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Published on June 01, 2020

Lifesaving Heart Care

man and woman smiling as they carry golf clubs

The Gregorich family had always maintained good health.

In fact, when they were growing up, Geoff and Lynn Gregorich's kids hardly missed a day of school.

Outside of regular checkups, the Bothell family was fortunate to avoid accidents or injuries that required a trip to the hospital.

"I hadn't so much as seen the inside of a hospital in many years," Geoff Gregorich says.

But when he visited his primary care provider for his annual physical exam, the seemingly healthy then 62-year-old was launched down a path of life-altering health events that would change his perspective entirely.

"That physical probably saved my life," Geoff recalls.

Detecting An Irregularity

It was near the end of the routine exam when Geoff's primary care provider, Dr. Doug Portelance of EvergreenHealth Internal Medicine + Primary Care, listened to Gregorich's heart and detected a faint arrhythmia.

"It sounded to me like atrial fibrillation, which can be fairly common," Dr. Portelance says of Geoff's slightly irregular heartbeat.

An in-office electrocardiogram (EKG), which can measure the heart's electrical activity, confirmed his suspicions.

But there was something unusual about Gregorich's presentation. He didn't have any of the common risk factors for atrial fibrillation, so Dr. Portelance referred him to EvergreenHealth Heart & Vascular Care for additional tests.

Within a few days, Geoff was on EvergreenHealth's Kirkland campus undergoing a complete workup of diagnostic imaging tests that would help specialists pinpoint the cause of his abnormal heart activity.

That's when an echocardiogram detected what no one expected.

The echo test's ultrasound images revealed a tumor in the left ventricle of Geoff's heart that was restricting 80 percent of his heart's blood flow.

Cardiologist Dr. William Getchell diagnosed Geoff with an atrial myxoma - a rare but extremely dangerous tumor within the heart.

Though itself benign, the tumor's placement can leave patients at high risk for a debilitating stroke or even death.

"Any time blood flow is obstructed, it's a serious condition. Equally concerning is that myxomas can accumulate blood clots and spit small pieces of the clots off, causing a stroke. Fixing the condition is an urgent situation," Dr. Getchell explains.

Expedited Care

That evening, while the clinic was closing for the day, Dr. Getchell shared the diagnosis with Geoff and immediately began making phone calls that would set Geoff's expedited care plan in motion.

"I remember Dr. Getchell telling me that the good news was that my heart was in great shape, but the bad news was that I'd be having open-heart surgery the next day," Geoff says.

"When patients trust us with their care, we take care of everything," Dr. Getchell says of EvergreenHealth's comprehensive and coordinated approach to heart care. "Once they are in our care, they can rest assured that they're not going to navigate the system alone."

Barely a week after his lifesaving physical with Dr. Portelance, Geoff was scheduled for open-heart surgery, where the tumor was successfully removed

"Although everything happened so quickly, I never felt for one second that there was any doubt about the care process. At each step, my doctors anticipated every possibility and truly provided world-class care," Gregorich says, looking back on his journey. "I really believe they saved my life."

For More Information on Cardiac Services at EvergreenHealth

Learn about Cardiac Care at EvergreenHealth

William Getchell Meet the Expert

William Getchell, MD, FACC

Dr. William Getchell is board certified in cardiovascular disease. He believes his role as a cardiologist is to understand and interpret the medical literature, applying evidence-based consultation and treatment which is tailored to a patient's individual needs and situation. He believes that his job is also to help his patients navigate the increasingly complicated cardiac health care system.

Read Dr. Getchell's full profile

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