ATHENS, Ga. - When Alan Drew, 61, noticed he was short of breath while doing yard work, he assumed it was a part of getting older. He never expected Dr. Matthew Crim, cardiologist with Piedmont Heart of Athens, to tell him his shortness of breath was due to a tumor in his heart.
“I’ve always been pretty active,” Drew said. “I started to notice I was getting really out of breath and kept feeling like I had to sit down and rest while working in my yard. I didn’t have symptoms for long, but I knew it didn’t feel right. Had I not taken action and gone to the doctor, I probably would not have made it.”
While visiting Crim at Piedmont Heart of Athens, Drew was to complete a routine stress test, which would help doctors identify any issues with his heart. Drew, however, never finished the test.
“When he was on the treadmill, he passed out,” Crim said. “This was alarming because it can be a high-risk feature of severe coronary disease, which is blockage of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. Drew was rushed to the main hospital for further testing.
The tests Crim and the team at Piedmont Athens Regional performed showed signs of only mild coronary disease but revealed Drew had a large benign tumor, called a myxoma, filling the entire left atrium of his heart, which receives blood from the lungs to supply the rest of his body. Drew underwent open-heart surgery at Piedmont Athens Regional with Dr. Cullen Morris, who successfully removed the tumor from Drew’s heart.
“Tumors that arise in the heart, also known as primary heart tumors, are rare and occur in less than 0.1 percent of people,” Crim said. “Alan had a myxoma, which is a benign primary heart tumor. Because Alan’s myxoma was very large and located in his left atrium, he was at risk for a stroke and other serious complications. We needed to remove it as soon as possible.”
Nearly two months since his surgery, Drew and his wife remain in shock from his surprising diagnosis. As he continues to recover, he hopes his story encourages others to listen to their body.
“It was a time of awakening in many aspects of our lives. Things have changed so much,” Drew said. “I hope my story teaches people to take more interest in their own health.”
Myxomas are tumors of connective tissue and are the most common type of primary heart tumors, with around 75 percent occurring in the left atrium of the heart, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms may occur at any time and can include difficulty breathing when lying flat, chest pain or tightness, lightheadedness and fainting.
For more information about Piedmont Heart of Athens, visit piedmont.org/heart.