How a Young, Healthy RN Nearly Died (Three Times) and Lived To Tell Her Story
By Scott Neumyer, guest contributor
March 29, 2012 - When you’re a healthy 32-year-old registered nurse, the last thing you expect is to be on an operating table staring death in the face. This very scenario, however, is what happened last fall to Amy Lorincz--a nurse of more than 10 years who works in the neurological-stroke unit at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J.
While working a normal 12-hour shift on a normal Thursday afternoon in October, Lorincz began to experience severe upper back pain and tachycardia as high as 170.
“I wanted to keep working,” Lorincz said. “I just figured it would pass, but my co-workers made me go down to the ER.”
The attending emergency room physician thought she might be dehydrated, but, after receiving a liter of fluid, her heart rate did not return to normal. It was holding steady around 100 while resting. Sitting up, however, would raise her heart rate to 130, and walking would cause it to shoot up as high as 165.
Being the patient, instead of the caregiver, has given Lorincz a whole new perspective on nursing.After undergoing a series of tests, Lorincz had an echocardiogram which revealed fluid around the heart. The cardiologist called in for consult, Dr. Robert Schanzer, initially thought she was suffering from pericarditis--she had been sick three weeks prior with a virus that pushed her temperature to 104. He treated her with medication and sent her home.
A restless weekend of simply not feeling well, shortness of breath, and a heart rate that skyrocketed while doing the most menial tasks (showering, for instance) prompted Lorincz to call Dr. Schanzer the following Monday. Over the next few days, she underwent additional testing before undergoing a cardiac catheterization on October 20, 2011. It was at this point that Lorincz’s life would change forever.
The catheterization was initially performed in Lorincz’s wrist, but she immediately began to perspire and experienced a massive drop in blood pressure. The wrist catheterization was removed as her doctors opted, instead, to go in through the groin. While performing this procedure, Dr. Schanzer realized that Amy had suffered a spontaneous dissection of the LAD (left anterior descending artery)--a dissection that often results in death before it’s even discovered.
“At that point, I was barely conscious,” said Lorincz. “My husband had to sign all my consent forms. I was in a lot of pain and just… out of it.”
Dr. Schanzer tried his best to use a stent to stop the dissection, but the stent couldn’t support the blood pressure and Amy was admitted to the critical care unit (CCU) at JFK Medical Center. She was given blood pressure medications, to no avail, and doctors were forced to insert an intra-aortic balloon pump to support her blood pressure.
Later that evening, Lorincz was transferred to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., under the care of Dr. Peter Scholz, who was tasked with saving the young RN’s life. She would have open heart surgery the next morning.
“In certain areas of the body, in certain blood vessels, these spontaneous dissections will heal up and you can often just watch them,” said Dr. Scholz. “But in the heart artery, that’s not going to be a good idea.”
When Lorincz finally awoke from her double bypass surgery, she was still intubated and had received a large amount of blood to replenish what she’d lost. She had an atrial line, a triple lumen catheter, an out-of-the-body pacemaker, three chest tubes, and the previously-mentioned balloon pump was still intact.
She was a mess of wires and tubes. She was exhausted and emotionally drained and in a lot of pain. But she was alive.
“Dr. Scholz saved my life,” said Lorincz.“Dr. Scholz saved my life,” said Lorincz. “I know that for a fact. He saved my father’s life with a double bypass surgery 26 years ago, and now he’d saved mine. If I didn’t have the surgery, I wouldn’t be here now seeing my kids grow up.”
She was finally extubated at 11:30 that evening, and, by that Sunday morning, she had all tubes out, was out of bed, and back to inpatient rehabilitation by Tuesday, October 25. And that would have been a fitting ending to a frightening tale. Only, it wasn’t the end.
Just two days later, Lorincz suffered another episode of tachycardia as her heart rate shot up to 240 and an EKG revealed a possible acute heart attack. She was transferred back to the CCU where doctors soon found blood clots in her right femoral artery, right interjugular vein, and left cephalic vein. She received more blood and was monitored for several more days. Lorincz returned to inpatient rehab on October, 31, where she remained until November 9.
After making it through the remaining 2011 holidays while resting at home, Lorincz would return to the hospital two more times in January of 2012: once with a life-threatening pulmonary embolism after suffering from shortness of breath and immense chest pain, and once with a vasospasm of the axillary artery in her left arm. She was treated for both just in time to save her life… again.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life,” said Lorincz, when asked about her string of life-threatening situations. “We have a history of heart disease in my family, but I’ve never had any issues. I’ve always been a relatively healthy person and for all these things to happen at the same time… it’s just a huge shock.”
Along with the doctors and nurses who helped save her life, Lorincz is thankful for the family and community that rallied around her when she was at her absolute worst.
"If I didn’t have the surgery," says Lorincz, "I wouldn’t be here now seeing my kids grow up.”“I have an amazing group of family, friends, and co-workers,” she said. “You don’t realize how much everyone cares about you until you’ve almost died. In my case, I had three chances to realize that. I’d say I know now.”
Family members, friends, and parents of her young daughters’ schoolmates (her daughters were six and four at the time) organized food drives, helped with childcare, and offered to lend a hand whenever and wherever it was needed. It was an outpouring of support for a young woman who was used to being the one providing help to her patients.
Still resting and gaining her strength back in preparation for the physical demands of her job, Lorincz is scheduled to make the transition from patient back to nurse next month, on April 15. This time, however, she’ll be doing it with a whole new perspective.
“Being on that side of the equation” changed everything, she explained. “Being the patient, being the person who nearly died on that table, I know what it’s like now. I know I’ll be more sympathetic. I know I’ll be more aware. I know I’ll be more understanding of everything my patients are going through. And most of all, I know I’ll be a better nurse.”