A Routine Procedure Leads to a Timely Intervention, and Kimberly's Second-Chance at Life

Left to right: Dr. Sahil Parikh, Dr. Sanjum Sethi, Kimberly, Ronald, Jenny Torres (Practice Manager), Iskania Betances (Medical Assistant)

When Kimberly R. went in for a routine medical visit with her Ob-Gyn, she had no idea it would be the first step on a journey involving a life-threatening cardiac crisis and a heroic recovery. 

"I started having health problems,” Kimberly recalled, “and my gynecologist said ‘Go see what’s going on,’” urging her to seek further testing, and, eventually, a gynecologic surgery. But during this seemingly routine procedure, complications arose: “I started bleeding out of places that I shouldn’t have been, and I started crashing.”

The cause? A life-threatening blood clot in her lungs, called a pulmonary embolism, or PE. Pulmonary embolism is a deadly condition that affects thousands annually. According to a 2024 report by the American Heart Association, pulmonary embolism is a leading cause of mortality worldwide, responsible for over 36,000 deaths and 180,000 hospitalizations annually in the U.S. alone.

While Kimberly’s gynecologic surgeon was examining her uterus, they unintentionally loosened a clot that entered Kimberly’s circulation and moved towards her lungs, causing the artery to her left lung to become entirely blocked. Pulmonary embolism is a rare complication from most surgical procedures, and without early action, it can be fatal. 

Fortunately for Kimberly, her medical team quickly recognized the issue and rapidly moved into action. She was swiftly transported from the operating room to a different kind of procedure space, the cardiac Cath lab, and her care was transferred from her gynecological surgeons to a team of interventional cardiologists–heart specialists with particular expertise treating circulatory conditions like PE. 

There in the cath lab, under the leadership of Dr. Sanjum Sethi, director of the Pulmonary Embolism Response Team (PERT) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the interventional team worked to remove the clot from Kimberly’s lung while also managing her bleeding.

All this was happening as Kimberly was still unconscious, anesthetized for her initial surgery.  Yet while she was mercifully unaware of the medical drama she was now starring in, her husband Ronald anxiously stood by in the waiting room, hoping for positive updates.  Fortunately, support and reassurance from Dr. Sethi and the team gave him a sense of confidence that Kimberly was in capable hands. “He made me feel the severity of the situation at the time, but he told me it was something that he was familiar with, which made me feel good about her chances.”

That familiarity extends back at an institutional level. Columbia’s Interventional Cardiovascular Care program has been at the forefront of managing this life-threatening condition for years. They established one of the very first dedicated pulmonary embolism response teams in the area and are currently leading numerous studies aimed at transforming the treatment of people with the condition.

The intervention was a success. The clot was removed and the bleeding was stopped. Reflecting on Kimberly's case, Dr. Sethi emphasized the significance of her unexpected encounter with the team. “The reason her story is powerful is because she came in for a completely separate reason. She came in for gynecologic reasons, but then she met our team.” 

For Dr. Sethi, Kimberly’s story serves as a reminder of the transformative impact of teamwork and collaboration between medical specialists. “Working as a team successfully can bring someone who is in a critical situation out of it and drive it.”

That teamwork extended into the follow-up care Kimberly received after she was discharged from the hospital. In recovery, her care team worked together to offer detailed management of medications, postoperative monitoring, and follow-up appointments. "[Columbia’s] 24-hour service, the nursing service, and stuff like that - y'all are amazing," Kimberly said. 

In the end, Kimberly echoed Dr. Sethi’s sentiments about the team’s collaborative effort and shared her gratitude for the lifesaving intervention and compassionate care she received. "If I hadn't chosen [Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian], I literally would not be here…thank you for saving my life."