TUPELO, Miss. — Two young men recently made heart history at North Mississippi Medical Center.
On June 24, Patrick Keith and Chris Gentry, both 25 and from Tupelo, became the first two patients to undergo surgery locally for congenital heart defects as a result of a cooperative effort between NMMC and the Children’s Heart Center at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
Vishal Sachdev, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon and chief of surgery at NMMC, operated with Jorge Salazar, M.D., chief of congenital heart surgery and co-director of the Children’s Heart Center at UMMC. Both patients were born with tetralogy of Fallot, a rare and complex heart defect that blocks the normal flow of blood through the heart.
“Right after I delivered Patrick, he had to be airlifted to Jackson because one side of his heart wasn’t developed,” explained Keith’s mother, Bobbie Sue Rollins of Tupelo. “His first surgery was when he was 18 hours old to repair a hole in his heart and insert a shunt.” He had surgery again at 6 months old and at 5 years old.
He fared well until 2009, when his heart condition forced him to quit his job. “I was very short of breath and had a racing heartbeat. I stayed tired,” Keith said. “I tried to do something, but it just wouldn’t work. I didn’t feel like doing anything.”
Local cardiologist Benjamin Blossom, M.D., diagnosed Keith with a leaky heart valve and referred him to Dr. Salazar in Jackson. At his appointment, Keith told Dr. Salazar he wished he could have his surgery in Tupelo.
Shortly thereafter, local cardiologist Francisco Sierra, M.D. referred Chris Gentry to Dr. Salazar. Also born a “blue baby,” Gentry had surgery at 10 months old to repair a hole in his heart and had done well until shortness of breath and fainting spells forced him to quit work a few years ago.
Dr. Salazar and his team had been hoping to expand their services around the state, and with two young men in Tupelo needing valve replacement surgery, the timing seemed right. They contacted Dr. Sachdev and made all the necessary arrangements.
“We have been performing adult heart surgeries in Tupelo for more than 30 years,” Dr. Sachdev said. “Historically, babies born with congenital heart defects didn’t live very long. With advances in technology, a growing number of these children are surviving well into adulthood, and we want to be able to care for them here.
“We were looking for a solution to provide the best patient care for these individuals. That is why we set up this team approach, so they can get local care with the diagnostic expertise of our cardiologists and the surgical expertise of our cardiothoracic surgeons.”
Congenital heart surgery is relatively new to Mississippi. Before Dr. Salazar helped found the Children’s Heart Center in April 2010, a majority of Mississippi children with congenital heart defects were sent out of state for their operations.
With these two cases performed June 24, NMMC became the first hospital outside of Jackson where Dr. Salazar has performed a major operation, and he and his congenital heart surgery team believe it’s only the beginning for a thriving partnership in north Mississippi. “North Mississippi Medical Center has such an excellent heart program already-all we had to do was bring in the congenital component,” Dr. Salazar said. “These patients are receiving excellent care. It makes us feel good to know that we can do this in a place where it wasn’t before possible.”
Both men and their families were extremely grateful for the opportunity. “I’m very glad they did it here because it was closer to the house,” said Gentry, who also expressed gratitude to Sherman Baptist Church and Lifeline Fellowship for their support, which wouldn’t have been possible had he been hospitalized out of town.
“We really appreciate them coming here to do it,” added his mother, Ann Bowman of Clarksdale. “I would have gone wherever, but it was easier to come here.”
“You would have to go through it to understand how much better it is to be home and have family and friends to come help you,” Rollins said. “It has meant so much to us that NMMC allowed these doctors to come from Jackson.”
Mary Taylor, M.D., chief of pediatric critical care and co-director of the Children’s Heart Center, was also in Tupelo the week of the surgeries. “Our results are very strong when compared to the very best programs in the nation, many of which have been established for 20-30 years,” Dr. Taylor said. “It’s a testament to the whole team.”