Published: Jan. 25, 2008
Updated: Sept. 16, 2010
Specialized Care Restores Complete Heart Function to Cardiomyopathy Patient
By Jeni Baker
In January 2007, Andy Blanton saw his primary care physician for a routine physical. The news he received was anything but routine.
Blanton, a busy executive with a Rocky Mount, N.C.-based food service company, had been very tired, he says, but had no reason to suspect that something was seriously amiss. During his physical, he underwent a series of tests, including an echocardiogram and a stress test. Shortly after he left, his doctor’s office called and asked him to return immediately.
Blanton was told he was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a potentially life-threatening condition that weakens the heart muscle, causing it to pump blood inefficiently. A number of diverse factors can cause cardiomyopathy -- from heart attacks and viral infections to alcoholism and kidney disease -- and it can develop in people of all ages. It is not uncommon for the cause to remain unknown.
“Even though I was only 41 years old and in reasonably good health, I was told that my heart was pumping only about 16 percent of the blood it was supposed to be pumping,” he recalls. “I’d never even heard of cardiomyopathy -- and was basically sent home to read about it on my own. I was terrified.”
“I started looking at statistics online -- not knowing if they applied to me or not -- and it scared me so much that I just stopped looking,” he says. “Cardiomyopathy isn’t a well-understood disease to begin with, so trying to discern which information was valid and which wasn’t was tough.”
That’s when a friend referred Blanton to cardiologist E. Magnus Ohman, MD, at the Duke Heart Center, where he underwent a heart catheterization so that Ohman could get a closer look at what was going on.
“Mr. Blanton had very poor heart function when he came to us, but we determined that he had no significant blockages or other underlying causes for a weak heart,” Ohman says. “It’s likely that he had an infection at some point, and that, plus stress, weakened his heart over time.”
Now a year out from his frightening diagnosis, Blanton is doing very well. To maintain his now-healthy heart, he’ll continue to take a beta blocker and a statin, work on managing stress, and be vigilant about getting regular checkups for the rest of his life.
“When we treat cardiomyopathy patients with medications that are appropriate for their particular condition, we often can restore their heart function,” Ohman says. “Within six months of his first visit, we had restored Mr. Blanton’s normal heart function. He can now enjoy a nearly normal lifestyle and may continue to improve over the next few years.”
Blanton has nothing but praise for the care he’s received at Duke.
“From the moment we first walked in, Dr. Ohman and Gail [Cox, RN] put me and my wife at ease,” he says. “They’ve taken the time to listen and answer our questions, shown genuine concern for my well-being, and really treated my whole family, not just me and my heart disease.
“Doctors don’t often take the time to get to know you as a person, but Gail and Dr. Ohman have both done that,” Blanton continues. “They’ve always sent us home with peace of mind, which has been immeasurably valuable in terms of me getting better. My care at Duke has been totally different than anything we’ve ever experienced in medicine.”