An Greenville, S.C. clinic brings Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s heart failure care to the upstate area.

News, Your Health | one year ago

Finding Hope and Health Amid Chronic Heart Failure

An Greenville, S.C. clinic brings Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s heart failure care to the upstate area.

How could an active, 49-year-old man have chronic heart failure and not know it? It happened to Torre Fowler.

Torre, a lifelong man-on-the-go, started experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing in early 2019. At first, doctors diagnosed a respiratory infection. But then, Torre couldn’t walk ten steps without resting. A trip to the hospital in March gave him a new diagnosis: chronic heart failure.

“We were shocked, stressed and scared,” says his wife, Wanda Fowler. “The news came out of nowhere.”

The Fowlers live in Spartanburg, S.C., and a doctor at the local hospital recommended that Torre visit Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte to explore his next steps and a possible transplant. The renowned institute has top outcomes, including three-year heart transplant survival rates that are significantly above the national average. But Torre had another concern: He was uninsured. He said that for most of his life, he made the mistake of trying to be his own doctor. In July, the couple headed 80 miles north in an ambulance, unsure what would follow.

“We arrived at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte close to midnight, and the whole nursing staff said, ‘Hey, we've been waiting for you! We’ve got your room ready!’” Wanda says. Nurses gave them sandwiches for a late dinner, as well as extra blankets and pillows for their room. “That really put us at ease. We were in a place we’d never been before, which was scary and new to us, but they made us feel like family.”

Care for Heart Failure Patients in Upstate South Carolina

It’s not unusual for residents of upstate South Carolina to come to Sanger for care. To provide follow-up care closer to home, Atrium Health opened a heart failure and transplant clinic in Greenville, S.C. in 2018. This clinic coordinates closely with the hospital in Charlotte, as well as with local hospitals and providers in South Carolina. Patients go to Charlotte for the services they need there, then return to their cardiologists and primary care providers closer to home for seamless continuity of care.

During the week and a half that the Fowlers spent in Charlotte, doctors diagnosed Torre with atrial fibrillation, which he could manage with medications; he didn’t need a transplant. They sent him home with a defibrillator life vest that could monitor his heart and restart it if it became too weak. Doctors and nurses talked with the Fowlers about managing heart failure with lifestyle and diet changes, and they helped them sign up for disability programs to help them pay for the services and medications.

“Torre’s story goes along with our mission – taking care of patients, providing services they would otherwise not be able to obtain with financial issues,” says Sanjeev Gulati, MD, the medical director of Advanced Heart Failure Care and chief of adult cardiology at Sanger. “For us to be able to provide these services farther and farther away from Charlotte, and to provide them to patients who would otherwise not receive this care, is amazing.”

Compassionate Heart Failure Care, Close to Home

When the Fowlers returned home, they resumed Torre’s care at Sanger’s Greenville location. Because they’re both part of the Atrium Health, the heart failure clinic providers share electronic records and have close relationships with the Carolinas Medical Center team. When Torre entered, they already knew his medical history and talked to the providers who treated him in Charlotte.

“What makes this clinic unique is that we have a permanent, bricks-and-mortar office in upstate South Carolina with a staff that lives in the community and knows the community,” says Amanda Green, NP, a nurse who specializes in cardiology at the Greenville location.

Green managed Torre’s heart failure through medications and monitoring, and she credits Torre for feeling empowered to make lifestyle and diet changes. She said that Torre had a powerful weapon against heart failure – Wanda, who supported him throughout his journey.

The Greenville team offered more than medical care, however. They helped him access local assistance programs that helped him pay for the medications and an internal defibrillator. They helped him transition his care back to the cardiologist at his local hospital. The staff in Charlotte continued to call to check in on him as well.

“You can tell that the Atrium Health team really cares for their patients,” Wanda says. “They don’t say, ‘You don’t have the ability to pay for this,’ but instead they take care of you no matter what. During the whole experience that we’ve been through, the quality of care meant so much to us.”

That combination of medical expertise and compassion is vital to the Sanger team.

“It’s a very specialized team here, and we stay up to date with data, research and evidence-based medicine,” Green says. “But we also know that you can’t provide good care unless you provide it in a compassionate way.”

Torre’s feeling well enough to return to yard work and long walks, and his progress has enabled his care team to reduce use of some medications. He eats differently, reads labels more often and attends cardiac rehabilitation appointments. Most importantly, Torre says, is that he feels more in control of his health and more educated about the habits he needs to maintain.

“We are a dedicated heart failure team,” Green says. “We make sure that the patient understands heart failure because if they understand their diagnosis and take ownership of it, they can learn to manage it – not to just survive, but to live the best that they can.”

Six months after Torre returned home, he reached a milestone that he wasn’t sure he would reach: his 50th birthday. Now, he and Wanda are thinking of ways to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his life-saving trip to Charlotte in July.

“Don’t let heart failure be a death sentence,” Wanda says. “Chronic heart failure sounds bad, but a lot of people live with it. It feels like a challenge, but you can make it through.”

Learn more about heart care at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute or call 704-512-2785 to schedule an appointment.