Erica G. is an active woman. After a holiday with her husband, she started to feel progressively unwell. She suffered from inflammation of the heart muscle. To avoid a heart transplant, the Impella® heartpump was used. Now she is embracing life again and trying new things.
It started after the holiday
"I enjoy being active," says Erika. "I travel to faraway countries with my husband and want to experience as much as I can. I also liked to give it my all at work – until my body said stop. When I fell ill, all of that was no longer a possibility. What seemed like the flu at first turned out to be a serious case of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. Suddenly I only had a 50 per cent chance of survival. Thanks to the Impella heartpump and the first-class medical team at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, I can now enjoy my life again. Since then, I have been more than grateful for all the good days, and even the bad ones.
Shortly before I was hospitalised due to my illness, I had a wonderful holiday in Berlin with my husband Erik. We cycled a lot, explored the city and enjoyed our time there. I truly should have been coming home feeling wonderfully refreshed. It was all the more strange that one day after returning to my home in Denmark I suddenly got a headache. I'm not normally the headache type, and so I put it down to stress and didn't give it another thought. But as the week went on, I felt worse and worse. I thought it was a common cold.
However, in addition to the typical symptoms, I was experiencing a kind of tiredness that I had never felt before. Of course, I had been tired and exhausted now and then, as everyone is sometimes, but at that time I felt a certain apathy that I had never felt neither at home nor at work. It was incredibly difficult to get interested or motivated in anything whatsoever. I had no drive for it at all, let alone the strength. That gave me a lot to think about."
"Thanks to the Impella heartpump and the first-class medical team at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, I can now enjoy my life again. Since then, I have been more than grateful for all the good days, and even the bad ones.”
More than just a common cold
Strangely enough, other unusual complaints then appeared, such as disturbed appetite – which is really rare for me. In the meantime, I was afraid that I had swine flu, as I was feeling increasingly worse and had heard a lot about the disease through the media. I could not reach my GP. It didn’t look promising with the doctors on duty either, because I called in the middle of the summer holidays when pretty much all Danes are away. At the weekend I suddenly fell unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I called the emergency medical service, which can be compared to the medical on-call service in Germany.
Medical assistance is needed
"In the capital region around Copenhagen, people call this emergency medical service as a first step. Doctors and nurses assess the condition of the patient calling, and then decide whether they should be admitted to the emergency department. On the phone, they reassured me that people often pass out due to flu, so I didn't need to go to the emergency department. But over the weekend my condition continued to deteriorate: I had severe cognitive impairment and could no longer think clearly. My trouble breathing had become so severe that my husband Eric tried again to contact a doctor. He was lucky and was able to reach him, which was good news. But this was immediately followed by bad news: Unfortunately, the doctor didn't have time for a visit, but he believed me and advised me to call the emergency services again – this time they gave me the OK to go in. That same evening, my husband drove me to the nearest hospital."
The heart is badly affected
"My condition was really bad when I arrived. I vomited and the doctor couldn't feel my pulse. I was immediately sent to the emergency department. At that point I couldn't breathe properly and nobody knew what was wrong with me – myself included. For safety's sake, I was first put into a kind of quarantine. The medical team performed a computed tomography (CT) scan. They quickly found the cause of my condition: Water had collected in my lungs. At that time, the reason was not yet known, so further tests were carried out, which I unfortunately no longer remember. I finally woke up during the night and the doctor leaning over me told me that my heart had been badly affected."
Expertise and rapid diagnosis
"When it was clear that something was wrong with my heart, I was referred to Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, which has a specialist department for the diagnosis and treatment of all heart diseases. I still think very highly of the first hospital for handling the situation so professionally and recognising that a specialist hospital was needed. When I arrived at Rigshospitalet, my cardiac output was only five per cent. At this point, everything just felt very unreal. I was supposed to be in top shape because I did a lot of sport and ate a healthy diet. And still a part of my brain told me: "You haven't hit rock bottom yet". The rest of my brain no longer knew what was happening to me or going on around me.
At 4.30 in the morning, a cardiology team examined me. They could not detect any heart blockage or build-up of cholesterol. So my heart was in good shape, and my arteries looked good too. During the examination, however, they found that my immune system had turned against my body and triggered inflammation in the heart muscle, which caused my heart to become weaker and weaker."
"Since my surgery, I have had a photo taken of me and ‘my Impella’, as I affectionately call it. I'm its biggest fan, so to speak."
Two options to save my life
"I had two options to choose from: I could undergo a heart transplant or be treated with the Impella heartpump in combination with medication. The doctors decided on the latter, but also put me on the list for a donor heart straight away, just to be on the safe side.
Finally, the Impella was inserted through my groin to maintain my bloodstream. This was necessary to allow my heart to recover, because my body was no longer able to do this on its own. Over several days, it supported my heart and kept functioning until my heart could take over the necessary tasks again by itself. Not everything was sorted straight away, but my heart activity was much better. Since my surgery about two years ago, I have had a photo taken of me and ‘my Impella’, as I affectionately call it. I'm its biggest fan, so to speak."
Grateful for the great support
"The team at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen made sure that I was as comfortable as possible. This was evident in the many small gestures. For example, they gave me ice cubes to suck on because it was the middle of summer and incredibly hot. For this and all other support I really am extremely grateful. But I also owe a lot to my family, especially my husband. I met him during a trip through Brazil. I moved to Denmark from the USA for him and since then not only have we greatly enjoyed traveling together, but we know we can always rely on each other. My daughter and son, then 13 and 11 years old, also supported me during this time. My daughter even wants to study medicine since the incident. My mother flew all the way from the USA to Denmark to be there for me. All that helped me a lot."
"I only had a 50 per cent chance of survival – so I was very, very lucky and now I value my life much more. In the future, I want to be able to accept life more fully as it is, with all the good days as well as the bad."
Because life is not always easy
"I recovered and there was no longer an acute danger to my life, so I was transferred to the cardiopulmonary unit. As I was very weak at first, I had to practise walking and eating again. When I was discharged home eight days later, I initially felt like I was 90 years old. There were always setbacks and sometimes I only made slow progress, but my condition improved and I felt ever younger. Not only was the prescribed medication helpful, but also the various breathing techniques which taught me to "breathe out" any depressing memories of my illness.
Today my heart has recovered and my heart function is at 60 per cent. I'm embracing life again and trying new things. For example, I have been painting with acrylics for about a year and a half now. I'm still only a beginner, but I just enjoy it and like to experiment. I am still eating healthily and keeping physically active to do something good for my body.
I only had a 50 per cent chance of survival – so I was very, very lucky and now appreciate my life much more. In the future, I want to be able to accept life more fully as it is, with all the good days as well as the bad."