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Phoebe Heart & Vascular Team Completes More Cardiac “Firsts” for Southwest Georgia


Albany, GA | September 1, 2022 – Kathy McCrary enjoys working in the yard at her home in Plains, but in the last year that yardwork became difficult. Even something as simple as taking a shower or walking through the grocery store could lead to shortness of breath. “I didn’t feel like doing anything because it wouldn’t be long before I’d have to sit down. I wasn’t even going out and working in my yard anymore because I didn’t have the energy or the breath to keep going,” she said. “It put a hold on my life, really.”

She decided to see her primary care doctor after she passed out at home. “I had been having some dizzy episodes,” she said. “I got up one morning and started walking to the living room and blacked out and hit the floor.”

McCray’s doctor referred her to a cardiologist, and she eventually ended up in the care of Phoebe Interventional and Structural Cardiologist Dr. Tharmathai Ramanan who diagnosed her with Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) – a hole between the upper chambers of the heart that is present at birth but may not cause problems until later in life.

“As an adult, the right side of the heart has to deal with more blood than it should because the blood is flowing the wrong way from left to right. It makes the right side weaker, and patients have exhaustion and palpitations, and it can lead to heart failure,” Dr. Ramanan said.

Dr. Ramanan closely monitored McCrary for a few months, and when her symptoms started getting worse, she recommended a catheterization procedure to implant a device to close the hole.

“Dr. Ramanan was very supportive and told me everything I needed to know. She answered everything I asked. I trusted her, but it was still scary,” McCrary said.

In late July, McCrary underwent the ASD repair and went home the next day. “Typically, patients go home the same day,” Dr. Ramanan said. “She stayed overnight just to be certain everything was okay.” 

While Dr. Ramanan had performed the procedure numerous times before coming to Phoebe, this was the first ASD repair completed in southwest Georgia. McCrary could tell a difference immediately. “I knew that I was breathing better right away. Words cannot express how good I feel because of Dr. Ramanan.”

Since the Phoebe Heart & Vascular team performed the region’s first open-heart surgery in 1983, Phoebe has remained on the forefront of advancements in cardiac care. Before the ASD repair, Dr. Ramanan also added to Phoebe’s more than two dozen “’cardiac firsts” in southwest Georgia earlier this summer. In May she led a team that became the first in the region to use an Inoue-Balloon to treat mitral valvular stenosis. That disorder prevents the main heart valve from opening properly, blocking blood from flowing into the primary pumping chamber of the heart.  It is a rare condition because it is usually seen in patients who suffered rheumatic fever when they were young, and rheumatic fever hasn’t been common in the United States in decades.

“If we can avoid replacing the valve by using a balloon to increase the size of the hole where the blood can go through, it’s better for the patient. They don’t need blood thinners, and there is no foreign object in the body,” Dr. Ramanan said.

It’s not a new technique, but the Inoue-Balloon is the latest technology. Dr. Mark Cohen, Phoebe’s Medical Director of Cardiology who assisted in the procedure, said even though it will not be a common procedure, it will likely benefit a handful of Phoebe patients a year. “It’s great that Dr. Ramanan was trained in this technique. When you’re taking care of structural heart disease, you have to have all the tools in your toolbox, and this helps us provide a complete line of treatments here at Phoebe,” Dr. Cohen said.

Like Kathy McCrary, the patient who underwent the mitral valve procedure noticed immediate improvements and continues to do well. Dr. Ramanan is pleased to be able to offer advanced cardiac treatments like these to patients right here in southwest Georgia. “In the past, patients would have been transferred to bigger cities to get this done. What we’re doing at Phoebe is providing a continuum of care, so these patients don’t have to travel for care,” she said. “We’re also doing these procedures in a less-invasive manner, so they don’t need open-heart surgery.  That’s less costly, and the patients don’t have a long-term recovery.”

McCrary is grateful she got the care she needed close to home, without having to undergo open-heart surgery. “I’m just so thankful to Dr. Ramanan,” she said. “She gave me my life back, and it was so simple. That’s what’s amazing.  It was such a simple procedure to make such a big difference.”


Photos: Phoebe Interventional and Structural Cardiologist Dr. Tharmathai Ramanan, as well as an actual image from the Inoue-Balloon Mitral Valvuloplasty Catheter procedure, showing the balloon being inflated in the patient’s heart.