Gift Celebrates Longtime Doctor-Patient Relationship

Frances Broaddus-Crutchfield recently established the 
George and Frances Broaddus Crutchfield Lecture Series with 
a generous donation to the VCU Pauley Heart Center.

Dr. Michael Hess and Frances Broaddus-Crutchfield with Dr. Jim Young of the Cleveland ClinicThe annual series will support and advance education in heart failure. Mrs. Broaddus-Crutchfield presented the gift in memory of her late husband, George Crutchfield, the Director of the VCU School of Mass Communications for many years, and in honor of his longtime physician, Dr. Michael Hess.

“We were doctor, patient and friends for 34 years,” said Dr. Hess, VCU Clinical Professor of Medicine and a noted heart failure and heart transplantation scholar. “He was a brilliant man, who built one of the more distinguished schools of mass communications in the world.” Mrs. Broaddus-Crutchfield’s gift was a fitting tribute to her husband because “it combines medicine, cardiology, education—which he was obviously very dedicated to—and communication.”

Mrs. Broaddus-Crutchfield said her husband, who died in March 2011, had already experienced two open heart surgeries by the time she met him. The couple married in 1995. “Were it not for the doctors in the Pauley Heart Center, most especially Dr. Hess, I would not have had a second married life,” she said. “I would not have known him had they not been able to save him.” The gift, she said, “is just giving back. If you have a little something, it’s important to give it back.” “I am delighted with this gift that will allow us to ensure the intellectual collaboration and stimulation of bringing the top experts in heart failure and heart transplantation to interact with our physicians,” said Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, Chair of Cardiology Division, Pauley Heart Center.

Before her husband died, the Crutchfields hosted a luncheon at the hospital to celebrate Dr. Hess’s and Mr. Crutchfield’s many years together as doctor and patient. Mrs. Broaddus-Crutchfield read a poem that she had written in honor of Dr. Hess, which was later framed and presented to him at the 2012 Pauley Heart Center Consortium dinner. “As a doctor, he is very competent and kind, and those are the two best things one can say about a doctor,” she said.

The Inaugural George and Frances Broaddus Crutchfield Lecture was held on October 10, 2013 and featured guest lecturer Dr. Jim Young of the Cleveland Clinic. Because of Mrs. Broaddus-Crutchfield’s generosity, Dr. Young spent his time on campus interacting with Pauley Heart Center faculty, discussing heart failure care and presenting at the Department of Internal Medicine Grand Rounds.

Continued education in heart failure medicine is of paramount importance, “but funding for such endeavors is getting harder to find,” said Dr. Hess. “Frances’ gift has made it possible for the Pauley Heart Center to host a lecture in heart failure every year and to expose our faculty and trainees to peers that are doing great things at other institutions.”

Latest Advances in Afib Include Lariat Procedure

At a recent atrial fibrillation round table at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in September, doctors from the VCU Pauley Heart Center showed a video that amazed the audience: The innovative LARIAT™ Suture Delivery System in action. In the video, a fluoroscopy from an actual procedure, two magnet-tipped catheter wires (which appear as black lines) place a loop around the left atrial appendage of a beating heart. The appendage is then sutured.

As the name implies, the LARIAT procedure “works like a lasso,” said Dr. Jay Koneru, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology and Electrophysiology at Pauley. He explained that the left atrial appendage “is a redundant structure, like an appendix. It’s not needed. But blood clots formed in the left atrial appendage cause 75-90% of all strokes in afib patients.” During open heart surgery, doctors often remove the troublesome appendage from a patient as a preventive measure, he said.

The LARIAT procedure is catheter-based, with no surgery involved. The technique provides a new option for patients who are at risk of stroke but are either unable to take anticoagulants or are not good candidates for surgery. LARIAT patients require general anesthesia, and they can generally go home within 1-2 days.

Doctors at Pauley Heart Center have performed the procedure for over a year and are among the most experienced practitioners in the country.

“We’ve even had patients in their late 80s who have done very well with the procedure,” said Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, Chair of Cardiology and Director of the VCU Pauley Heart Center’s Atrial Fibrillation Program.

Back in the Swing of Things

John Britton playing tennis


Wearing a royal blue USTA jacket, John Britton looks right at home sitting near the indoor tennis courts at the ACAC fitness center in Richmond. Britton, a tall, slim man of 65, is a lifelong athlete—a state champion track star in high school who started playing tennis in adult recreational leagues in the 1970s.

Today, he competes at the national level in USTA Super Senior tournaments and works out vigorously several days a week. But for many years, he fought an on-and-off-again battle with atrial fibrillation. His cardiac troubles first began in 1999, with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HOCM), a genetic condition that involves a thickening of the left ventricle. While running at lunchtime with his coworkers, he said, “My feet wouldn’t have circulation at the end of a three-mile run.”

The HOCM responded well to medication. Then, in 2002, after helping his team win the USTA Senior Mid-Atlantic Sectionals, he experienced a new problem—atrial fibrillation. “I felt a fluttering in my chest and had a complete lack of stamina,” he said. While playing tennis, “I could only hit four or five balls and then I’d have to catch my breath. I couldn’t run after lobs.”

From 2002 to 2008, he had to stop playing USTA league tennis when he could no longer perform at a competitive level. He returned to the sport following two cardiac ablations, undertaken by Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen in 2009 and 2012, and an open-heart Maze surgery.

“He was a very motivated patient,” recalled Dr. Vigneshwar Kasirajan, Interim Chair of the Department of Surgery and Chair of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at VCU Pauley Heart Center, who performed the surgery. “He wanted to feel better and get back to doing the things he used to do.”

Britton eventually felt strong enough to begin playing tennis again and rejoined his old team. He went on to compete in the 2011 Senior Nationals in Palm Springs, California. In 2012, he retired as Research Director of the Department of Corrections, where he had worked for 41 years. That year, following a second ablation, he snapped his Achilles tendon. He came back from all of it, though, and competed in the USTA Mid-Atlantic Sectionals and Senior Nationals in 2013.

“John’s story is proof that atrial fibrillation can happen to anyone—even outstanding athletes,” said Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, Chair of Cardiology. Fortunately, with today’s advanced treatments, “We have been able to change his life for the better.”
Britton is pleased with the care he has received over the years at Pauley. “I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Ellenbogen and Dr. Kasirajan and their staff. My afib is well under control and I’m able to run around the tennis courts and play like I did years ago.”