In April 2005, nine months after retiring from his job as assistant superintendent of Osseo School District in Maple Grove, Minnesota, James Boddie had a heart attack while riding his bike in Florida. When he arrived by helicopter at a local hospital in Bonita Springs, he was told he had 100 percent blockage in his arteries.
James had no history of heart disease — at least none that he knew of.
But James continued to have chest pain. Less than a month after placing the first stents, doctors decided to put in two more. Despite that, the pain worsened. And in May 2006, James underwent open-heart surgery. What doctors found during that surgery explained the blockages and sent him to Mayo Clinic to find a more lasting solution.
During the operation, doctors discovered that James had coronary sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder in which tiny collections of inflammatory cells, called granulomas, grow in the heart. The granulomas were causing rapid narrowing of the arteries, even after the stents had been put in. They were also affecting his lung function.
James’ case was an unusual one.
“Sarcoidosis can affect any part of the body, but only rarely does it cause coronary artery narrowing,” Dr. Cooper says. “Although mild cases of sarcoidosis often resolve without specific treatment, specialized care is needed when sarcoidosis causes life-threatening disease,”
James first met with Dr. Cooper in July 2007.
“When I first saw Mr. Boddie, his heart muscle had some damage from the artery blockages, but fortunately no evidence of serious abnormal heart rhythms,” Dr. Cooper says. “Sarcoidosis can cause life-threatening arrhythmias and one of the goals of treatment is to prevent them.”
Dr. Cooper and a multidisciplinary team of immunologists and pulmonologists with expertise in sarcoidosis, and cardiologists with expertise in heart transplantation decided on a novel approach.
“We took an established drug from the practice of heart transplantation and applied it for the first time for sarcoidosis affecting the coronary arteries,” Dr. Cooper says.
By adding two immunosuppressant drugs to James’ regimen of medicine to treat the blockages in his arteries, doctors were able to obtain remission of the cardiac sarcoidosis with a relatively short course of moderate immunosuppression.
“I think they have the best care team approach in the country,” says James, who now sees Dr. Cooper at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus. “When I go to Mayo Clinic, I have no doubt that I’m going to meet competent people in their field and that they’re going to try to find the answer for you. That I think gives you the confidence to trust that you’re going to be OK.”
Now that his heart is stronger, the retired superintendent spends his time teaching watercolor art in his condo complex, as well as traveling to visit family. One of his favorite activities is doing art projects with his two granddaughters, who are 5 and 8 years old. He’s grateful to have that opportunity.
“My experience at Mayo I think has helped me be here for my grandkids and my family and my wife,” James says. “I’m happy to be alive today and be with my family.”
Watch James’ story: