When networking is a matter of life and death

Clinical collaboration saves Duxbury, VT, man

Dale Chamberlin, 42, from Duxbury, VT had dealt with spells of syncope – passing out – for much of his life. Doctors were baffled by his case, and by 2016 his symptoms had worsened to the point where he was passing out daily.

He was admitted to The University of Vermont Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC), where he underwent an echocardiogram, a specialized test that allows providers to view the activity of the heart.

I got to UVM Medical Center and Dr. Leavitt met us in the Emergency Department at 9 am. By noon, Dale was in surgery.

Nancy Chamberlin

Echocardiography Technician Allyson Pratt saw something on the test that concerned her, so she called cardiologist Joachim Mueller, MD, at 7 am on a Friday in April to review the images.

What he saw in Chamberlain’s left atrium was a massive tumor that was causing a clot, obstructing blood flow to his left pulmonary veins.

“It was the biggest heart tumor I’d ever seen, and with the syncopal events, he could die anytime if we didn’t get it out,” Mueller recalls.

Knowing time was of the essence, Mueller informed the hospitalist team at CVMC, then called a colleague, cardiothoracic surgeon Bruce Leavitt, MD, at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

Leavitt looked at the images and quickly realized the urgency of the situation. “He could have died within a day.” An ambulance was immediately arranged to bring Chamberlain from CVMC to UVM Medical Center.

Nancy Chamberlin, Dale’s sister, remembers. “I got to UVM Medical Center and Dr. Leavitt met us in the Emergency Department at 9 am. By noon, he was in surgery.”

Heart tumors are relatively rare. Leavitt sees them only two or three times a year, and most are classified as myxomas, which are jellylike in nature. “This tumor was hard, like a rubber ball, so I knew we had to go after it in a different way.”

Leavitt and fellow UVM Medical Center cardiothoracic surgeon Joseph Schmoker, MD, both professors of Surgery at the Larner College of Medicine, worked together to stop Chamberlain’s heart and cut out the tumor.

Thanks to quick thinking and teamwork between clinicians at two of UVM Health Network’s hospitals, Chamberlain’s life was saved. His surgery was a success, and after a few days in the ICU, he was able to return home. “They treated him very nicely, and his treatment went very well,” Nancy said.