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Student fights rare complication from common virus

You'd never know it to see Chelsea-Ann Patry today, but she almost died from something that sneaks up on some people

Dr. Katz, Chelsea-Ann Patry, patient
Dr. Marc Katz watches as James Gallant high-fives medical student Chelsea-Ann Patry. Gallant and Patry have a couple of things in common: Both have had heart problems and were treated by Katz. Photos by Sarah Pack
Helen Adams | | December 7, 2017

It started with a fever and chills. It almost ended in death.

Chelsea-Ann Patry was a second-year medical student in Greenville trying to avoid going to the hospital on Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend because she didn’t want to pay the insurance deductible and didn’t think she was that sick.

She would soon realize the cost was the least of her worries.

Patry’s illness had seemed pretty routine, at first. A trip to a clinic led to a diagnosis of some kind of virus that would have to run its course, and then she’d be back to normal. But days later, she was still sick — and getting worse. The former college soccer player, now in her mid-20s, had never felt that bad before. “I have some really good friends who forced me to go to the emergency room,” she said.

If they hadn’t, she might not be alive today. At the Greenville hospital, a test showed she’d developed viral myocarditis, which meant her heart muscle was dangerously inflamed. It’s a rare complication linked to some viruses, including the common cold.

“Just an ordinary virus. It’s pretty bad luck,” Patry said. “Eventually, they had to transport me to MUSC because they have the support to deal with this.”

Dr. Katz 
Dr. Marc Katz 

What she didn’t know at the time was that the heart team at the Medical University of South Carolina had recently undergone a shift in the way it worked. Cardiothoracic surgeon Marc Katz described the change. “At one time in medicine, decisions about the best treatment frequently ended up as a tug of war. Each doctor had his own specialty and said, ‘My way is better.’ Now we have the heart team model.”

That team worked to save Patry’s heart. “I don’t remember anything of this, but they had to put me on ECMO and later on LVAD and RVAD,” she said. ECMO is extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a treatment that uses a machine to do the work of the lungs and heart. LVAD and RVAD are the left and right ventricular assist devices that helped her failing heart pump blood while it fought off the damage done by the virus.

“They thought I was going to need a heart transplant,” Patry said. “But just being on the devices helped my heart recover, and I’m very, very lucky,” Patry said. “I didn’t need a heart transplant. My heart is pretty much normal.”

About a year later, she returned to MUSC. This time, she wasn’t a patient. She was a medical student trying to decide which specialty to focus on. “Anesthesia, cardiology, I wouldn’t rule surgery out.”

She heads back to medical school in January, armed with some knowledge you can’t get from a book or a lecture. “I can totally understand what it feels like to be in that hospital bed, being scared and anxious and not really sure what’s happening.”

While doctors have told her she’s highly unlikely to have myocarditis again, comparing it to being struck by lightning twice in the same spot, Patry is wary. “Logically I know it probably won’t, but emotionally it’s very scary any time I get sick again.”

While myocarditis is rare, here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Shortness of breath that develops a week or two after a virus sets in
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness

(Source: Myocarditis Foundation)

New era of heart therapy research at MUSC (Live 5 News, Oct. 2, 2017)

'What the heck is a plank?' (MUSC News, Sept. 22, 2017)

A heart beats on, two decades after its transplant broke ground in South Carolina (The Post and Courier, July 16, 2017)

Man with big heart makes cardiac history at MUSC Health (MUSC News, March 8, 2017) 

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