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Cardiologist brings innovative heart system to the Highland Lakes

Dorothy Cardwell of Marble Falls

Dorothy Cardwell, 90, picked up a brush about two years ago and has created a plethora of paintings. She stays healthy and active, in part because of the CardioMEMS HF System that allows her heart doctor to monitor her blood and other pressures remotely and make adjustments if necessary. Staff photo

At 90 years old, Dorothy Cardwell’s biggest concern might be what to do with all of the paintings she’s completed since taking up a brush two years ago. She does not, however, worry about the small sensor tucked into the pulmonary artery by her heart.

“Yeah, I’ve got quite a few of them,” the self-taught artist said of her paintings. “I have them stacked up and don’t know what to do with all of them.”

As for the tiny sensor, Cardwell shrugged it off, even though it plays a big part in her heart health.

“I don’t even feel it,” said the Marble Falls resident as she tapped her chest. “You don’t feel it a bit.”

“It” is the CardioMEMS HF System sensor placed inside her by Dr. Justin Coyle, a cardiologist for Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Marble Falls. The goal of the sensor and system is to keep people with congestive heart failure healthier and out of the hospital.

Cardwell was the first patient at Baylor Scott & White-Marble Falls to get the sensor. 

It’s not a new medical procedure but one Coyle brought with him to the Highland Lakes. 

“I’m a big believer in this device,” he said. “When I came aboard here (in September 2021), there were so many things I wanted to do, but this was the one thing I wanted to implement the most. It can keep people out of the hospital.”

The CardioMEMS HF System includes the sensor, a delivery system, and a patient electronics system, which Cardwell refers to as “the wedge.” The device measures Cardwell’s blood pressure and heart rate when she rests her head on it like a pillow for 10-15 seconds every morning.

“Oh, but it doesn’t feel like a pillow,” Cardwell said with a laugh.

The wedge collects the information and transfers it to the delivery system nearby. The data is then sent to her cardiologist, who determines if everything is going well for her or if changes need to be made.

In the past, Coyle said, a patient would have to come into the hospital or their medical provider’s office to take the measurements for review. With the system, everything is done in the comfort of the patient’s home.

Plus, it’s portable, so Cardwell can take it with her on trips.

Using the system, Coyle can identify a change in a patient’s pressure and take immediate action. Sometimes, it’s a matter of adjusting the patient’s medication. That’s what happened to Cardwell at one point. Her pressure reading was abnormal, but a medication change fixed the issue.

Without the device, Cardwell might not have realized she had a problem until she needed to be hospitalized.

“I didn’t even know I had a heart problem at first,” she said when asked about how she came to be the first Highland Lakes patient to use the CardioMEMS HF System.

The day after Thanksgiving 2021, Cardwell developed a breathing issue, which she initially chalked up to asthma. When it continued into December, she sought help. Doctors determined she had mitral valve regurgitation, a condition in which the valve between the left chambers of the heart doesn’t work properly. 

Dr. Justin Coyle of Baylor Scott & White-Marble Falls
When Dr. Justin Coyle joined Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Marble Falls as a cardiologist in September 2021, one of his goals was to use the CardioMEMS HF System to help keep patients with congestive heart failure at home and out of the hospital. Photo courtesy of Baylor Scott & White

After Coyle identified Cardwell as a good candidate for the CardioMEMS HF System, he placed the sensor in her pulmonary artery on March 3, 2022. On March 31, Cardwell want to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Round Rock, where another surgeon placed a Mitraclip to minimize her mitral valve regurgitation from severe to trivial.

The CardioMEMS HF System sensor placement took about 45 minutes.

“It’s a pretty simple procedure,” Coyle said. 

Coyle has since set up six more patients with the system. The benefits, he pointed out, are enormous.

“This is the first (at-home system) that’s shown clinical benefits,” he said. 

One study revealed a 60 percent reduction in hospitalization for heart failure patients who used the device. 

Coyle said the system is geared toward patients experiencing any type of heart failure, a condition where the heart isn’t working enough to meet the needs of the body. 

“A big tip-off for someone I see is if they had been in the hospital for heart failure,” he said. “Another one is they may be having fluid regularly removed off their heart.”

Patients also must be committed to using the system a few minutes each day.

“They have to be motivated,” Coyle said. “They have to want to do this and do it every day.”

He found the necessary enthusiasm in Cardwell. Even if it takes her a few times to get positioned correctly on the wedge for the sensor to get a reading, she doesn’t mind. In fact, the CardioMEMS HF System and Coyle give her peace of mind.

“It makes me feel confident in that nothing is going wrong,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about anything because this tells Dr. Coyle if something needs to be changed or anything else. He’s watching me, so I don’t have to worry. He’s worrying for me.”

All Cardwell has to worry about it is what to do with her paintings.