Beating Cancer and Heart Failure with a “One-Two” Punch
April 18, 2019
After successfully beating cancer, then 52-year-old UH nurse Teresa Harrison thought she was out of the woods when it came to her health. But, when she started experiencing extreme fatigue, she was told that she faced another battle – heart failure. Luckily for Teresa, she had access to University Hospitals’ cardio-oncology team of experts who helped her come out on top.
In June 2016, Teresa received some shocking news – she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With no prior family history of cancer, she was stunned when a small nodule on her collarbone turned out to be cancerous.
Making the Right Choice for Care
A former HealthSpan employee, Teresa did extensive research on area oncologists and cancer treatment centers, and settled on Brenda Cooper, MD, an oncologist with University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. “I believe she was sent to me by God,” said Teresa, who calls Dr. Cooper “her angel.”
“At my first appointment with Dr. Cooper, I knew I had made the right choice,” says Teresa. “I immediately felt a sense of peace and calm with her, and I knew I was going to be alright.” She responded very well to chemo. After four cycles of ABVD chemotherapy interspersed with anti-nausea treatments, Teresa’s PET scans showed no signs of a tumor.
“On the day I finished chemo, a “Victory Bell” was being installed at UH Seidman Cancer Center at the Monarch Building in Mayfield Heights, but it wasn’t ready for patients yet,” says Teresa. “So, I came prepared with my own personal bell that I rang proudly. The next day, I officially rang the Victory Bell at UH Seidman Cancer Center downtown.”
Although she rang the bell, Teresa wasn’t quite finished with her treatments. Dr. Cooper and a team of UH Seidman specialists determined that radiation was warranted, so Teresa underwent 17 very targeted radiation treatments at UH Minoff Health Center at Chagrin Highlands. In Nov. 2016, she was finally done and celebrated by taking a trip to Hawaii in January 2017.
A One in One Thousand Chance
In May of that year, Teresa started working as a clinical coordinator RN at an OB/GYN office at UH Landerbrook Health Center. One day while taking three flights of stairs at her office as she normally did, she felt, in her words, “like I was going to die” from exhaustion.
During one of Teresa’s follow-up appointments that spring, Dr. Cooper suspected that Teresa may have developed congestive heart failure, due to small plural effusions that were found on one of Teresa’s chest CT images. This prompted Dr. Cooper to order an echocardiogram, and the heart failure diagnosis was confirmed. It turned out that one of the medications used to treat Teresa’s cancer, Doxorubicin, had affected her heart.
“Dr. Cooper explained to me that this happens in only one in 1,000 patients who are treated with Doxorubicin,” said Teresa. “I couldn’t believe that I was the one.” According to Dr. Cooper, Teresa’s early diagnosis likely contributed to her good outcome.
UH Cardio-Oncology Program Specializes in Cases like Teresa’s
Upon diagnosis, Dr. Cooper contacted Guilherme Oliveira, MD, Director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. He saw Teresa right away and started her on oral medications as well as cardiac rehab.
“At her first appointment in August 2017, Teresa’s ejection fraction (the rate at which your heart pumps blood with each contraction) was just 15 percent,” said Jessica Just, RN, BSN, MSW, clinical nurse coordinator with UH Cardio-Oncology. “At her last appointment in Dec. 2018, her ejection fraction was up to 62 percent. The normal range is 55 to 65 percent.”
“We are extremely pleased with how Teresa responded to our plan of care,” said Dr. Oliveira. “With multiple interventions and medication therapy, we were able to restore her heart to normal, healthy function.”
Three Flights of Stairs? No Problem!
Now, Teresa can again walk up the three flights of stairs to get to her office without any problem. She’ll likely remain on medication for the rest of her life to maintain a healthy ejection fraction, but she is understandably grateful for the excellent care she received from UH. “Dr. Cooper was my first angel and Dr. Oliveira was my second angel, said Teresa. “Both doctors were so reassuring and told me that they would get me through this. And, they did.”