovery in the hospital after having open heart surgery, Spain was able to leave the hospital the next day.

Kabous said the fact that the surgery occurred at Union Hospital was merely because that is where Spain went as a patient. He has medical priveleges at both Union and Terre Haute Regional hospitals.

His eagerness to do the surgery in Terre Haute is reflective of his philosophy that no heart patient needs to leave the Wabash Valley to go to an urban hospital in Indianapolis.

“I see no reason why any patient has to leave their home and go to another city to receive heart care,” Kabous said.

With the success of the procedure and Spain’s quick recovery to prove its success, Kabous said two other patients needing the same type of heart fix are planning to undergo the same procedure.

The doctor congratulated Spain for being brave enough to trust him with the procedure.

“It was formally only our third time meeting,” he said of the patient/doctor relationship he had with Spain. “She gave me the trust of a patient that I’ve had for 10 years. And she led the way to the future for everyone else here in town.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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