Mary Crump, a 52-year-old property manager, had an unrelenting fatigue yet could not sleep.
“When I was laying down on my pillow flat, it felt like I was drowning,” Crump said.
She couldn’t complete her work tasks and she had no energy for socializing with friends and family; she felt like she was watching precious years of her life slip by while she stayed mostly in bed.
Crump was experiencing symptoms of the dominant cause of death in Shelby County and much of the U.S. — heart disease. More specifically, chronic heart failure.
But a few months prior, Crump’s health, and her quality of life, were restored in a way that leaves her giddy. And it took roughly an hour to do so.
Crump underwent a minor procedure at Baptist Memorial Healthcare to receive a small device called the Optimizer.
The device, which is estimated to last about 20 years, delivers cardiac contractility modulation therapy. Or, in simpler terms, it produces tiny, timed electric pulses that help stabilize your heart’s rhythm.
“Unlike a pacemaker, it doesn’t cause the heart to contract, but it still delivers (a pulse),” said Steven Gubin, a cardiologist with Stern Cardiology.
Gubin is just as giddy as Crump. He points out that the Mid-South is “the epicenter” of heart disease and chronic heart failure, and a device like the Optimizer has the potential to significantly improve lives for patients like Crump.
And the accessibility, Gubin said, is almost as thrilling as the recovery.
The device and procedure are covered by Medicare and many insurance plans. The procedure is minimally invasive and does not require an elongated recovery period, so patients aren’t burdened with the need for time off from work.
And most importantly, he said, patients start to feel their symptoms of heart failure improve, “within the hour, sometimes minutes.”
And over time, Gubin said, the Optimizer reverses the effects of heart failure.
“So patients who have heart failure, their left ventricle and the right ventricle may be dilated and not pumping like it should,” Gubin said. “And by doing this reverse remodeling — within weeks or months the heart can start to go back towards normal size and start to contract better function more.”
The immediate and long-term relief Crump is experiencing causes her voice to crack when she looks back at her life prior to the procedure.
“My life has totally changed…it’s overwhelming. I can now do things that, for most people, is nothing. But for me, it’s everything,” Crump said.
Gone is the “cardiac” cough, the oppressive fatigue, missing church and having to explain to her granddaughter why she couldn’t make it to her dance recitals.
Her cardiac symptoms were initially downplayed by her former doctor — despite her documented familial history of heart disease. The relief she now feels after years of worsening symptoms and medical apathy has made an Optimizer evangelist out of Crump.
“I really hope it helped so many people, so many people. I really do. And that’s why I want to give my story. Because to be able to get up and walk around and enjoy life again. I just want that for everyone. Not just for myself,” Crump said.
Baptist was the first hospital system in Tennessee to offer the Optimizer’s therapy, and the treatment is also available in the hospital system’s DeSoto County location.
Since March 7, Gubin said, 22 patients have undergone the procedure for The Optimizer’s CCM therapy. Not one has been readmitted to the hospital in 30 days since the procedure. For chronic heart failure patients, he said, staying out of the hospital is a luxury.
“This is another tool in our toolbox,” Gubin said, referring to Baptist’s cardiac program. “The results I’ve seen are unbelievable. And that’s all I want for my patients, something that can really change their life.”
Micaela Watts is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal covering health, hospitals, and resource access. She can be reached at [email protected].