Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | May 27, 2020

Quick Thinking gets Singer’s Heart Back to a Normal Rhythm

Todd Berger’s colleagues gave him a Good Catch Award. From left to right: Physical therapist Colleen Sparrow, the patient, clinical service coordinator Linda Patrikios, exercise specialist Todd Berger, HR assistant director Adam Tabor, clinical dietician Ellen Michal and administrative director for outpatient ambulatory services Andrea Layton. Photo taken in early February, prior to the COVID-19 response.

Exercise specialist Todd Berger credits his training in cardiac stress tests and a shared love of music in helping him connect with and identify a patient with suspected atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Berger works with patients who have graduated from outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation at Duke Specialty Rehabilitation Services Midtown, part of Duke Raleigh Hospital. Many of the patients continue to exercise at the facility, allowing Berger to get to know them. He and this particular patient developed a bond over music since the patient is a former singer and Berger plays the drums. This friendship helped Berger put the patient at ease after a routine, pre-workout blood pressure check sounded irregular.

Berger, who ran exercise stress tests when he worked in Massachusetts, palpated the patient’s pulse and then used a defibrillator/monitor to check the intermittent heart rhythm. The irregularity pointed to AFib, a heart arrhythmia that can cause blood clots, stroke and heart failure.

“He mentioned he was feeling more out of breath than usual,” Berger said. “But because he has lung disease, he was attributing his shortness of breath to that, not realizing something else was going on, too.”

Berger had nurse Joanne Holowecki, RN, also examine the patient. With their encouragement, the patient alerted his primary care physician and then saw cardiologist Stephen Robinson, MD. Robinson confirmed the AFib diagnosis. The patient is now being treated and monitored. He’s also back exercising and discussing his love of music with Berger.

“In this scenario, his heart was beating to a bit of a different drummer,” Berger said. “It’s great to have him back in a regular rhythm, keeping time.”​

–By Morag MacLachlan

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