IU Health Bedford Hospital

When Bad Things Happen: Nurse Chooses Bloomington Heart Expert for Surgery

Patient Story

“Blunt force trauma between the sternum and the spine squeezed her heart like a water balloon.”

This is how IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians Cardiothoracic Surgeon David Savage, MD, explains Nichole Webb’s injuries from a Feb. 23, 2017, high-impact automobile accident on state Highway 37, just north of Martinsville.

From the scene of the accident, Nichole was transferred to IU Health Methodist as a Level 1 Trauma (most severe) patient. The impact of the crash fractured her sternum, caused head injuries and pulmonary contusions. She was stabilized, stayed overnight and was released to go home the next day. But there was still a long road to recovery – there were known injuries that could not be treated immediately. The impact had caused a traumatic pericardial diverticulum or “bubble” on her heart.

A nurse by trade and an emergency services professional staff development specialist for IU Health South Central Region, Nichole knew first-hand how her life could change forever. She researched experts for her follow-up care, and selected Dr. Savage.

“He came from a large trauma center with lots of experience and great outcomes. He had a track record of being very, very good at what he does,” Nichole says. “I had 100 percent confidence in him, and he had confidence that he could take care of it.”

Dr. Savage advised Nichole to wait six months before undergoing surgery to remove the 8 centimeter bubble that had formed on the lining of her heart. Because she had other symptoms (shortness of breath, chest pains and memory loss), he wanted to be sure she had an adequate amount of recovery time before proceeding. For the next two-and-a-half months Nichole was off work completely, followed by part-time work leading up to her surgery.

“When you have an unnecessary general anesthesia with a vulnerable brain you can often have blood pressure swings, and it sometimes can harm a person’s recovery,” Dr. Savage explains. “Sometimes you have to be smart about not only what you do but when you do it.”

Surgery day arrived on Aug. 31. While an open-heart surgery would have been required five years ago to reach the affected area, Dr. Savage used newer technology, a much-less invasive procedure called VATS – video assisted thoracoscopic surgery. The procedure is usually used during lung surgeries, so in that sense it was rather unusual.

“We inflated only one lung during the procedure so we could collapse the other, making it easier to reach the bubble (about 10 centimeters in size) attached to the lining of her heart,” Dr. Savage explains.

The odds were in Nichole’s favor and Dr. Savage was in her corner.

“I had pain (after surgery) but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing the things I wanted to do,” Nichole says. Following surgery she went to cardiovascular recovery for a few days before going home for seven weeks of rest.

“Her recovery has been phenomenal,” Dr. Savage said. “She had a major trauma, there’s no denying it. But she’s still walking and working.”

And she takes nothing for granted these days. “One minute everything is fine and you’re making plans, and in the very next breath, it’s gone. It’s unpredictable. It’s life changing."

“We are lucky to have this level of experience here in Bloomington,” Nichole adds. ”I knew that before surgery. I have IU students on the cardiovascular team and have seen them in action. They are absolutely amazing, and that went into my decision to have this done close to home.”

Featured IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians provider seeing patients for cardiothoracic surgery:
David Savage, MD

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