Heart Disease Fought Daily At UPMC Chautauqua WCA

The Caster family of Frewsburg have fought the ravages of heart disease for three years. Pernell Caster, his son, Grady and his wife, Cathy, found their best care and solutions through Dr. George So in Jamestown and UPMC Chautauqua WCA. Submitted photo

Heart disease is blind and deaf. It chooses its victims without prejudice or preference. Sometimes catastrophic results of a heart condition attack or stroke are just heart beats away as they were for Pernell Caster of Frewsburg.

People of all backgrounds, ages, or economic circumstance can be affected without a minute’s notice. But you can choose to fight back. Leading a healthy lifestyle helps as does the research and excellent therapies available today at UPMC Chautauqua WCA.

Keeping active — like bowling in the annual Strike Out Heart Disease fundraising event on Feb. 18 — can help fight the disease and give you your daily dose of exercise. Shults Automotive Group and Medtronic are teaming up to sponsor the event at the Jamestown Bowling Company.

Patients like Sally Black of Jamestown and Pernell Caster, who have benefitted from the expertise of doctors and staff at UPMC Chautauqua WCA, will be assisted by the proceeds of the event through support of the cardiology department.

Pernell Caster, a 54-year old aeronautical engineer, had symptoms of dizziness and began passing out two years before his issues were resolved. Tragically, he suffered a stroke in the process of that journey.

Caster began his road to recovery with local cardiologist George L. So. After 10 months of appointments and testing, Dr. So diagnosed Caster with carotid artery sensitivity which could be remedied with a pacemaker. Unfortunately, for his safety — and in order to have insurance coverage of such surgery — other possible reasons for his blackouts needed to be eliminated.

“He had an angiogram in Buffalo to see if he had a blockage,” said his wife, Cathy Caster. “During the procedure he had a stroke, but it wasn’t discovered until he was home. It was too late to reverse its effects by the time we could diagnose it.”

After the stroke, Caster continued to have blackouts which required further investigation.

“I am absolutely so satisfied with Dr. So, the Cath Lab staff, and the nurses here at the hospital,” Caster said. “They have been wonderful. It was two years of chasing it down and what it came down to was Dr. So, right here in Jamestown, diagnosed it two years before it was resolved.

“We went to Cleveland Clinic, Buffalo, and Strong in Rochester and it was here in Jamestown that I got my answers from Dr. So and my primary care physician, Dr. Evadne Ong,” he said.

In August 2016 a wireless implantable cardiac monitor was placed in Pernell’s chest by Dr. So to capture the activity of his heart while diagnosing the issue he was having.

“Two weeks later it captured an event in his heart, but it couldn’t be pinpointed,” Mrs. Caster said. “Dr. So adjusted the scope of criteria for the monitor and in November, the device pinpointed the problem. The test showed his condition warranted a pacemaker. Surgery was scheduled for Nov. 15, 2016.

“Pernell kept telling me, ‘I’m not going to make it to Christmas,’ “ she said. “I assured him we’d get the right answer, but I secretly was very frightened.”

He confessed, “I could feel myself getting weaker by that day. I would just sit and stare at our five-year-old son.

“The day before my surgery I was home taking care of Grady when I felt an episode coming on,” related Caster. “I made it to the couch before I passed out. Luckily my heart started again, even though it shouldn’t have after that length of time. It was all recorded and reported to Dr. So who told me I came very close …”

Pacemaker surgery was successful for Caster, who hasn’t had any blackouts since.

For a man who wasn’t a high risk candidate for angioplasty, the remaining effects of his stroke are the cross he bears daily. In 22 seconds Pernell Caster went from being a partner in Caster Well Drilling who had traveled the world a few times for business, to a heart patient struggling against the ravages of the disease – a disease that doesn’t play favorites.

In Jamestown, Sally Black, a retired local nurse and educator, spoke of her experiences at UPMC Chautauqua WCA.

“Going through the cardio-vascular surgery unit was a very positive experience. The staff there are skilled, personable, and friendly in greeting and serving patients. I had to wear a halter heart monitor that records your heart’s activity 24/7,” said Black. “The readings are sent away and through the monitoring they discovered my heart was periodically skipping beats for 5 seconds at a time – night and day. That’s how they discovered I needed a pace maker.

“Jim (Cirbus, M.D.) did the whole sterile procedure in a specialized unit equipped for it at WCA,” she said talking about her pacemaker surgery. “Everyone was very attentive and I had no problems. I was discharged and it was great.

“That gadget they put in my chest – the whole technology and process – is amazing. It overwhelms me,” Black concluded. “It is wonderful to have this technology and trained physicians and staff right here in our community.”

Two very different stories about heart disease successfully treated in the comfort of local care at UPMC Chautauqua WCA. With support of the community and fund raising events like Strike Out Heart Disease, delivery of life saving service happens here every day.