Dismiss Modal

Seventy-five-year-old Sharon Marsalis inspires faith and hope in her daily life.

A wife, oil painter, Bible teacher, mom, grandmom and furmom of three Whippet pups — she enjoys celebrating the beauty and inspiration found in everyday moments.

Gratefully, this wisdom as well as the medical expertise of our WakeMed Heart & Vascular team have helped her endure a long and complex history of congestive heart failure followed by nonischemic cardiomyopathy and arrhythmia that in recent years have brought on more severe challenges.

A Frightening History of Heart Issues

It all began in 2002 when Sharon started to experience extreme, chronic fatigue and a persistent cough.

Sharon says, “After shopping one night, I wanted to lie down in the parking lot and go to sleep. I had to force myself to get to my car and drive home.”

After several tests, coupled with her existing congestive heart failure, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and arrhythmia. She was stabilized for a while through a combination of diet and medication. However, it wasn’t long before she needed more advanced cardiovascular care. Her husband, Mike, highly recommended general and interventional cardiologist, Tapan Godiwala, MD, of WakeMed Heart & Vascular, and her relationship with WakeMed began.

Under his guidance and care, Sharon was fairly stable for several years, enjoying her life and receiving therapy through WakeMed Cardiac Rehabilitation. Then, her symptoms grew worse.

“My only symptoms of cardiomyopathy for years were shortness of breath and weakness when walking. I have always been slim and thought some weight gain was due to eating and not walking or exercising combined with age. I had no clue I had put on 21 pounds of fluid that was affecting my lung expansion and breathing,” says Sharon.

In the fall of 2019, Sharon became very ill. At first, she thought all the constant coughing, sleeplessness, wheezing and shortness of breath were from fall allergies that had been getting worse every fall for about four consecutive years.

Yet, since she was feeling so poorly, to be safe, Sharon decided to call Dr. Godiwala. His physician assistant (PA) ordered blood tests and a chest x-ray.

“By then, I was so worn out, tired, wobbly and fuzzy-brained with no appetite that my husband would not let me drive myself the short distance to WakeMed North Physician Practices for labs and an x-ray.”

Sharon’s results came back quickly. While the chest x-ray was clear, her labs revealed that her levels were dangerously low, and she was ordered to go immediately to the WakeMed North Hospital Emergency Department where she was admitted and underwent infusion treatment and additional imaging.

By early that evening on Wednesday, November 13, 2019, her care team determined that she needed to be transferred by ambulance from WakeMed North Hospital to the Raleigh Campus Heart Center. An echocardiogram had revealed that Sharon’s congestive heart failure was in the fatal range.

General and interventional cardiologist, Marc Silver, MD, FACC, scheduled Sharon for an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). However, Sharon’s persistent coughing and wheezing had grown increasingly worse, and the initial procedure had to be postponed.

Sharon says, “The hospital stay brought many urgent but hidden issues to light. A chest and back x-ray revealed that fluid was keeping my lungs from expanding properly. Other hidden pockets of fluid were revealed — as well as a large cancerous mass on my right kidney which we may not have known about until it was too late.”

Discouraged, Sharon prayed. She says, “In that moment, the problems didn’t change, but I had peace, and that peace has never left me. The Lord is preparing me for eternity in His presence and as pilgrims we are passing through. My Guide has never failed me, and He never will.”

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

Once emergent issues were treated and the care team was able to get Sharon’s coughing and air capacity within a safe range, Dr. Marc Silver implanted the ICD. This battery-powered device was placed in Sharon’s chest below the collarbone. It detects and stops irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), continuously monitors the heartbeat and delivers electric shocks, when needed, to restore a regular heart rhythm.

Sharon says, “In all, since the implant in 2019, I have had many shocks. I am so thankful for my ICD which has prevented sudden death in patients like myself with sustained ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation.”

An Electrical Conversion

While still in the hospital, after the defibrillator implantation, a WakeMed electrophysiologist and the care team performed an electrical conversion to aid in achieving a safer range for Sharon’s constant atrial fibrillations. Thereafter, Sharon was sent home on Friday, December 20, 2019 — after nearly six weeks in the hospital — with medications and well wishes for a happy holiday.

Sharon says, “After just one night, my crazy a-fib returned, and the next morning my apparently much needed defibrillator gave me 10 massive shocks: three in the car on the way to the emergency department and seven once I was there. My pulse was 225 beats per minute. I was admitted to WakeMed again.”

Heart Ablation

The WakeMed electrophysiologist and team then performed an ablation of Sharon’s upper chamber to help her heart beat at a rate that hopefully would not go into atrial fibrillation. Cardiac ablation is a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in the heart that allows incorrect electrical signals causing an abnormal heart rhythm. While before the ablation she was in atrial fibrillation 96 percent of the time, after the ablation her atrial fibrillation dropped to zero. Though ablation is not a cure, it often keeps symptoms away for a long period of time.

Ablation for Cancer

In February 2020, the slow-growing renal cancerous mass found on Sharon’s right kidney during her November 2019 hospital stay was treated by another type of ablation.

Sharon says, “After the risks for surgery and ablation were explained to my husband Mike and me, we decided to go with the renal ablation. WakeMed urologist, Ian Udell, MD, referred me to specialists at Raleigh Radiology for the ablation. I had a pre-op procedure which was performed successfully and then the ablation. Both procedures were at WakeMed.”

Dr. Udell says, “Due to her other comorbidities, we decided that surgery was not the safest option for the treatment of her renal mass (usually treated with surgical removal). Although this was somewhat unexpected for the patient to hear coming from a surgeon, our mission is to look at the patient as a whole and determine how our dedicated team here at WakeMed can best serve her. I am delighted that she did well.”

Today, Sharon’s cancer is in remission. She says, “Though the mass was larger than is usually done by ablation, my last scan showed no sign of the mass.”

More Ablations and a Settled Arrhythmia

Sharon was, again, sent home, and life returned to normal until about four months later, in the summer of 2020, when she had to head to the emergency department following more shocks from her defibrillator.

As her atrial fibrillation continued on and off, in October of 2020, she received another ablation. This time, the procedure was performed on the lower heart chamber because of dangerously sustained ventricular tachycardia and ventricular arrhythmias. The care team also worked hard to determine the best medications for Sharon’s condition. This, too, was achieved.

Today, Sharon remains under the watchful care of the experts at WakeMed Heart & Vascular. On April 5, she received another upper chamber heart ablation performed by electrophysiologist and complex arrhythmia cardiologist, Ashish Patel, MD, MPH, FACC.

Sharon says, “It is ideal how WakeMed Heart & Vascular is set up in multidisciplinary teams and all know my case. I have been impressed with how they have repeatedly called in excellent specialists from both cardiology and other disciplines to help me.”

A Heart Overflowing with Gratitude

She is followed by WakeMed advanced heart failure specialist, Stuart Russell, MD for congestive heart failure. Dr. Ashish Patel is her lead electrophysiologist and complex arrhythmia specialist. Dr. Godiwala continues to serve as her general cardiologist.

Sharon says, “I am so grateful for all the cardiologists, nephrologists, urologists, endocrinologists, respiratory therapists, PAs, nurse practitioners and nurse aids who helped when I needed them. I am also extremely thankful for WakeMed MyChart. A quick answer for anything from test results to questions to medications is an email away.”

“I wish to also thank the WakeMed Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. It is excellent. Even during COVID-19, the program was ably administered by nurses, counselors, nutritionists, therapists, exercise specialists and a cardiologist. So many names to mention, but I particularly remember Carol, Beth, Ethan and Molly though all were excellent, professional and caring. I was carefully monitored, and the portable ECG results were reported to WakeMed electrophysiologist, Mark Englehardt, MD, at each session.”

About WakeMed Heart & Vascular

WakeMed Heart & Vascular physicians bring together expert cardiovascular, thoracic and vascular surgeons who are dedicated to delivering the highest level of cardiovascular care in Raleigh, Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner and Clayton, N.C. For decades, these physicians have chosen to bring their talent and expertise to WakeMed for its reputation for excellence in cardiovascular care and commitment to providing the most exceptional patient experience.

Blog URL

WakeMed Heart & Vascular