Jennifer Cooper Cheak was playing with her 3-week-old baby and son when she started to feel tightness and pressure in her chest. A few minutes later, the 32-year-old experienced a heart attack and was rushed to a local hospital in Waco, Texas.

The Waco hospital said she had arrived unresponsive and estimated about 40 minutes downtime. The team knew she needed a miracle and made the decision to send her where that could be made into a possibility – the Larry D. Johnson Heart & Vascular Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

“When Jennifer came into our hospital, her blood results were very bad,” said Isabel Ponce, RN, BSN, cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU). “We knew we had a difficult journey ahead of us.” Cheak arrived via LifeFlight® and was immediately taken to the Cardiac Cath Lab. It was at this time that Pranav Loyalka, MD, associate chief of the medical division, Larry D. Johnson Heart & Vascular Institute, told the patient care team, “She’s young and she’s a mother. She has a 3-year-old at home and had her second baby three weeks ago. We are going to do everything possible to help her. Do we all understand?”

Ponce said it was at this moment when the procedure room grew quiet and an unspoken unity was instilled in the team, signaling that they were about to take part in a breakthrough.

“It really hit home for me because my sister has two beautiful children and I couldn’t imagine them living without their mom. I knew that I had to fight for Cheak and do whatever it took to keep her alive,” said Ponce.

Collaborating with fellow physicians at the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at Larry D. Johnson Heart & Vascular Institute, Dr. Loyalka, associate professor of internal medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, decided to intubate and insert a Tandem Heart.

“Day one was trying to keep her alive. Morning of day two, her labs were better but she still hadn’t woken up,” said Ponce. “By the end of day two, she opened her eyes and was looking around. Day three she began following commands.”

Over the weekend, Dr. Loyalka removed the balloon pump that was placed earlier that weekend because he found her heart was beating on its own. “When we performed the first echocardiogram (echo), her heart was functioning at 10%. After we removed the balloon pump and performed the second echo, her heart was up to 30%,” said Dr. Loyalka.

Cheak slowly started showing signs of improvement; her family and caregivers were determined to get her better. Ponce said, “Her family was incredibly supportive and there for her every minute of the day speaking words of encouragement. They also fully trusted me and the care team, remaining actively involved in the plan of care.”

Cheak said, “Isabel was a fantastic nurse and I don’t know what I would have done without her. She motivated me to not give up and stay strong for my kids and family. I also couldn’t speak more highly of the physician team, especially Dr. Loyalka. He is a king among kings in my book! He gave me a second chance at life.”

As a result of the great care from the physicians, nurses and all the caregivers at the Institute, Cheak has made a full recovery and is able to stay at home with her husband and care for their newborn boy and son.

Ponce said, “This shows that with advanced technology, talented staff and a supportive family, you really can beat the odds.”

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