Mother Fully Recovers After a Virus Attacked Her Heart
After a virus attacked Jenny DeVoe's heart, her doctors’ quick thinking and a tiny pump made heart recovery possible
Jenny DeVoe, 36, felt achy, had a fever and sensed some flutters in her heart.
It was January 2017, the height of the flu season. Her family including her two boys, Dyllan, 15, and Jackson, 2, had been sick in recent days and she thought that she had caught their bug.
On Saturday, January 7th, she awoke to get ready for work, but had trouble breathing and nearly fainted in the shower. Her parents, who had come to babysit her son, Jackson, found her sitting on her bed, out of breath and exhausted. Yet Jenny was determined to go to work.
But first, she decided to have her father drive her to the local urgent care center. When she had trouble walking to the car, Jenny’s father, a former volunteer firefighter, suspected that Jenny’s condition was more serious than a quick trip to urgent care. Instead, he drove her directly to the emergency room (ER) in Dowagiac, Michigan.
When she got out of the car, Jenny felt sick to her stomach and passed out into her father’s arms in the parking lot. In the ER, physicians found that her heart was racing – as fast as if she had just run a marathon – and gave her various medications to slow her heart down, which did not work.
They realized that she needed additional cardiac expertise, so they decided to transfer her to a larger hospital.
Jenny had deteriorated into cardiogenic shock, a life-threatening condition in which the heart is suddenly unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to support the body’s vital organs.
Dr. David Wohns, an interventional cardiologist at Spectrum, immediately placed an Impella CP®, a tiny heart pump inserted through a catheter in Jenny’s femoral artery to her heart’s main pumping chamber. “The device helps pump blood out of her heart to the rest of the body, including her vital organs, allowing her heart to rest and recover,” Dr. Wohns said. But Jenny was so weak and her vital organs were severely at risk.
A biopsy confirmed that Jenny had acute myocarditis, a life-threatening inflammation of the heart muscle that can affect its rhythm and ability to pump.
The disease is hard to diagnose because it is rare, typically affects relatively young and healthy patients, and its early symptoms are similar to those of the flu and other common illnesses. As with most cases of myocarditis, the cause of Jenny’s illness was unknown, Dr. Wohns said.
Jenny was told that she may need a heart transplant. She worried about who would take care of her boys. She wondered if she would ever get her life back, or be able to spend the summer at the lake with her family. She worried that she would never get to go home.
Two days after putting in the Impella CP, Jenny’s doctors knew that her heart needed more support, so they chose to implant the Impella 5.0®, a stronger pump that would be inserted into the axillary artery under her arm.
In order to place the Impella 5.0 in the axillary artery, Dr. Marzia Leacche a cardiothoracic surgeon with Spectrum, surgically created an access point. Once the Impella 5.0 was in, the change in Jenny’s condition became apparent almost immediately.
“It was like night and day,” Jenny said.
She started to regain her skin color and strength. Soon she was able to get up to sit in a chair. Eventually, due to the placement of the pump in her axillary artery, Jenny would be able to ambulate and walk the hospital floor. While on support, Jenny’s heart was able to rest and recover.
Days later, the Impella 5.0 was removed and Jenny was discharged from the cardiac intensive care unit. Jenny lived with her parents for about a month as she worked to regain her strength so that they could help care for her sons. She returned to work just after Valentine’s Day, less than a month after she was discharged.
Jenny did not suffer any permanent heart damage. Her ejection fraction is back in the normal range. Now she can once again keep up her boys – both the active toddler and her teenage son, who is on the travel soccer and wrestling teams. She is back in her bowling league.
“She had a remarkable recovery,” Dr. Leacche said.
Jenny participated in Abiomed’s Patient Summit in August 2017, where she was able to meet the team who assembled the device, which along with the clinical care team, helped save her life. She also met other Impella patients and shared her story.
She knows it could have been a very different story if she hadn’t ended up at one of the hospitals in Michigan that had Impella technology.