September 12, 2013

Embolism not about to change young singer’s tune

As a member of the Tune Town Show Chorus, 20-year-old Kyla Hallums was used to belting out songs and thought it strange when she became short of breath on Sept. 1.

College student Kyla Hallums recently underwent surgery at Vanderbilt to remove a large pulmonary embolism that was lodged in both her left and right pulmonary arteries. (photo by Anne Rayner)

As a member of the Tune Town Show Chorus, 20-year-old Kyla Hallums was used to belting out songs and thought it strange when she became short of breath on Sept. 1.

She was preparing to meet her parents at church in her hometown of Lebanon, Tenn., when she collapsed to the ground after carrying her laundry from her dorm room at Middle Tennessee State University to her car.

“The next thing I know, I was looking up at the sky,” she recalled.

She calmly called her parents, who kept her on the phone until they arrived to pick her up and take her to University Medical Center, where her mother works. She underwent a CT scan and then heard the physician say to her parents as they reviewed it, “We’re trying to figure out how your daughter is still alive.”

What they saw was a massive pulmonary embolism, appearing to be about 15 inches in length and snaking down both the right and left pulmonary arteries, known as a saddle embolism.

UMC called Vanderbilt LifeFlight, which transported her via ambulance to Vanderbilt, where surgeons and OR staff were waiting for her arrival.

“I was in shock and didn’t know the severity of the situation. They told me what they were going to do and I said, ‘OK, let’s do this,’” Hallums said.

Rashid Ahmad, M.D., assistant professor of Cardiac Surgery, removed the blood clot during the surgery, which was performed using minimally invasive techniques. Vascular surgeon Jeff Dattilo, M.D., then placed a filter to prevent future clots from reaching the heart.

“If you look at the tracheo-bronchial tree, it branches like a tree. The way the pulmonary arteries bring the blood into the lungs is precisely like that. I took the clot out of the main branch and the first set of divisions of that branch,” Ahmad explained. “Imagine removing a plug from a drain, which allowed for immediate increase in the blood flow into the lungs for oxygenation. In the operating room we confirmed by transesophageal echocardiogram that improvement occurred immediately and the enlarged heart became smaller.”

Anti-coagulants will facilitate the body to dissolve the remainder of the clot over the next six months.

A pulmonary embolism tends to occur when a deep vein thrombosis travels from an extremity to the lungs, where it continues to grow.

“Kyla’s extremely lucky, not just because she survived the pulmonary embolism but because that morning she collapsed, which triggered her to seek medical help,” Ahmad said.

Hallums has been singing with the Tune Town Show Chorus, a non-profit organization of female singers who perform and compete in the form of barbershop harmony, for four years. The chorus won the regional competition and will perform in the Sweet Adeline international competition that will be held in Hawaii in November.

Hallums has received the “all clear” to travel and participate in the competition this fall.

“I am glad I’m still here. I believe in miracles, and I think that’s what happened,” she said. “My breath support isn’t as good as it was with singing, but it will get there slowly but surely.”