Catherine Smith got her start in healthcare as a cardiovascular nurse. She worked hard and eventually became the System Director of Cardiovascular Operations at Edward-Elmhurst Heart Hospital. Although treating heart disease has always been a part of her career, her experience with it hasn’t always been within the hospital walls.
Smith has been around heart disease her entire life. Her grandmother passed away from it, along with all seven of her grandmother’s siblings. Smith’s own mother’s life was also cut short by a massive heart attack. Knowing her family’s history, she was motivated to take preventive measures that would ensure the same fate never happened to her.
Smith took good care of herself. She exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, and watched her diet and cholesterol levels. Smith had no noticeable indications of heart issues. So when a friend and fellow nurse suggested they both get heart scans together, Smith figured, “Why not?’” And registered for the test along with her friend.
That was when her life changed forever.
Smith failed the screening and was advised to see a cardiologist as soon as possible. Without much time to process it at all, she went from being Director of Cardiovascular Operations to being a cardiac patient. While she had many questions about her newfound diagnosis, there was no question as to where she would receive care: with her team at Edward-Elmhurst Heart Hospital.
Smith, who works alongside cardiologists every day, turned to her colleague and renowned interventional cardiologist, Mark Goodwin, M.D. Initially, he recommended a general stress test, but after hearing from Smith’s co-workers and close friends that she was experiencing occasional episodes of chest pain, Dr. Goodwin suggested something more robust: a coronary angiogram.
When Smith awoke from the angiogram, saw her husband sitting next to her in the holding room, and saw the white board with an illustration of the blockages Dr. Goodwin had drawn for her husband, she knew the diagnosis was worse than she imagined.
The results of the angiogram showed aggressive coronary disease of the left anterior coronary artery — one of the worst Dr. Goodwin had seen in his 30-year career. Her left anterior coronary artery was narrowed in three different places: 60% at the top, 90% in the middle, and 80% at the bottom.
Bryan Foy, M.D., a premier cardiovascular surgeon, who also works with Smith on a daily basis, was brought in to collaborate with Dr. Goodwin. They recommended the placement of two stents to open the blockages, rather than performing open heart surgery. With a team that she trusted by her side, Smith underwent the procedure of having two stents placed.
The procedure was performed without a hitch. To make the most of her recovery, Smith changed her mindset and removed her director hat, determined to fully immerse herself in the patient experience and let the physicians and her team take the lead — helping her progress through her recovery, which included cardiac rehabilitation.
Being on the receiving end of healthcare, Smith gained a new perspective of the patient’s point of view. She always felt that the Edward-Elmhurst cardiovascular team of doctors, nurses and staff exceled in the care they provided to patients and their families. But when she experienced it for herself firsthand, she found it to be true every step of the way — from diagnosis to recovery.
Five years later, Smith is feeling great. She’s back to her fulfilling job, and her normal routine of eating healthy, exercising and treating her heart right. Today when she’s running cardiovascular operations for the entire system, she’s thinking about what it was like to sit in that hospital gown and she’s using that experience to help ensure patients have the same confidence in their heart doctors and staff as she had in hers.
Her one piece of advice for anyone reading is this: “Please, get a heart scan, no matter how healthy you think you are. It only takes 15 minutes, is comprehensive and totally painless. The information is invaluable and could save your life.”
For Catherine Smith, System Director of Cardiovascular Operations at Edward-Elmhurst Heart Hospital, this is personal. Learn more about what makes our heart program so special.
Find out your risk for heart disease. Take a free, 5-minute test that could save your life.
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