Calvary Lenah Valley’s chest pain clinic uncovering matters of the heart

Michelle Sykes was a heart attack waiting to happen. She just didn’t know it at the time.

Six short weeks later, Michelle says she is lucky to have survived a complete blockage to the main artery in her heart and be back doing online workout challenges.

The 57-year-old believes listening to her body and GP, and receiving a rapid referral to Calvary Lenah Valley Hospital’s new chest pain evaluation clinic saved her life.

Cardiovascular disease in Australia

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, cardiovascular disease was the underlying cause of a quarter of all Australian deaths in 2021.

Michelle is one of more than 100 patients who have attended the clinic, located in Calvary Lenah Valley’s Cardiac Centre, since the service began in mid-April. About a quarter have needed to undergo further assessment and procedures to correct problems many didn’t know existed.

Hobart interventional cardiologist Dr Joseph Matthews said the clinic was designed to provide quick assessments for GP-referred people, who might be at risk of a heart attack or becoming unstable, or like Michelle’s case, experiencing symptoms she knew were unusual.

“We are not talking about someone who is having an acute event or experiencing ongoing chest pain – they need to phone an ambulance and be assessed and treated in an emergency department,” Dr Matthews said.

Patients are usually seen within 48 hours of referral. The initial appointment and assessment generally includes a stress test, or echo cardiogram, and is bulk-billed.

Calvary Lenah Valley Hospital General Manager, Marcus DiMartino, said the service complemented a similar clinic in Hobart’s public hospital.

“We know there is a real need in the community for this type of service and the number of people already seen through the clinic confirms that, with referrals growing as more GPs learn of our service,” he said.

Post-workout pains lead to diagnosis

For Michelle, searing chest pain and heaviness in her shoulders and arms a day after a particularly hard workout raised alarms. She knew it wasn’t normal for her, and although she kept herself fit and in shape, family history was against her.

A relieving GP referred her to a cardiologist, but the earliest available appointment she could get was January 2024.

Pain and fatigue persisted whenever she exerted herself, so in August she went to see her regular GP who felt action was needed sooner rather than later, providing a referral to the Calvary Lenah Valley clinic.

“I think that’s when I realised something was terribly wrong,” Michelle said.

Within 48 hours she was on the clinic’s treadmill and diagnosed with likely heart disease, before undergoing an angiogram within days to confirm a major blockage. Her other arteries had been compensating, until they didn’t.

“I was stunned really, but mostly frightened. There was relief because I had an answer to what was going on, but there was fear of what lay ahead and of what could have happened.”

Cardiologist in blue scrubs and female patient in white top smile at camera in consultation room

The following week Michelle had successful surgery to insert a stent. After an overnight stay in critical care, she was back at her Midway Point home ready to begin her recovery.

“I think it is really important that people know that the clinic or other services are there and don’t put their head in the sand,” Michelle said. “Don’t just think it will come right because it may not. I’m just so very, very lucky.”

It is advice echoed by Dr Matthews: “If you are worried about some new pain, get it checked out. Listen to your symptoms”.