Life threw a dramatic curve ball to Matt and Krissy Richard of Fort Thomas.
The drama started on a Thursday morning, as Krissy prepared breakfast for their four, young children.
When Matt walked downstairs, she quickly realized something was very wrong.
“He was very confused. He kept saying, ‘I woke up at the wrong point. I feel like I need to go back to sleep,'” remembers Krissy.
Coffee didn’t help.
When their son asked a question about baseball, Matt – a former college baseball player – didn’t know the answer. And, Matt had no idea why remodeling contractors were at their home, even though he had planned the project for months.
“I got scared and decided that we needed to take action,” said Krissy.
With her parents’ help, Krissy rushed Matt to St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas.
“It’s only a three-minute drive, but by the time we got there, Matt didn’t know his boss’s name or even what year it was,” remembers Krissy.
When they reached the Emergency Department, Matt collapsed.
“The nurses and doctors helped us immediately and were wonderful,” says Krissy. “They ordered tests and MRIs to figure out what was going on.”
Just when Matt seemed to be improving, even joking about current events, his heart suddenly stopped.
“It was terrifying. His heart monitor flatlined,” says Krissy. “No heartbeat for 22 seconds. I worried – is he going to come back?”
A stunning diagnosis
A team of doctors at the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute discovered that Matt, who was young and active, has a problem with the electrical system of his heart, called asystole. His heart was having dangerous, long pauses.
“It’s a dangerous scenario,” says Dr. Christian Hays, Electrophysiologist. “When you have a rhythm disorder that causes long pauses between heartbeats, people can suffer seizures, brain damage, or have a bad accident if it happens while driving.”
And that’s not all. Tests revealed that Matt also had a hole in his heart that allowed blood clots and debris to travel to his brain.
“The hole is called a PFO, patent foramen ovale,” said Dr. Kevin Miller, Interventional Cardiologist. “He had been having small strokes for some time without realizing it.”
A slow heart rate and mini-strokes can cause confusion and memory loss.
When Matt heard the news, he was shocked. “I was only 35. Always active. My wife and I run races together. Sometimes I get headaches, but I thought I was healthy otherwise.”
A tiny pacemaker. A big solution.
To correct Matt’s irregular heartbeat, Hays offered Matt a new, high-tech pacemaker called the Medtronic Micra. It’s the smallest pacemaker in the world – only about two centimeters in length, the size of a large vitamin pill.
“Using a catheter, we deliver the tiny pacemaker to the heart and implant it directly into the bottom chamber, and it stays there,” said Hays. “We set the device to pace the heart at 60 beats a minute, or whatever is appropriate for the patient. He won’t pass out should he have another episode.”
Traditional pacemakers are still the “gold standard” choice for many patients, but they’re larger and require wires to the heart and a bulky generator that is placed in a surgical pocket created in the patient’s skin.
Hays is one of the first physicians in the area to offer the tiny, new pacemaker. He says it’s an excellent choice for an active young person like Matt because it offers him an opportunity to live a normal life.
“I am so grateful,” says Matt. “Traditional pacemakers are wonderful, but I’m happy not to have a protrusion in my chest. And no wires. My new pacemaker is truly out of sight, but if my heart rate slows, it’s there for me.”
Closing the hole in Matt’s heart
A couple weeks later, Miller repaired the hole in Matt’s heart to reduce the risk of blood clots traveling to his brain.
“We went into his heart with an ultrasound camera and a mesh coil that closes the hole permanently,” explains Miller.
Matt takes aspirin now, but other than that, his lifestyle has changed very little. That same month, Matt was back at the baseball field watching his son’s baseball games.
“It is truly amazing what they’re able to do with technology,” Matt said. “I had complex issues, and my doctors worked together extremely well to help me.”
“We feel like God led us straight to St. Elizabeth,” said Krissy. “We can’t thank them enough for the care they gave us.”
“I’m a husband, have four kids and a lot of folks depend on me. I’m truly grateful for my doctors at St. Elizabeth,” said Matt. “I got the best cardiology care right here in my neighborhood.”