From Construction Manager to Patient in a High-Tech Heart Lab
One in an ongoing series
As J.P. McFadden lay in bed awaiting a heart procedure in the Electrophysiology Lab at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, he couldn’t help but stare at the ceiling.
McFadden’s perspective on the ceiling was different from most patients. As Einstein’s Director of Construction, he’d overseen the renovation of the lab in 2018 and knew everything happening behind the anonymity of the flat, white drywall overhead.
“It’s a structural maze of conduits and wires to hold up the medical equipment,” he says. “I know what goes into those spaces and it’s a very strange feeling. It was not lost on me that I was now the patient.”
When he oversaw the remodeling and expansion of the new lab, McFadden says he never thought he’d need to use it.
That’s because he’s an athlete and a distance runner who had competed in a marathon and several half marathons, a regimen that had him convinced he and his heart were fine. In fact, when he experienced the first unnerving episode of an erratic heartbeat in the summer of 2021, McFadden’s solution was to go for a 10-mile run.
“I said, ‘I know what will help; I’ll go for a run,’” he says. “I ran a little bit and then had to stop and walk.”
The episodes, called heart arrhythmia, occurred again over the next months, and McFadden made an appointment with Sumeet Mainigi, MD, Chair of Cardiology and Director of Electrophysiology at Einstein Healthcare Network.
McFadden was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder that, if left untreated, increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and death.
Dr. Mainigi recommended McFadden undergo an ablation, in which a catheter is threaded into the heart and the sites of the misfiring electrical signals are destroyed using electrical energy, and a normal heartbeat is restored.
McFadden was as apprehensive as any patient facing a cardiac procedure. But he was reassured by his confidence in Dr. Mainigi and his team – and the fact that he’d supervised the remodeling of the lab himself.
McFadden says he was “proud of that space,” when it was completed. “It was the most high-tech lab that I’ve ever been a part of in 20 years of construction.”
His personal experience, he says, “made everything more real and reminded me why we do these things – for patient care.”
The renovation transformed a standard lab into an inspiring wonder of cutting edge technologies – including two mapping devices that Dr. Mainigi called a “GPS for the heart.” Thanks to these advanced mapping devices, procedures are safer, faster and more effective than ever before.
“In partnership with J.P., we built a state-of-the-art electrophysiology lab,” Dr. Mainigi says. “It functions as a hybrid electrophysiology lab and cardiac surgical operating room to allow the most complex of procedures. Open heart and minimally invasive procedures can be performed in this space.”
McFadden praised everyone involved in his March 15 ablation for their warmth and compassion, including Larry Parker, an environmental services worker who briefly walked into his room in the cardiac care unit to empty the trash.
“While he was just doing his job, he had some very positive words for me,” McFadden subsequently said in a letter to Parker’s supervisor. “After a long sleepless night, it had a great impact on me. His cheery attitude really brightened my day, and our short interaction was something that I will remember from my visit.”
This past November, eight months after his ablation, McFadden ran Philadelphia’s Dietz & Watson half marathon in just under two hours, a goal he’d set for himself. “I was so happy and proud that I did it,” he says.
It was confirmation that he was “back to normal,” McFadden says, thanks to his colleagues at Einstein and the lab that he built.
“The last thing I thought about when I was running,” he says, “was my heart.”