Headache turned heart condition: Headache doctor saves patient who experienced a cardiac emergency

When a patient arrived for a headache appointment and had a dangerously low heart rate, a Norton Neuroscience Institute doctor made sure she got emergency heart care.

Every so often, people are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

For Evelyn McKinney, that time was in the middle of a rain-soaked afternoon in May.

Evelyn was braving the storm, driving to her appointment with Mandy J. Whitt, M.D, a headache specialist at Norton Neuroscience Institute. Evelyn had a splitting headache, while her GPS gave her the directions to the wrong office.

Now late for her appointment, Evelyn called Dr. Whitt, who calmly rerouted her and waited more than two hours for Evelyn to arrive.

When Evelyn got to the office, Dr. Whitt immediately noticed something was very wrong.

“My nurses were going, ‘Dr. Whitt, would you check her pulse again? We’re having a hard time seeing what her pulse is,’” Dr. Whitt said. “So I checked her pulse again, and I couldn’t actually feel her pulse.”

According to the readings, Evelyn’s heart rate was ranging from 32 to 37 beats per minute, roughly half the average heart rate. Concerned, Dr. Whitt told Evelyn she needed to go to the hospital — and offered to call her an ambulance. Evelyn declined an ambulance ride and said it would take too long for family to take her, either. She wanted to get back in her car and drive home.

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“She was going to pass out,” Dr. Whitt said. “She was lightheaded; she was short of breath. She wasn’t going [to the hospital], you could tell.”

With no other options available, Dr. Whitt did what she believed was best for her patient. She grabbed an empty wheelchair and quickly wheeled Evelyn from her office, across the parking lot and into the emergency department at Norton Brownsboro Hospital.

“This is the art of practicing medicine,” Dr. Whitt said. “Any computer can tell you that she needed to go to the ER [emergency room], but convincing her and getting her to actually go there and get the care, that’s the human touch. And so, that’s what makes practicing medicine, practicing medicine. Even though cardiology is not my field of practice, I hope to never lose that touch. Patients come first.”

Evelyn was admitted and diagnosed with bradycardia, a slower-than-normal heart rate. Doctors kept her overnight and fitted her with a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat. All the while, Dr. Whitt monitored her condition and progress.

“Thanks to Dr. Whitt’s dedication and holistic approach to caring for her patient, Evelyn’s life was saved,” said Sofya Kuznetsov, M.D., electrophysiologist with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute. “This event demonstrates how so many providers work together across all of Norton Healthcare for the benefit of the patient.”

“It just meant so much,” Evelyn said. “She just saved my life, and it just made me feel like she was the only one at the time who cared enough about me, who wanted me to get better — and that means a whole lot to me. And I just want to let her know how much it meant.”

It meant so much to Evelyn that she decided to repay the favor.

Roughly a month later, she returned to Norton Neuroscience Institute – Brownsboro, to surprise Dr. Whitt at her office with a small gift and a hug, a thank-you gesture for the special care Evelyn believes saved her life. “If she wasn’t [willing to bring me to the hospital], I would’ve went home, and I probably would’ve died,” Evelyn said. “I don’t know anybody who would take the time like she did. She made me feel like I was her family, and that means so much to me.”

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