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Feature Article Collaboration with Stanford Benefits Albany Woman


Marilyn Smith almost canceled her annual exam, but her primary care clinic’s receptionist insisted. This assertiveness possibly saved Smith’s life.

At the clinic, the doctor listened to her heart and found a heart murmur. Smith was sent to Samaritan Albany General Hospital for an echocardiogram – a type of ultrasound exam for the heart. Then she was brought in for another diagnostic imaging procedure – a CT angiogram.

“The next thing I knew, they were making an appointment with a surgeon,” Smith said.

Smith was told she had a swelling of her ascending aorta (an aneurysm) and periodic testing was recommended to keep an eye on it. After another echocardiogram several months later, Samaritan Cardiologist Sridhar Vijayasekaran, MD, explained that the aneurysm had grown to the point that surgery was needed.

Cardiothoracic Surgeon Edward Bender, MD, recommended valve-sparing root replacement. Through Samaritan’s partnership with Stanford Health Care, she was referred to a cardiothoracic surgeon in Stanford’s Heart Surgery Clinic.

“Only a handful of hospitals in the country do this procedure often enough to be considered a source of routinely excellent outcomes,” Dr. Bender said.

The Samaritan-Stanford Health Care partnership allows Samaritan doctors to consult with Stanford’s internationally respected cardiothoracic specialists. It expands on Samaritan’s wide spectrum of services and procedures to include access to even more kinds of life-saving heart surgeries for local patients.

“We believe that we are able to provide an established center of excellence for cardiothoracic surgery that will complement the high level of care and services already offered by Samaritan Health Services,” said Dr. Joseph Woo, who is chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. “This new program will enhance the standard of surgical care available in the community and leverages the best of what Stanford and Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center can deliver as leaders in health. With the addition of the Stanford Cardiac Surgery Program, Samaritan now offers an opportunity for patients with heart and lung disease to receive the highest quality of care available in their community.”

For months following her diagnosis, Smith felt fine. The only clues that something was wrong came from the tests at the hospital.

“Nobody at work knew this was going on,” she said. “Only my husband knew.”

But that winter as she went about her business – working as the public information officer for the City of Albany, caring for her mother, participating in her reading group, taking her dog Stella for long walks – she started noticing symptoms.

“I would get kind of faint, or I would feel out of breath,” Smith recalled.

A physician assistant told her these feelings were caused by her aneurysm and that her heart was having trouble keeping up with her activities. She started taking it easy.

“I stopped walking the dog and taking the stairs for awhile,” she said.

Leading up to her surgery, she had consultations over the phone with surgeons from Stanford, and the surgery was scheduled and all arrangements were made by the time Smith and her husband arrived in Palo Alto at Stanford Hospital. After seven hours of surgery, seven days recovering in the hospital and a few months in cardiac rehab at Samaritan Albany General Hospital, Smith feels back to normal.

“I’m fine other than a hamstring pull from walking the dog,” she laughed.

Smith is happy she was able to benefit from the partnership between Samaritan Health Services and Stanford Health Care.

“It was the best experience,” Smith said. “I am very pleased Samaritan has that partnership. It’s the kind of thing you might not expect in an area with a relatively small population. This kind of expertise so close at hand, we’re really lucky.”