Tami’s Hearts: Now that it's her heart that needs fixing, Tami Scott finds big courage from small pins

By Kristy Bleizeffer Mar 23, 2015

Paramedic Tami Scott will undergo surgery tomorrow at the Mayo Clinic to fix a birth defect that is squeezing her heart. A campaign to show support by wearing red heart pins has overwelmed her:

Paramedic Tami Scott will undergo surgery tomorrow at the Mayo Clinic to fix a birth defect that is squeezing her heart. A campaign to show support by wearing red heart pins has overwelmed her: "It’s been such a hard road. You don’t appreciate your health until you don’t have it. To have everybody rooting for me and behind me, it just gives me a lot more strength going into this."

Tami Scott has saved her fair share of breaking hearts.  As a paramedic, she races to patients in the field, hooks them to a 12-lead EKG and, when needed, activates the heart team at Wyoming Medical Center. She enjoys taking care of STEMIs (Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction) in particular. Of all the calls she may respond to, STEMIs are the ones in which she feels she can do the most good.

“I’m not a trauma junky. I like a good medical case,” she said. “With STEMIs, you can actually push medications that are going to help them. It’s amazing to be able to look at a 12-lead EKG, recognize an inferior MI or an anterolateral infarction and treat them as such.”

As of today, it’s Tami’s heart that needs fixing. She suffers from a sunken chest cavity, a birth defect that is pushing against her heart and getting in the way of the job she loves. She undergoes a special surgery tomorrow (March 24) at the Mayo Clinic to give her heart room to work.

She won’t face it alone. Since Feb. 6, scores of small, heart-shaped pins have sprung up on the lanyards of nurses, physicians and staff members throughout Wyoming Medical Center and as far away as Cheyenne. They are Tami’s hearts, and they’ve given the paramedic courage.

“Everywhere I go in the hospital now, I see these little hearts,” said Tami. “It’s just very tender to me. I have been overwhelmed with the kindness I have been shown.”

A heart squished

The trouble started three years ago. Tami was losing her breath more and more often, but figured she was just out of shape. Exercise made it worse.

The top CT scan shows a normal chest cavity. The  bottom scan is of Tami Scott's.

The top CT scan shows a normal chest cavity. The bottom scan is of Tami Scott's. "You can see the sternum sunken in and basically squishing my heart," she said.

Two years ago, it got bad enough that she had trouble doing her job. She almost passed out during some episodes, and her colleagues did an EKG – like Tami has done for countless patients in the field. It found some small irregularities and tests here and in Salt Lake City confirmed seemingly minor problems with her right ventricle. But there was nothing on which doctors could hang a diagnosis.

Last summer, her symptoms flared up again: “Any exertion would make me so short of breath I would have to stop immediately. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest and sucking the air out of my lungs,” Tami said. “I would go home in tears. I couldn’t do my job.”

She read through all her charts and came across three words from a radiologist: mild pectus excavatum. Google told her it was a birth defect in which the breastbone is sunken in the chest. In some cases, it can press against the heart causing shortness of breath, heart palpitations, wheezing and other symptoms. Surgery could correct the problem, but it was usually performed on children.

Work family

Feb. 6 was the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day, a campaign to raise awareness about the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States: Heart disease. Wyoming Medical Center urged employees to wear red and post their photos on social media.

In the ER, Tami stood talking to nurses Jodi Kinder and Jill Hildner. They seemed to be acting a little funny, but Tami didn’t know why. On the counter, she noticed a bag of red heart pins and asked if she could have one.

Tami Scott poses with the Emergency Room nurses who started Tami's Hearts -- Jill Hildner, at left, and Jodi Kinder. 'We love her and we’re thinking of her. We raised a little bit of money, more than anything for her is the support. We’ll be supporting her and praying for her.'

Tami Scott poses with the Emergency Room nurses who started Tami's Hearts - Jill Hildner, at left, and Jodi Kinder. 'We love her and we’re thinking of her. We raised a little bit of money, but more than anything, we want her to know we’ll be supporting her and praying for her,' Jodi said.

Should we tell her? The nurses whispered to each other. Ok, let’s tell her.  These are called Tami’s hearts, and we want to give you one.

“Tami is amazing. She’s a wonderful person, she is a wonderful paramedic. She has a heart of gold – hence our little heart pins,” Jill told the Pulse.

Jill and Jodi organized the pin drive after they heard about Tami’s surgery. The Emergency Department is like a work family with the EMS crew, they said, and each has to rely on the other. They’ve led similar projects for other coworkers, but wanted to do something a little different for Tami. They knew Tami liked cutesy trinkets and, since it was Tami’s heart that needed fixing, the pins made perfect sense.

Money raised from the sale of the pins will help Tami’s family cover small expenses surrounding the surgery. Jodi and Jill sold out of the first two batches of pins, but people donated money anyway. When Tami’s story hit the local news, EMS crews from Douglas, Cheyenne and other parts of the state called looking to buy pins of their own. The nurses have since ordered another batch.

February is over, but you can still see Tami’s hearts throughout the hospital.

“We just wanted to show her that we love her and that we are thinking of her, because we are her family,” Jodi said.

Gathering courage

Finding another job isn’t an option. Tami is the oldest of 11 children, and stayed at home for 20 years to raise five children. Taking care of people has always been her job. When her youngest was in kindergarten, her husband asked: What do you want to be? She decided a paramedic would satisfy her inner “adrenaline junky.”

Shortly after finishing her prerequisites, Tami discovered she was pregnant with her sixth child – at age 40. She took her chemistry exam on a Monday and had her youngest daughter that Thursday.

Tami will be out for six to eight weeks for this surgery, called the Nuss Procedure. Her surgeon, one of the few doctors who performs this surgery on adults, will insert small metal rods into her sternum, gradually coaxing the bones outward for two to four years – much like braces work on teeth. It is risky. Part of Tami’s right ventricle is not behaving like it should, the surgeon told her. She’s afraid that could cause complications.


Watch: Channel 13's Amanda del Castillo interviewed Tami Scott and several of her coworkers for this heartwarming story.

“I’m terrified,” admitted Tami, who has worked at WMC for three years. “It’s a big deal, but it’s worth it to me because, right now, if I’m hurrying to a call and I can’t breathe, it scares me and it scares the patient. If I don’t have this procedure, I’ll have to give up my job. I love being a paramedic. I love helping people, and being able to make a difference in their lives. That’s why I’m here.”

Tami can hardly tell the story of her small red heart pins without tearing up. Knowing that she’s loved makes her squished heart swell.

There’s another reason Tami is so anxious for the surgery: Her 9-year-old daughter.

As a mother, Tami is the “old lady in roller blades.” She has always run with her kids, played outside with them, cheered them on at this activity or that. She hasn’t been that mother for two years.

Her daughter is scared for her, Tami says. But the other day, as they were driving home from town, her daughter turned to her and said: Mom, I can’t wait for you to have your surgery so that you can play with me again.

“I didn’t think about how much all of this had affected her,” Tami said. “That just broke my heart.”

By tomorrow – with good luck, with good care and with the support of dozens of coworkers wearing heart-shaped pins – she hopes to have it fixed.

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