Fishers resident Judy Schwuchow has lived with an atrial septal defect, which is a hole between the two upper chambers of her heart, all her life.
ASD is typically a defect in which people do not experience symptoms, but in 2018, that wasn’t the case for Schwuchow, as she began to experience shortness of breath and had trouble walking short distances.
“I didn’t know I had ASD until I was 31 years old,” Schwuchow said, now 71. “I had gone in for some pre-op testing for a minor surgery, and they heard a heart murmur and sent me to a hospital for an angiogram. That’s how they found out I was born with a hole in my heart.”
Schwuchow didn’t notice any issues with her health until she had a bicycle accident a few years ago.
“It seemed like one thing set off another thing with my heart, and I was having trouble breathing,” Schwuchow said.
Schwuchow recently had a non-invasive surgery to fix the hole in her heart. Although the defect isn’t rare, it is uncommon for an adult to have the surgery.
“Now they know to check babies when they’re born, and this surgery is mainly done on small children and not so many adults, so I feel like I was one of the fortunate ones,” Schwuchow said. “I’m just thankful they were able to perform that procedure on me.”
Cardiologist and Medical Director at IU Health North, Saxony and Tipton Hospitals Dr. Nathan Lambert of Noblesville said that in the past, correcting an ASD meant open-heart surgery, but that’s no longer the case.
“Now they are often treated with catheters in the catheterization laboratory, a significantly less invasive approach,” Lambert said. “Large ASDs often present in childhood and require treatment then. One of the unusual aspects of Judy’s case is that her ASD didn’t cause symptoms until later in life in adulthood.”
During the surgery, an adult congenital cardiologist performs the procedure in the catheterization laboratory. IU Health Adult Congenital Cardiology Specialist Dr. Georges Ephrem performed the procedure on Schwuchow. He inserted a catheter into her heart with a device called an Amplatzer ASD Occluder attached to the catheter. When positioned across the ASD, the device is secured in place and released from the catheter, closing the hole.
“I did (physical activities) before, then all of the sudden I could no longer do them, and now I can do all of that again,” Schwuchow said. “Walking, riding my bike, hiking – I always have had a lot of energy, and then when I didn’t have a lot of energy, I knew something was wrong. It was trying to find out what it was, and now I’m right back to where I was. Lots of energy, still able to do all the things I love doing, just keeping busy and very active.”