Right Care at the Right Time

Issue 28 | November 2017

Eric Lucas and Marlow Griggs, MDIt’s a typical, busy day at Westfield Primary Care Clinic in Temple. Around 7 am, the clinic’s four family medicine physicians, three nurse practitioners, nurses, medical assistants, physician assistant, psychologist, and other staff arrive and prepare for the 200 patients they’ll see that day. Primary care physician Marlow Griggs, MD, who trained as a medical student and resident at Baylor Scott & White and joined the Westfield clinic in 2015, “huddles” with her team, making a plan for each of the 22 people they’ll see as a team in the next eight hours.

“When patients come in, we want them to know they are with people who truly care about them and want the best for them,” says Dr. Griggs. “With all the complex things that can go on with patients, one person can’t do it well alone. We all play a role and that really improves the quality of care we provide.”

One of Dr. Griggs’ patients felt the team’s strength in late 2015. Eric Lucas, 45, of Temple, thought of himself as a pretty healthy guy. The busy professional and father of three ran 20 miles a week and felt good overall. But in late 2015, he experienced unusual shortness of breath. “I would walk across the parking lot from my car to the office and have to stop to catch my breath,” he says. “After about a week or so of that, I wanted to get it checked out.” Mr. Lucas made an appointment at Baylor Scott & White’s Westfield Clinic and saw Dr. Griggs. “Eric had been to see us the year before for blood pressure medicine and follow-up, but this was the first time I’d seen him personally,” says Dr. Griggs. “I happened to have a time slot available when he called.” He described his symptoms and after checking his medical record and history, Dr. Griggs did a quick evaluation.

She recalls, “His heart rate was 96—not unusually high—but his oxygenation (the amount of oxygen in his bloodstream) was on the lower end of normal, like someone with lung disease. After an X-ray returned normal I became more concerned that something else was going on. Combining that with his travel schedule, I suspected a pulmonary embolism. It’s not typical in younger people, but I had learned in my training at Baylor Scott & White to put pulmonary embolism at the top of my list if there’s chest pain or shortness of breath.” A pulmonary embolism, or PE, occurs when particles, typically a blood clot, lodge in an artery of the lung, blocking blood flow and depriving cells of oxygen. The clot or DVT (deep vein thrombosis) usually forms in the leg and travels. Dr. Griggs says, “DVT symptoms usually include calf pain or swelling. Eric didn’t have that. If he’d stayed home or been misdiagnosed, he might not be here today.” She promptly sent Mr. Lucas directly to the emergency department at Scott & White Medical Center in Temple for diagnostic tests to confirm her suspicion. “If he had an embolism,” she says, “time was of the essence.”

“I didn’t really want to go,” Mr. Lucas says, “but Dr. Griggs insisted—and it saved my life.” Dr. Griggs called to alert emergency room staff about his situation, so that when Mr. Lucas arrived, the team was ready. Diagnostic tests quickly showed two major pulmonary embolisms, and a DVT in his right leg. The team treated him immediately with a powerful medication, and sent him to the intensive care unit for around-the-clock observation. After several days, he was released, narrowly missing a catastrophic health event that could have proved fatal.

Today, Mr. Lucas and his wife, Rachel, are both patients of Dr. Griggs, who continues to closely monitor Eric’s health. “Eric will be on a high-powered blood thinner for the rest of his life, but it won’t limit his activity,” says Dr. Griggs. “And I’ll be able to keep a close watch on him to make sure everything’s OK.”

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