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Making broken hearts whole again

Innovative heart procedure fixes hole in the heart
Mandan resident Tracy Zeeb was born with a hole in her heart. But she never knew her heart was defective until she had a stroke. She was only 34 years old. In one respect, Zeeb was fortunate. Had the hole been discovered a few years ago, she’d have undergone open heart surgery. Instead, the repair was done with a simple, outpatient procedure introduced in Bismarck by Sanford Health ’s Dr. Karthik Reddy, a board certified cardiologist.

Performed in Sanford Health’s cardiac catheterization lab, this innovative technology, known as percutaneous closure of atrial septal defect, offers patients several benefits: little or no pain, shorter hospital stays, faster recoveries and no cutting into the chest or resulting scar. Most patients return to work within a few days, whereas open heart surgery involves general anesthesia, a major surgical incision, a hospital stay of three to four days and a delay of three to four weeks before normal activities resume.

While the technology is new to the Bismarck region, Dr. Reddy completed advanced training in this procedure at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and had successfully performed this procedure many times prior to joining Sanford Health, which installed the equipment in May. Zeeb was one of Dr. Reddy’s first patients at Sanford Health.

  Tracy Zeeb is back doing things she loves after innovative heart procedure to fix the whole in her heart.
Thanks to an innovative heart procedure to repair the hole in her heart, Tracy Zeeb is back doing the things she loves including raising Black Angus cattle.

A hole between the heart’s upper chambers is one of the most common types of congenital heart defects, Dr. Reddy said. Many patients reach adulthood before the condition is discovered. When it’s diagnosed, it’s usually because the patient experiences a medical crisis. Strokes, heart enlargement and heart failure can result from leaving the hole open.

Dr. Karthik Reddy
Reddy, MD


  Zeeb’s medical crisis began with a tingling on the left side of her body. She attributed it to a pinched nerve. When the tingling moved into her face, she became alarmed and went to see a doctor, who immediately suspected a stroke and rushed Zeeb to the hospital.

Though initial diagnostic exams didn’t reveal the hole, Zeeb was placed on medication to control mini-strokes that followed.

Zeeb returned to normal activities, working at Heart River Animal Hospital and raising registered Black Angus cattle. Over time, she began to experience chronic fatigue, shortness of breath and loss of strength.

“I thought there had to be more wrong and something that could be done,” she said. “I became my own best advocate and went to doctors asking them to look for what might be wrong.”

After doing a thorough history and physical examination, doctors ordered a transesophageal echocardiography (TEE)—an ultrasound test that is completed by guiding an endoscope down the patient’s esophagus to view the heart’s valves and chambers—which confirmed his suspicion that Zeeb had a hole in her heart chamber.

Zeeb thanks the doctors and staff at Sanford Health for listening to her concerns and ultimately discovering the hole. "I’d heard a lot of good things about Dr. Reddy, too, so I was glad I could stay in Bismarck and get this fixed.”

Dr. Reddy examined Zeeb’s heart hole using a camera attached to a long, flexible tube called a catheter, which was gently threaded into Zeeb’s heart through a blood vessel. Using a similar process, Dr. Reddy placed the catheter with a wire mesh patch attached to it over the hole and repaired the hole by sealing it with the quarter-sized patch.

“During the procedure, I was awake the whole time and watched it on the screen,” Zeeb said. “I could talk to Dr. Reddy and tell him how I was feeling. It was pretty interesting. I had no pain, and I was pretty comfortable the whole time. The technology is unbelievable now.”

Zeeb is grateful to Sanford Health and the cardiology team—whose expertise contributed to finding and correcting her heart problem. She offers this advice to others: “If you’re young and have a stroke, I’d encourage you to ask the doctor to do a TEE test right away.”

Click here for more information on Sanford Cardiology or call (701) 323-5202.


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