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She Counts Co-workers as Her Heroes

Clinician Sharanda Williamson was hours away from a blood clot ending her life.

Sharanda Williamson knew from the time she awoke the morning of January 17 that something was seriously wrong. The Cherry Hill ED behavioral health clinician, and 51-year-old mother of two, had been out of work for a few months with a shoulder injury when her health took a terrifying turn. Williamson had been feeling sluggish and short of breath for a few days, but assumed it was anxiety. But that morning, Williamson was so winded she could barely get dressed. By the time she called her co-worker, emergency department physician Nicholas Tomasello, DO, she was struggling to catch her breath enough to speak.

“I knew something was very wrong,” Dr. Tomasello recalls. “I convinced her to come in to the ED as soon as possible.” Nurse Brielle Viviani worked alongside Dr. Tomasello to treat Williamson’s symptoms and figure out what was going on. “We both knew pretty quickly how serious a situation it was. We had to move quickly,” Viviani recalls.

An ultrasound of Williamson’s lungs provided clear images of the blood vessels in her chest; this showed the initial clot. But an emergency echocardiogram showed that the clot actually extended from her lungs into her heart as well. “I remember very clearly looking at the images on the screen – and I just stared at it because I knew how severe this was…if she’d waited a couple more hours it probably would have killed her,” Dr. Tomasello says. “I had never seen a clot that extended from the lungs into the ventricle of the heart like this.”

Because Williamson has been somewhat immobilized with her shoulder injury for a while, she had been at risk for developing a blood clot, but this particular type of clot – an acute saddle embolism – “is a very serious, life-threatening condition and not something we see very often,” Dr. Tomasello explains.

After consulting with an interventional radiologist and a staff pulmonologist, Dr. Tomasello quickly developed. Brielle administered TPA – a stroke-busting medicine to break up the clot – through an IV. Almost immediately, Williamson started to feel some relief from her symptoms. From there, she was transferred by ambulance to Jefferson’s Washington Township hospital, with plans to have her undergo a procedure in the morning to remove the rest of the clot.

The interventional radiology procedure, performed by David Goldstein, DO, went flawlessly – and after one more night in the hospital – Williamson was able to return home. “She did great,” Dr. Goldstein says. “It was an emergent situation, and the focus was on getting her stabilized, but it’s always very gratifying to preserve cardiac function for the long-term, which is what occurred.”

Now, Sharanda’s back to her job in the emergency department and feeling like her old self; Viviani says it’s “great to be working alongside her again.” Williamson – who had special t-shirts made for Dr. Tomasello and Viviani – says she has to restrain herself from hugging them whenever she sees them at work: “I’m that grateful.”

Williamson, who will celebrate her 52nd birthday in May, adds that, “every time I think about celebrating, I cannot not include them. My family and I would not have another birthday to celebrate if I had not spoken that day to Dr. Tomasello, who urged me to come to the hospital when I was tired and ready to go back to sleep. Dr. Tomasello and Viviani are not only my colleagues, they are my ‘Jefferson heroes.’ They helped save my life and I am eternally grateful.”

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