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Rare tumor in heart caused woman’s strokes

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Strokes can happen to anyone, even people who don't have risk factors such as high blood pressure or smoking. That was the case for a Lone Jack woman. Testing ultimately revealed a rare and shocking cause.

Suzy Williams-Umstead isn't in cardiac rehabilitation for a common reason like heart bypass surgery. No, there's a very unusual story behind the scar down her chest. It goes back to November when Suzy had a stroke.

"I felt just kind of a weird sensation, and then I realized my fingers weren't working," said Williams-Umstead.

She had another stroke on Christmas Day in her other hand. Many tests later, no cause had been found. So Suzy went to see Dr. Carl Akin, a heart specialist at Centerpoint Medical Center.

"She was wearing a heart monitor at the time of the last stroke, so makes it pretty unlikely that a heart rhythm problem would have caused this," said Dr. Akin.

So he ordered a special ultrasound exam. It revealed something that looked like a piece of broccoli with a head and a stalk. It was a tumor in her heart. The tumor was not cancerous, but no less dangerous. Pieces had broken off and traveled to her brain causing the strokes.

"Then. of course, they're telling you keep calm, don't do anything because every time your heart beats, that tumor is in there flailing around," said
Williams-Umstead.

She had surgery to remove it just a week later in March.

"I talked to the surgeon after he took it out, and he said it just fell apart . There was no structural integrity to it at all," said Dr. Akin.

He said if it had remained in her heart, it likely would have caused more strokes and one could have killed her.

Williams-Umstead tells others to keep searching for answers when they have a health problem.

"We found it, and so I'm still here," she said.

She finished heart rehab on Monday and will be back at work as a paralegal on Wednesday. She's regained all the use of her hands that she lost with the strokes.