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Building Gratitude Together - Marilyn’s Story

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

~Marilyn Smith

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 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, the aneurysm had grown to the point that surgery was needed.

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.”

Background image: Marilyn and her dog love taking walks together.

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.

Cardiothoracic Surgeon Edward Bender, MD, recommended valve-sparing root replacement. Through Samaritan Heart Center’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.

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.

Background image: Marilyn and her family taking a walk together.

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

~Marilyn Smith

“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 Heart Center 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. We’re really lucky to have this kind of expertise so close at hand.”

Samaritan Heart Center provides a wide range of advanced cardiology, cardiac surgery and electrophysiology (heart rhythm) services to patients of our region. To learn more about Samaritan Heart Center, visit

Background image: Marilyn wears a heart necklace to remind her of her experience.

What Is an Aneurysm?

An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of a weakened blood vessel. If it bursts, it can be serious. Small aneurysms are monitored, along with lifestyle changes. Larger aneurysms often involve some sort of surgery. Aortic aneurysms occur in the aorta, a large artery that leads away from our heart. Cerebral aneurysms occur in the brain.

Heart Care Takes Teamwork

Your body is complex and when a heart issue occurs, it takes a team of professionals working for you to help you get better. Heart surgeon Edward Bender, MD, and Cardiologist Matthew Lindberg, MD, share the importance of patient-centered care.

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