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Doctors patch hole inside woman's heart

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Mar 11 2013 01:32:07 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 05 2013 04:24:04 PM CST

A hole in a local woman's heart goes undetected for almost 50 years.

KINGSPORT, Tenn. -

A hole in a local woman's heart goes undetected for almost 50 years.

We bring you her story as part of our 'Live Red' series. It's a partnership we have with Wellmont Health System to raise awareness about women's heart disease.

News 5 found out it was listening to her body that very well may have saved her life.

Most of Susan Baldwin's life has been 'business as usual', until 2009 when she noticed simple tasks suddenly got harder. "I began with just some tiredness, some fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath," Baldwin remembered.

Baldwin took her concerns to doctors searching for answers. In the meantime ,she got migraines and worse. "I was at work and my face started to drawl a little bit, and the end of my tongue got a little numb and speech was just a little slurred," said Baldwin.

What she had was a mini-stroke. Baldwin's doctor recommended she see a cardiologist and take an EKG. Test results revealed Baldwin actually had a hole in inside of her heart. Doctors told us that hole was about the size of a dime. "It was quite shocking. I had always felt like I had taken pretty good care of myself," said Baldwin.

Dr. Marc Mayhew, an interventional cardiologist with the Wellmont CVA Heart Institute, said Baldwin's condition is known as an atrial sepal defect, where there's a hole in the walls that separate the chambers of the heart.    

Dr. Mayhew said it's a rare condition people are born with that show few if any symptoms until it reaches a tipping point. "Depending on how much blood flows in the wrong direction, things such as heart failure [and] strokes can develop down the line," said Dr. Mayhew.

Baldwin's heart was literally patched up inside a cath lab in December of 2009. Doctors sent a closure device through a vein without ever opening up her heart. "Immediately I could feel some difference," Baldwin said.

Now Baldwin said she's as good as new; crediting her doctors and her conscience. "If you get the feeling something's not right with your body, don't ignore that. you're receiving a message and pay attention to that," said Dr. Mayhew.

"It's a whole lot easier to be safe than sorry," added Baldwin.

Doctor Mayhew told us he usually patches about 25 atrial septal defects a year in a cath lab.

We found out the procedure that takes about an hour to perform was once only accomplished through open heart surgery.

We learned it's not common practice to screen for atrial septal defects. That's why doctors say listen to your body if you feel something's not right.