By Katie Parsons
Mary “Lou” Hazlett is no stranger to operating rooms.
After three decades as a surgical nurse, Lou retired from Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) when she was 62. More than 20 years later, though, she found herself in an unfamiliar role in the operating room – as a patient.
The Heathrow resident first noticed abnormal vaginal bleeding shortly after her husband of 60 years died. Lou shared the symptoms with her daughter Brigit Zamora, the chief nursing officer at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital, who encouraged her to see a doctor.
Lou was diagnosed with cancer of the endometrium and would have to undergo surgery and treatment just as the pandemic was shutting down the world.
“My mother has always had an optimistic and positive attitude, but 2020 really tested this,” says her daughter Gretchen Hazlett, who lives in San Francisco.
Endometrial cancer begins in the uterus and is most common in women older than 55. Some experience pelvic pain, but others have no symptoms. Treatments include surgery to remove the uterus, radiation, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
Lou’s hysterectomy was scheduled at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. But first, an EKG was ordered because Lou has a history of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, which causes an irregular, rapid heart rate that can lead to poor blood flow.
That’s when Dr. Salvador Lanza, a cardiologist with Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Lake Mary, discovered Lou was in acute congestive heart failure. So before she could have her hysterectomy, the 83-year-old grandmother needed a cardiac catheterization.
“Lou has cardiac arrhythmia, so it was important to establish baselines. We checked her heart and started her on therapies,” Dr. Lanza says.
Teamwork Leads to Smooth Recovery
Lou wore an external defibrillator leading up to and during her June 2020 hysterectomy, and her healthcare team determined that she did not need chemotherapy. Lou decided to forgo radiation. Six months later, an internal defibrillator was implanted in her chest.
Lou credits the teamwork between her cancer and cardiology teams for her smooth recovery, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was in the hospital three different times, and the cath lab was on the fifth floor where I used to work. There were even some of the people I knew from when I worked there,” Lou says.
“Everyone went above and beyond to make sure I was feeling good and comfortable.”
‘Thank Goodness for the Excellent Care’
As she was recovering, Lou kept up with her children and grandchildren via video calls.
“She lost my father in February, the pandemic hit in March, she was diagnosed with cancer shortly after that, and then there was the incidental finding of congestive heart failure during her pre-op visit,” Gretchen says. “During this whole process, her goal was to get out here to California to visit me.”
After a year apart, Lou reunited with her daughter in the spring of 2021. During her nine-week visit to San Francisco and surrounding areas, a fully vaccinated Lou worked her way up to walking four miles a day, with hiking trips that took the family to Big Sur and Mount Shasta, both in California, and also to Sedona, Arizona.
Thank goodness for the excellent care from the Orlando Health system. Otherwise, I feel I might not have been able to see my mother again. – Gretchen Hazlett, Lou’s daughter
Now that Lou is back home, she spends time working in her flower beds and walking 10,000 steps a day around her neighborhood. She also has at least two days each week of cardiac rehab at the Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Lake Mary.
“Lou’s attitude really helped her treatment, both for her cardiac arrhythmia and her cancer,” Dr. Lanza says. “She is independent, intelligent, very tuned in and very confident.”
Of her care with Orlando Health, Lou says she felt comforted during a difficult phase of her life.
“I felt safe and informed throughout the whole process,” Lou says. “Even with the pandemic happening, and being unable to see my family, the Orlando Health team kept me upbeat and optimistic.”