Mary Jane Phillips – Heart Surgery Success Story

Guarding her heart:

A ‘shot in the dark’ surgical success means a bright future for Mary Jane Phillips

Mary Jane Phillips – Heart Surgery Success Story
“I’m glad we trusted Methodist Richardson, and we’d trust them again in a heartbeat.”
— Mary Jane Phillips, shown with her four grandchildren

As far as Mary Jane Phillips was concerned, breast cancer was a thing of her past. Then, she learned that her past breast cancer stood in the way of her current heart health.

She needed an ICD, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator. Typically, this small device is implanted by the left collarbone, and a wire is threaded through a large vein to the heart. If the heart stops or develops an irregular rhythm, the ICD sends a shock to restart or reset it.

But one look at Mary Jane’s veins, and Sumeet Chhabra, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist at Methodist Richardson Medical Center, knew there was no way a standard defibrillator would work. Chemotherapy and previous surgery had made the veins unusable.

Mary Jane remained positive.

“I just thought, whatever the next move is, I’m going to take it,” she says.

She never anticipated that the “next move” would be one never taken before.

A shot in the dark

Earlier this spring, Dr. Chhabra began considering the EmblemTM S-ICD System by Boston Scientific for Mary Jane. It had only been approved for use in the U.S. since April 2014, and only about 5,000 had been implanted around the world and only a handful in Dallas at the time.

What makes this ICD unique is that it’s implanted on the person’s left side, and the wire is threaded under the skin, not through a vein, to the breast bone.

“The wire has to be in the right spot, or it won’t be able to shock the heart out of unstable heart rhythms or cardiac arrest,” Dr. Chhabra says, sharing his concern about navigating the wire around Mary Jane’s reconstructed breasts. “If we inadvertently damage a breast implant with the wire, that’s an emergency. For a survivor who thinks breast cancer is behind her, it would be psychologically traumatizing to have to face another breast surgery.”

Dr. Chhabra proposed performing the surgery with Jenevieve Hughes, MD, a breast surgeon also on the Methodist Richardson medical staff.

“This is a shot in the dark,” he told Mary Jane. “It’s never been done. My expertise will be getting the defibrillator in; hers will be getting the wire around the implant without damaging it.”

This was their only option for Mary Jane, and it was a chance she was willing to take.

Over the next few weeks, Drs. Chhabra and Hughes met regularly to plan the surgery.

Surgical tag team

“It was such a team effort,” says Mary Jane’s daughter, Teresa Garrison. “Everything went fabulously.”

Dr. Chhabra says they were able to place the wire with only millimeters to spare from the implants. Then came the moment of truth: He induced a mini cardiac arrest to make sure the ICD worked.

“It takes about eight seconds for the defibrillator to kick in, and those eight seconds felt like the longest ever,” Dr. Chhabra says. “But when the defibrillator lit up and got her out of cardiac arrest beautifully, everyone in the room erupted in cheers. This defibrillator will probably save her life one day.”

A place you can trust

Today, Mary Jane, an avid sports fan, worries more about the Texas Rangers’ record than about her heart health. She’s grateful that Methodist Richardson stands for peace of mind for herself and others.

“So many people have had health problems like mine, and it’s a blessing to know there’s an option for them,” she says.

“I’m glad we trusted Methodist Richardson, and we’d trust them again in a heartbeat.”