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Helping hearts: Mother gets first heart stent at GMC

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Sue and Norman Rosenkrans sit at their Loganville home on Thursday. Sue was one of the first people to receive a PCI (heart stent) after Gwinnett Medical Center was authorized to perform the procedures in March, as they start to implement a full line of cardiac care. The family later came to find out that their daughter was one of the team of lawyers that worked for three years to get GMC's certificate of need for the cardiac center approved.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Sue and Norman Rosenkrans sit at their Loganville home on Thursday. Sue was one of the first people to receive a PCI (heart stent) after Gwinnett Medical Center was authorized to perform the procedures in March, as they start to implement a full line of cardiac care. The family later came to find out that their daughter was one of the team of lawyers that worked for three years to get GMC's certificate of need for the cardiac center approved.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Unbeknownst to them, Leah Watkins spent years helping save her mother's life.

A health care regulation specialist with the Atlanta law firm of McKenna, Long and Aldridge, Watkins was on the front lines of the battle to bring expanded cardiac care to Gwinnett Medical Center. She worked for three years at getting GMC its certificate of need for an open heart center and the accompanying procedures.

Her mother, Sue Rosenkrans, became one of the first patients to need the services.

"It was just truly phenomenal to see first hand the effects of what we worked so hard for so many hours on come to be completed and help serve Gwinnett," Watkins said. "I just didn't know it was going to be my momma."

On March 5, the 71-year-old Rosenkrans was hosting a bridal shower at her Loganville home, something the frequent hostess lived to do. She had begun feeling ill the night before, and, by the end of the party, the pain was "so intense that I could just hardly stand it."

Sensing Sue was having a heart attack, husband Norman began driving the long route to St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta, where she had received care before.

They wouldn't make it. Sue grew quiet.

"I was just trying to think of the quickest way to get to someone who could help us," Norman Rosenkrans said.

That led them to Eastside Medical Center in Snellville. Doctors there immediately noticed the signs of a heart attack and rushed her via ambulance to GMC and its cardiac catheterization lab, which (thanks in part to Watkins) had just begun offering coronary angioplasties and stenting a few days earlier.

The procedure, technically called a percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI, was

performed by Dr. Philip Romm, and over quickly.

While Sue Rosenkrans recovered, it left her husband and five children to revel in the irony of Watkins' work in bringing better cardiac care -- the care that ultimately saved their mother's life -- to Gwinnett Medical.

"(Watkins) was ecstatic," Sue Rosenkrans said. "You could hardly control her, she was so excited to see that something that she had worked on for so long, and believed in, come to life, but never knowing that her mother was going to be the patient."

"She still, conversation-wise, tells everyone she can about this facility."

Added Norman: "When she told us of all the efforts that had transpired in getting the hospital certified, I was amazed. I had no idea she had been doing such spadework."

Gwinnett Medical Center sent the certificate of need application for its Heart & Vascular Center in 2008, vying to eliminate Gwinnett's title as the country's largest county without an open-heart facility.

After years of appeals from competing, Atlanta-based heart centers, officials finally broke ground last June. In preparation for a full-fledged opening in January, the hospital has already begun phasing in what Romm called "tertiary" cardiac procedures.

Between March 1 -- the date PCIs were allowed to be performed at GMC's heart catheterization lab -- and July 1, physicians had performed exactly 300 such procedures. That, according to the estimates of Romm, would already make GMC the "third-highest volume PCI hospital in Georgia."

"Essentially in a nine-month period of time," Romm said, "we're going to have revolutionized the level of care and services that are provided by GMC to the community."

Sue Rosenkrans said she's always been relatively healthy, lifting weights and doing kickboxing and aerobics for years. She urged others that might be in her same situation to keep tabs on potential symptoms and not delay getting treatment.

Tests have shown that she has another artery in need of attention, so she'll be getting more care soon -- in nearby Lawrenceville, thanks to her daughter.

"I can't imagine going anywhere else," she said. "I would not go anywhere else other than Gwinnett Medical for anything that I would have to go for, including another heart attack. I can't give enough accolades to the service.