February last year I had an agonising pain on my side over my liver. My Doctor thought it was shingles (which it turned out to be) but to be safe ordered an ultrasound. The radiologist who did my ultrasound was standing over me holding the transducer (probe? Not sure what it’s called!) over my side when he tripped over his own feet. The transducer moved to over my heart. He began apologising but then looked at the monitor. “There’s something in your heart” he told me. He finished with the liver and then decided to investigate around my heart further. He found a 3 x3x2 mass in my right ventricle.
My GP told me it was probably just a shadow but she would refer me to a cardiologist anyway, especially as I had on again off again low blood pressure. Two months later I finally get to see the cardiologist. He too thinks it is just a shadow but orders an echo. The radiologist who conducted the echo was flabbergasted. “I’ve never seen anything like it”. The cardiologist sent me for a cardiac MRI. This is not covered by Medicare or private insurance in Australia so I had to tell my parents so I could borrow the $800. The MRI showed the mass and they guessed it was a myxoma. The MRI also showed similar but smaller masses in my liver.
My cardiologist at this time was trying to find a specialist who would help me. The hospitals around my area did not have the capabilities to investigate it. Finally my cardiologist found someone at St Vincent’s Hospital in the city willing to look at the scans. By this time I had begun to get out of breath just walking to my car. The cardiologist suggested it was psychosomatic but ordered a special lung test anyway. The radiologist told me I had blood clots in my lungs and I should see the cardiologist that day as an emergency. I could not get in to see the cardiologist but he called me and arranged for me to see the Dr at St Vincent’s the next day.
The Dr at the city hospital was sceptical. He said if he could see it on an ordinary echo (which he doubted) he would do a biopsy. The echo was done, by now the mass was 4x4x3 and was starting to block the tricuspid valve. It had taken over a good part of the right ventricle. This Dr then referred me to a surgeon that day.
Now I was to have open heart surgery in the next few weeks to remove it. The Dr told me there was a 5% chance I’d need a bypass with a vein taken out of my leg and an even smaller chance I would need a pacemaker. After getting ready for surgery three times over the next two weeks (they had to keep cancelling as they cannot do an operation if there are no ICU beds) my surgeon arranged with my insurance to go to a private hospital but it meant I’d need a new surgeon.
I had the surgery on the 17th June, two days before my 27th birthday. The Dr came out after seven hours and told my family it had been a success. They had had to remodel my entire right ventricle using a patch made from a vein in my leg. Due to this I would need a pacemaker. They also could not get all of the mass so it was likely one day in the future it would grow back. They had also repaired the tricuspid valve. He went back in to take me off the bypass machine. My family was relieved. He then came back out to tell them something had gone wrong. My heart was fine but they could not re-inflate my lungs. He suggested they call the rest of the family and my son as it was not looking good. Transplant was out of the question as the mass had yet to be cleared of malignancies. A scrub nurse working in the theatre suggested to the Doctor I go to the public hospital next door as they had an ECMO machine. You can last longer on an ECMO machine than a heart/lung bypass.
I was on the ECMO machine for a week before my lungs started to work properly. I awoke a few days after that (freaking out as there was a tube in my throat and wires coming out of my stomach). I had thought I had been under for 6 hours so it took a while to adjust to the fact it had almost been two weeks. I then began to recover slowly. I had a permanent pacemaker put in shortly after.
The surgeon told me if I had not discovered the heart tumour when I had I would not have been alive today. I still have to get regular checks to make sure it hasn’t grown back but I’ve been told if it does I will get a heart transplant which is an easier operation. I sent a thank you note and a box of chocolates to the clumsy radiologist who saved my life.
Edit Proof: For the part about the surgery and ECMO: http://imgur.com/WKTEn The clumsy sonogropher's incidental finding: http://imgur.com/QMv2H Some scar photos, I also have a few scars on my neck from the ECMO and a pacemaker scar but they are pretty boring: http://imgur.com/NvQj0 http://imgur.com/wJgAs
TL;DR: Sonographer meant to ultrasound my liver, tripped over his own feet and discovered a heart tumour that would have killed me