Understanding the Heart and Vascular Landscape

April 15, 2019
Carolyn Hirshberg is at the center of life at her retirement community, Brightview North Andover.

She’s a community ambassador, welcoming new residents and showing them around. She also sings in the community’s chorus and participates in the acting group and the exercise program. In her sunny apartment, the walls are lined with her paintings, and there’s one in progress on her easel.

I’ve never had it so good! There’s so much to do, and I don’t have to cook!” she laughs.
She sobers, though, remembering her health scare two years ago. Back then, sitting on her couch shortly after she moved into her new community, Carolyn couldn’t imagine what was happening. Her pulse rate was irregular and she generally felt out of sorts and anxious. Fearing the worst, she called the front desk receptionist who immediately called 911.

In the Emergency Center at Lawrence General, Carolyn was diagnosed with a narrowed carotid artery—the vessel that brings oxygen to the brain. She was referred immediately to vascular surgeon Ryan Messiner, DO, who performed surgery to clear the blockage. Carolyn didn’t know it at the time, but her symptoms were a continuation of a heart history that began more than a decade ago.

Longtime condition

In 2002, Carolyn was living on Cape Cod when she had a heart attack. “They gave me a stent and fixed me right up,” she remembers with a smile.

Fifteen years later, she moved to North Andover and transferred her follow-up care to Lawrence General cardiologist Sunit Mukherjee, MD. At the time she relocated, she was completely unaware that the same vessel disease that had caused her heart attack was working silently on her carotid artery.

I am a perfect example of how these two things are related,” Carolyn says. “If you have a heart attack, like I did, you are more prone to other vessel diseases. It makes sense, since they are all part of the same blood circulation system. And you never know when problems are going to show up.

While Carolyn graciously gives Lawrence General the credit for saving her life two years ago, the reality is that it’s a team effort. She and the front desk attendant at her residential community recognized something was wrong and took immediate action. Given her health history, when she arrived at the Emergency Center, the likelihood that her current symptoms were related to arterial disease was high.

Seeing a complete picture

Patients like Carolyn need to be evaluated and monitored for both cardiovascular and peripheral vascular disease,” says Dr. Mukherjee, medical director of Lawrence General’s developing Heart and Vascular Center. “By facilitating closer communication between specialists in cardiology, vascular surgery, and interventional radiology, we can do a better job of assessing the needs of the patient and being sure we have a complete picture.

The new Heart and Vascular Center, launching this June at Lawrence General, will assess a patient’s entire circulatory system and, in conjunction with on-site diagnostic ultrasound, determine next steps. Once results are reviewed, patients can be set up on appropriate protocols to be sure issues are identified, and addressed or monitored.

Dr. Mukherjee’s program leadership is complemented by a team of three specialists who head up the program’s three main areas: Dr. Messiner for vascular surgery, Ken Adams, MD, for cardiology, and James Meyer, MD, for interventional radiology.

Patients make smart choices when they are educated about their conditions and know what to be looking for,” comments Dr. Messiner.

Increased communication and collaboration—patient to doctor and doctor to doctor—improve the quality of the care.