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GSL Saves Woman from Major Heart Attack
July 12, 2022

Kathleen Wishnefsky considers June 28, 2021 her second birthday, the day her life was saved by St. Luke’s emergency medicine and cardiology experts at Geisinger St. Luke’s Hospital (GSL) in Orwigsburg.

While the 61-year-old Shenandoah woman’s heart attack certainly came as a shock, the quality of her care as GSL is no surprise at all. The American College of Cardiology recently awarded GSL with Chest Pain Center Accreditation for its proven ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with chest pain, which is a common sign of a heart attack.

That day last year, Kathleen didn’t think the “indigestion” might be heart related. She thought she was in good shape.  “I ran or walked every day,” she says. “My heart never entered my mind.” But she was a long-time smoker, which put her at a high risk for heart disease.

She and her husband were planning to leave for the Peach Music Festival at Montage Mountain that week, but the chest discomfort worsened each hour of the day.

He drove her from their home in Shenandoah to the Geisinger St. Luke’s Campus, Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, “to pick up something for the indigestion,” Kathleen says.

“We passed the hospitals in Pottsville because I’d heard such good things about Geisinger St. Luke’s, and I’m glad we did.”

In the ER, she told Emergency Medicine physician Jill Polanczyk, DO, about her discomfort, who suspected a more serious problem. She and the emergency department nurses and techs moved quickly to make a diagnosis. 

They hooked Kathleen up to a monitor to obtain an EKG and took blood to analyze. Upon review of the EKG, Dr. Polanczyk quickly realized that Kathleen was having a heart attack.

“It is through the commitment of our Geisinger Health System and St Luke’s University Health Network that our local community now has access to the amazing clinicians, staff and resources who can offer high-quality treatment close to home,” says Gabe Kamarousky, MBA, FACHE, Geisinger St. Luke’s president. “Thanks to Dr. Gregory Wilson for leading us in achieving this national Accreditation.”

“It has been a very challenging two-and-a-half years since we have opened, but our teams have continued to work together and achieve milestone after milestone, which includes Primary Stroke Center, Trauma Center, Chest Pain Center, Leapfrog Safety Rating of A, Leapfrog Top 50 Safest Hospital and Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence award for top performance in patient experience.  I am so proud of our team and the work and the quality of care we are providing here in Schuylkill County.”

“It seemed like two seconds and Dr. Jill told me I was having a heart attack,” Kathleen recalls. “I was shocked.”

Dr. Polanczyk explains that women, more often than men, can present with atypical cardiac symptoms. “Symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, neck, back or jaw pain or even abdominal discomfort mistaken as indigestion, such as in Kathleen's case, can be signs of a more serious cardiac condition or heart attack,” she says.  “That is why it is so important to seek out medical advice if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially if you have known risk factors for heart disease, instead of ignoring them.”

Dr. Polanczyk had her flown by helicopter to St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus for an emergency procedure. One of Kathleen’s heart arteries was 99% blocked, causing her symptoms and abnormal EKG and depriving her heart muscle of life-sustaining blood and threatening her life. 

At St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus, too, she was in expert hands. Network chairman of cardiovascular services Raymond Durkin, MD, an interventional cardiologist, found the culprit vessel and opened it with a tiny balloon, placing a metal stent in it to prop it open. That restored blood flow to the artery, bringing instant relief to his patient.

“Kathleen was smart to seek medical attention for her discomfort,” says Dr.  Durkin. “That action likely saved her life.”

She next went for cardiac rehabilitation to help her heart heal and become stronger. Today, she exercises daily and is a patient of cardiologist Crystal Maksimik, DO, at GSL. She raves about everyone at St. Luke’s who was there for her when her life depended on it.

“I can’t praise these hospitals and these people enough. They all were fantastic!”

This year, she and her husband will make that delayed trip to Montage Mountain for the Peach Festival, which she missed last year. No doubt she’ll celebrate her first re-birthday and whisper thanks for the St. Luke’s teams who made it possible for her to be there. It’s a birthday she’ll never forget.