Southeastern Health

“It was my heart’s desire to stay”

Just two days before her 76th birthday, Lucille Oxendine, of Pembroke, received the devastating news that she had a large tumor in her heart that was inoperable. Oxendine’s health had been going downhill for the last two years, but her most recent weak health is what brought her to the emergency room at Southeastern Regional Medical Center (SRMC) on April 24, 2015, where everything changed.

Oxendine was admitted to SRMC’s intensive care unit with heart failure and was diagnosed with having atrial myxoma, which is a mass that grows within the heart.  According to Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Terry Lowry, of Southeastern Health Heart and Vascular and Duke Cardiovascular Surgery of Lumberton, Oxendine was not a candidate for surgery at first because she was too sick at that point to consider a big operation.

After a week in the ICU, Oxendine was transferred to Southeastern Hospice House and later released home for in-home care.  Oxendine’s family was informed that she may not live six months. 

“They told me it was growing and they couldn’t tell me how long it had been in my heart,” said Oxendine.  “If it keeps growing it is going to kill me, and I said ‘Well I’m going back to the hospital, and I’m going to tell them that I want the tumor taken out.’”

During a follow-up clinic appointment, Dr. Lowry evaluated her condition and her health had actually improved.  She was then a candidate for surgery but there were some obvious risks involved.

“In her case, the tumor was on the left side of the heart.  These tumors generally break apart very easily,” said Dr. Lowry.  “The tumor was sitting right above one of the valves to the heart.  So every time the heart would beat, this tumor would go in and out, obstructing that valve and causing her to be basically in heart failure.  And because the tumor is very friable [easily crumbled], she would be at risk of having embolic strokes.”

Dr. Lowry said that Oxendine had what is called cardiomyopathy, which means that the heart doesn’t squeeze normally.  He added that the biggest risk for her was not necessarily removing the tumor but how her heart would tolerate being on

After some discussion with Dr. Lowry regarding the details of the procedure, the recovery process and the risks, Oxendine proceeded with surgery on September 23, 2015, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to live long with the tumor still inside her heart.

Ms. White Experience

“I was never scared when I found out he was going to operate on me.  I figured if I kept it in there, I know I’ll die,” she said.  “I have done well ever since.”

Dr. Lowry said that Oxendine’s surgery was the first time that an atrial myxoma was removed at SRMC and the tumor was the largest that he has ever seen. 

“I told him (Dr. Lowry) that I will never be able to tell him what he has done for me and what he has done for my life by taking out the tumor,” Oxendine said.  “My children depend on me a lot.  It was my heart’s desire to stay. I want to stay with them as long as I can.”

Patients, like Oxendine, benefit from having a local heart center.

“When we started the program here, we started primarily doing low-risk patients and as time has gone on, we have evolved to do patients that are higher risk, as in her case,” said Dr. Lowry.  “And in the future, we expect to expand that even further and do more complex, high-risk type cases.”

Southeastern Health Heart and Vascular is managed by Duke Medicine and located on the campus of SRMC. The Center, which opened in 2006, offers full-service heart, thoracic, and vascular procedures.  For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Duke Cardiovascular Surgery of Lumberton at (910) 671-6619 or visit www.southeasternheart.org.

Kelli B. Skipper is a content writer and community engagement specialist for Southeastern Health.

Last Updated ( Monday, 25 July 2016 13:53 )  

Southeastern Heart and Vascular News

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