Mother finds frightening cause of dizziness: a heart tumor

Sarah Mason is finally feeling like herself again after a frightening few months when 41-year old Lithonia, Georgia, legal assistant and mother of two just couldn't seem to catch her breath.

"Whenever I would walk up the steps or move really quickly, I started to feel really tired," Mason says.

She'd been rear-ended by another driver in December of 2017 and was going through daily physical therapy.

Maybe, she thought, her body was just having trouble healing after the accident. Then in May of 2018, walking into work, Mason fainted. A few days, after nearly blacking out again, she went to the doctor.

He ordered a series of testing. The last one was an echocardiogram.

"So, while I'm lying on the table, I see this huge mass," Mason remembers.  "It looks like a kidney bean,"

That mass was a myxoma, or a benign heart tumor, 3 inches long, attached to the wall separating the upper chambers of Mason's heart. Within hours, Mason found herself hospitalized at Emory St. Joseph's Hospital, awaiting surgery with Chief of Cardiac Surgery, Dr. Douglas Murphy.  He says heart tumors like Mason's are rare. Most people don't know they have one until a piece of it breaks off causing a stroke. Mason's was round and seemed stable, but it was huge.

"It was so big that, if she would stand up quickly or get a little dehydrated, the thing would literally block blood flow and she would collapse," he says.

Dr. Murphy specializes in robotic heart surgery and felt Mason was a good candidate.

So, instead of opening her chest, he made 5 small holes on her right side, placing Mason on a heart bypass machine for the most critical 15 minutes of the 3-hour surgery.

"So we use the heart-lung machine, and we actually rest the heart," Murphy explains.  "So we can see perfectly where the attachment is, and make sure we get the entire tumor, no pieces left behind.  The key is to taking this tumor is that you take the tumor and just a small bit of the heart tissue with it so that way the tumor doesn't recur."

Once her tumor was out, Mason's blood pressure normalized. And, quickly, she started to feel better.

"For me, that was the test, I walked up the steps and I didn't have that fluttering, and my heart didn't flutter," she says.

No more dizziness, and no more fainting.

"This is my norm," Mason says.  "So, I'm back here at my norm, and I am very thankful."