(WSVN) - When a South Florida woman had stomach pain, she never thought it would lead to open-heart surgery, and tonight she has a warning for other women. 7’s Karen Hensel has her story.
Melissa Weeks, patient: “I just started having like intense abdominal pain.”
When Melissa Weeks started experiencing chest pains, stomach aches, bloating, even fainting, she thought it was all part of aging.
Melissa Weeks: “Like, everybody gets it, like some kind of womanly gynecological problem that, you know, getting older, going through menopause.”
The 44-year-old Palm Beach Gardens wife and mother of two called her gynecologist, who also thought her suffering was due to menopause.
Melissa Weeks: “I went through numerous doctors telling them that I had – with the pains I had and the symptoms I had, and they did nothing about it. They just kept brushing me aside.”
Until she found a doctor who listened.
Melissa Weeks: “When we went for a CT scan is when we found the tumor that was in my heart.”
The nearly 12-inch tumor in her heart prompted her gynecologist to send her to this team of surgeons at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Melissa Weeks: “They told me that I probably had a couple of weeks left, and I probably would have keeled over and either had to get rushed to the emergency room and found it then, or could have died.”
The doctors determined Melissa’s tumor started in her uterus and traveled to her heart through a vein. They scheduled her for emergency open-heart surgery.
Melissa also needed a hysterectomy to help prevent the tumor from coming back.
Melissa Weeks: “That’s when my eyes got so big, ’cause I never thought it was something that was that bad.”
Non-cancerous growths, or fibroids, are common for women, but they usually stay in the uterus.
Dr. Brian Slomovitz, gynecological oncologist: “This is the tumor that’s in the right side of the heart, sort of like acting like a punching bag on the valve. Every heartbeat is beating up the valve.”
As a team, the specialists performed surgery through an incision from her chest to her pubic bone.
Dr. Steven DeBeer, thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon: “I have to make a hole big enough somewhere in one of her veins — which happened to be, in her case, in her heart — in order to be able to pull this out.”
Dr. Micheal Ayad, vascular surgeon: “The challenge is really if we’re going to be able to remove the entire aspect of the tumor. If you leave a little bit behind, it’s all going to grow back.”
Dr. Brian Slomovitz: “The pathology teams are on standby in case — we’re not sure if it’s invasive or not. The tremendous nursing support, it’s really a hospital-wide effort.”
Months later, we were with Melissa on a Zoom call as she reconnected with her team of doctors.
Doctor on Zoom: “How are you feeling?”
Melissa Weeks: “I’m feeling really good, a lot better, a lot, lot better. I can breathe. You guys are amazing, and I can’t thank you enough for taking your time to basically save my life.”
Melissa is reminded of that every day, not only by her full body scar, but by a tattoo she got on her wrist.
Melissa Weeks: “My heart stopped for 10 minutes when they had me on the bypass machines, so what it is, is a flatlined heartbeat to a heart back beating. I am a survivor. I look at it, and it’s just amazing that I’m here.”
Melissa Weeks wants other women to learn from her story, advising us to slow down, listen to our bodies and be an advocate for our own health. She says that’s what ultimately saved her life.
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