Peace of Mind: A COVID-19 Safety Story

89-year-old Edward McLaughlin was in cancer treatment when he developed a heart issue that required emergency intervention. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Beverly Hills resident had been diagnosed with a neck tumor several years earlier.

“He was never sick in his life,” says his daughter, Sharon McLaughlin Kausler. “And now all of a sudden he has cancer? We were all shocked.”

They met with a team of specialists at Henry Ford, including head and neck cancer specialist Tamer Ghanem, M.D., Ph.D., radiation oncologist M. Salim Siddiqui, M.D., Ph.D., and medical oncologist Jawad Sheqwara, M.D.

“I really appreciated the team approach,” Edward says. “They all worked together to give me the best treatment plan.”

Following radiation and chemotherapy, Edward’s cancer went into remission, only to return a year later. Dr. Sheqwara started him on a course of immunotherapy infusions at Henry Ford Hospital.

COVID-19 safety concerns

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. At first, both Edward and Sharon were concerned about going to the infusion center.

“I was absolutely worried about it for Dad, since he was going through treatment and was immunocompromised,” Sharon says. “But I also have a son with a cardiac issue. So the stakes were very high.”

When they returned to the infusion unit for Edward’s next immunotherapy treatment, they noticed that the Henry Ford team did a good job of screening patients and keeping them separate to observe social distancing.

“It started upfront, when they had us go through the clinic doors instead of the main entrance to help control traffic,” Sharon says. “We were greeted outside by someone and they took our temperatures even before we walked in the door. I had to park the car, so one of the nurses stayed with Dad while I was gone, and kept him isolated away from other people.”

The focus shifts

COVID-19 safety had been their first concern, but this was about to change. While undergoing his latest infusion, Edward’s heart rate plummeted.

“I was anemic, so they gave me blood transfusions, and they thought this would increase my heart rate,” he says. “It didn’t.”

Their care team sprang into action, starting with the oncology nurses, who actively monitored Edward’s heart rate. They also communicated with Sharon while bringing in other Henry Ford specialists, including Dr. Sheqwara, who ordered an immediate EKG. In consultation with Henry Ford electrophysiologist Arfaat Khan, M.D., the team determined that Edward needed a pacemaker, and soon.

“Originally, they wanted Dad to be monitored, but due to COVID-19, there were no direct admits to Henry Ford Hospital,” Sharon says. “This meant the only option was the ER, and since he was almost 90, and with the virus spreading, this really wasn’t an option in our minds.”

Dr. Khan agreed, and quickly came up with another solution. He made time in his schedule to do a pacemaker implant the very next day, and his team got to work on the insurance authorization. Edward and Sharon went home, and got a call the next morning saying the pacemaker was approved, and they could come in for the procedure.

As before, they noticed that Henry Ford was taking extensive COVID-19 safety precautions.

“We never felt like we were exposed to anything,” Sharon says. “On the day of his procedure, we were asked questions twice downstairs and once upstairs on the procedure floor. At the beginning, a nurse came down and met us, and took Dad upstairs. There weren’t many people around the elevators, and no one else was on our elevator, so we could tell they were pacing people so that no one was congregating. When we got upstairs, everyone was masked and gloved.”

Customizing the procedure

Edward and Sharon met with Dr. Khan, who explained the different options for a pacemaker. Given Edward’s age and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he recommended that they not go with the newest model.

“He was definitely looking out for Dad’s best interests,” Sharon says. “The way he explained it, with the newest pacemaker type, you need to come back on a monthly basis to have the data transmitted. Instead, we went with his recommended model, which allows transmission over the phone. This would be easier for Dad, and help to limit his exposure.”

During their meeting with Dr. Khan, he also explained that they were aiming to complete the pacemaker procedure and send Edward home the same day. And they would be using other surgery-specific COVID-19 safety precautions, including taking off Edward’s N-95 mask briefly to put on the oxygen mask for anesthesia, then putting his original mask back on over the equipment.

“They were thinking a step ahead on how they were going to keep him safe,” Sharon says. “And when I came back to see Dad before he went in, I saw they had replaced the mask.”

Given Edward’s particular case, there were also two possible surgical paths, and Dr. Khan had explained that they wouldn’t know until the procedure which was the best option.

“They prepared everything ahead of time, sterilizing all of the equipment for both options,” Sharon says. “And when I visited Dad in the cardiac recovery room a couple of hours later, he was only one of two patients. Dr. Khan and his team met with us, and told us what to expect for the rest of the day as they monitored Dad. By 5 p.m., we were done and they sent us home.”

Safer at home, and grateful

EP Patient Story Edward McLaughlin and family“Hands down, Henry Ford is the best when it comes to focusing on patients,” Edward says. “For both the infusion treatment and the pacemaker procedure, we didn’t feel like we had to question anything. We were impressed by all of the precautions we saw, and didn’t have any COVID-19 safety concerns.”

After going through Henry Ford for Edward’s continuing cancer treatment and the emergency pacemaker intervention, Sharon also notes that the team has always made her family feel like there was an answer.

“This experience reaffirmed how comfortable and glad we are that we made the shift to Henry Ford years ago,” Sharon says. “They have always jumped through hoops to try to figure out how they were going to keep a patient safe and comfortable. I truly believe that Dr. Khan saved Dad’s life with the one-day pacemaker implant. He was able to see that Dad would be safer at home than trying to go through the ER, and his team worked to make that happen.”

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