St. Luke’s Cardiovascular Center Brings Art to Medicine
By Lily Tung Crystal
The reception area at CPMC’s St. Luke’s Campus Cardiovascular Center is unlike any other. In fact, it seems more like a warm, inviting art gallery than a hospital waiting room, with paintings by local artists adorning the walls.
One central piece is called “Takotsubo.” In it, a swirling explosion of red, pink, violet and orange threaten to engulf a tiny heart floating in the corner of the canvas. In Japanese, takotsubo means octopus trap, but artist Holly Bratt’s inspiration comes from something closer to home—her mother Emily Bratt’s heart attack.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Because it often takes the shape of an octopus net, doctors use the term takotsubo cardiomyopathy when referring to a weakened heart muscle. And last April, Emily’s started to give out.
She was nearing her 90th birthday when she woke. “Suddenly I felt like I was exploding and going to faint,” Emily recalls. Holly, who was watering the lawn, peeked into Emily’s window and realized something was wrong.
It was no accident that Emily was brought to St. Luke’s. For 30 years she had taught nursing at St. Luke’s when it was a nursing school. Holly grew up running its halls before walking them as a nursing student, and eventually worked there herself as a nurse. “We’ve been at St. Luke’s since I was in the womb,” Holly says, laughing. “It’s home. It’s family.”
Part of that circle includes Edward S. Kersh, M.D., chief of cardiology, Emily’s cardiologist. When she arrived at the St. Luke’s emergency room that day, she immediately went into cardiac arrest. Fortunately, Dr. Kersh had a system in place to quickly get her care.
Drip to Ship
It wasn’t always this way. “When I first started here in 2005, patients were coming in with heart attacks, and we were at a loss of what to do,” says Dr. Kersh. Since St. Luke’s didn’t have the ability to perform coronary interventions, patients were transferred to other hospitals. The time it took a patient to get from the ER to surgery — what doctors call “door-to-balloon time” — was more than the national standard of 90 minutes.
So Dr. Kersh forged an innovative collaboration between the ER and cardiologists at CPMC’s Pacific Campus.
Now if a patient arrives with a heart attack, the St. Luke’s ER makes the diagnosis in 10 minutes, starts treatment, and dispatches the patient immediately to the Pacific Campus seven minutes away. When the patient arrives there, he or she goes directly to the operating room. What Dr. Kersh calls the “drip and ship” program has gotten St. Luke’s door-to-balloon time down to 60 minutes. “What we’ve done has saved a lot of lives,” says Dr. Kersh.
Close, Valve, Close
Under this program, Emily arrived at St. Luke’s. When the staff saw her blocked artery, they raced her to the Pacific Campus to the cardiac catheterization laboratory. But the collaboration with St. Luke’s didn’t end there. As the angioplasty was performed, Dr. Kersh was able to watch the surgery on his computer and consult as if he were there. The surgery was a success. “The care my mom got was phenomenal,” says Holly. “It’s beyond a miracle that she made it. They saved her life.”
But Emily wasn’t out of the woods yet. For two weeks afterward, one of her heart valves wouldn’t close properly. Holly stood by her mother’s side in the intensive care unit. She brought in paintings, from waves to sunsets, to help Emily remain positive and visualize her recovery. Meanwhile, Emily helped herself by writing poems about her fight, with titles like “Close Damn Valve Close” and “Ninety, and Still Ticking.”
Finally the valve closed. By the time Emily left CPMC, she had been there a month, but she felt like she was gaining another chance at life. “It was like I was getting a new skin,” she muses, “like a caterpillar.”
The role that art played in Emily’s recovery struck Dr. Kersh, who also incorporates art into his practice. Every year, he holds an art show and fundraiser, inviting local artists to show and sell their work on the center’s
walls. “Artwork makes for a healing environment,” explains Dr. Kersh. “When you’re sitting in a waiting room looking at beautiful pieces, it helps take your mind off things.”
During one of Emily’s follow-up visits, Dr. Kersh asked her and Holly to present their poetry and painting. “We never thought in our wildest dreams that we would be invited,” says Emily.
Today, center patients are surrounded by Holly’s paintings. “Takotsubo” hangs alongside Emily’s poems. And back at home, Emily’s nearly back to her old self, exercising regularly and still writing and painting.
“I was surprised that a person of her age was so resilient,” says Dr. Kersh. “Most 90-year-olds would’ve succumbed. But she survived for two reasons. First, she got prompt medical attention due to the system we have in place and our ability to see beyond her age. Second was her own spirit, fortitude, and ability to heal herself.”
(a poem by Emily Bratt)
"Ninety, and Still Ticking"
And so, to you
My ninety-year-old heart
I ponder where you will take me.
What is in store for me?
I celebrate your longevity
And thank you for the long journey