Sherry and Greg Robinson Sherry Robinson and her husband Greg

Grateful heart patient views St. Paul’s as her “safe place”

January 11th, 2017

Recipient of historic 1000th lead extraction praises cardiac team for “taking the time to listen”

Since childhood, Sherry Robinson had suffered from a rare and undiagnosed heart condition that would cause her heart to beat erratically (arrhythmia) and also stop completely.

During these episodes, Sherry would faint. Since the first time it happened to her, at the age of ten, she came to call these episodes “pass outs.”

As she got older, the pass outs got worse.

At 14, one happened while Sherry was swimming. If not for an alert friend, Sherry says she would have drowned that day.

The episodes continued into adulthood, becoming more frequent and severe.

Sherry would be rushed to hospital many times. By the time she would arrive, however, her heart would be beating normally again. In effect, she would arrive at Emergency with nothing wrong with her—and with no evidence of the episode she had just endured.

This dynamic made diagnosis difficult, and would leave Sherry and her husband, Greg, trying to explain to doctors what had happened. Despite their efforts to explain, and the diagnostic tests that were conducted, doctors could find nothing wrong with Sherry.

Ultimately, the episodes became so severe that Sherry wrote letters for her children, special messages for them in case, one of these times, her heart would not start beating again.

Finally, at age 32, Sherry was referred to the provincial Heart Centre at St. Paul’s—a referral that would change her life.

At St. Paul’s, Sherry met electrophysiologist Dr. John Yeung and his team, all of whom were amazed by what she had been through.

From the first moments spent speaking with Dr. Yeung, Sherry says she felt as if a light had been flicked on.

“From that first meeting, just the way they were speaking to us, the questions they asked, Greg and I felt we were truly being heard. From that moment, everything changed. For the first time, I felt I was in a safe place.”

As Dr. Yeung and his team worked to find a diagnosis, Sherry underwent surgery at St. Paul’s to be outfitted with an ICD (implanted cardioverter defibrillator) as a safeguard. The ICD would regulate her arrhythmia.

Ultimately, the team at St. Paul’s deduced that Sherry might have catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), a rare genetic heart condition that is associated with SADS (Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome). The appropriate genetic tests were conducted and Sherry, after a lifetime of fear and anxiety, finally had her diagnosis.

Over the years, Sherry would need to undergo maintenance on her ICD, specifically the retrieval of leads, which are the small wires attached to the heart that pick up electrical signals from the device. Eventually the leads fracture and break and must be removed.

In August, 2016, Sherry was scheduled to undergo a lead extraction to be performed by cardiac surgeon Dr. Jamil Bashir. As it turned out, Sherry’s procedure would be the 1000th lead extraction performed at St. Paul’s, which has the largest and most distinguished program in Canada, thanks in no small part to the innovative work of Dr. Bashir, whom Sherry endearingly calls, “Mr. Fix-It.”

Sherry, however, wasn’t thinking of being part of a medical milestone. Instead, her thoughts drift back to her first days at St. Paul’s, when she was hooked up to a bank of monitors as doctors worked to diagnose her condition.

“I remember I asked a nurse when we would be able to see Dr. Yeung because we had a few questions,” Sherry recalls. “The nurse said he was on his rounds and that he had been in surgery but that he might be able to spend a few minutes with us later that evening before he went home. Although we were also told that he was so busy we might not be able to see him until the next day.”

Sherry experiences a swell of emotion as she recalls what happened next.

“Dr. Yeung did come by my room that night. We had spoken to so many doctors over the years so we got right to our questions, expecting we would have only a few minutes. But Dr. Yeung sat down and he stayed with us that night for nearly two hours. We talked about each other’s lives, our families. We got to know each other. This is how Dr. Yeung ended what must have been a long, busy day. We were so moved. It was one more special moment we had at St. Paul’s.”

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