USF Health’s expertise returns title-winning speed to UT swimmer

When a subject line of an email reads “your patient Heather Glenday — Univ. of Tampa Swimmer” you pause.

Could this be sad news?

Luckily, it was wonderful news when Karl Illig, MD, professor of surgery and director of the USF Division of Vascular Surgery, opened such an email from his patient’s mother.

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Heather swimming 3

Photo by Andy Meng, UT

Last year, Heather Glenday, a swimmer for the University of Tampa, had a national title on the line when an odd feeling in her right arm slowed her training. A team trainer knew immediately by the swelling that the UT swimmer needed to get to the emergency room right away. At Tampa General Hospital, it was USF vascular surgeon Karl Illig, MD, who knew that Heather was experiencing Paget-Schroetter syndrome, a condition that causes a vein to be pinched off at the collarbone and upper rib. If left untreated, the vein could potentially clot off as the bone continues to crush the vein. For Heather, immediate surgery was necessary, which included removing that first rib.

Also called venous thoracic outlet syndrome (VTOS) and effort thrombosis, the uncommon condition affects only about 5,000 Americans every year, but is more common in high-performance athletes.

“It’s not unusual, and there is great success after treatment,” Dr. Illig said. “Surgery corrects the problem, with 95 percent of patients living a symptom-free life.”

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After her surgery last year, Heather spent her summer recuperating at home in New York.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have connected with Dr. Illig, who had already treated patients with this,” she said. “When I went for follow-up exams back home to check the incisions, the doctor there said ‘Oh, you’re the first patient I’ve seen with Paget-Schroetter’s,’ which wasn’t too comforting. I’m so lucky to have found Dr. Illig.”

By fall, Heather returned to UT – she’s a junior studying accounting – and was back in the pool.

And that brings us back to Dr. Illig’s email.

Heather’s mother, Maureen Glenday, was sharing the good news with Dr. Illig that the young swimmer had not only recovered and returned to the pool, but that she was fast enough to help UT earn four NCAA trophies: two for relays and two for individual events.

Here’s what Maureen wrote to Dr. Illig in March.

Heather's mom's letter

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Heather saw Dr. Illig’s this April at the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare for her one-year follow-up exam. The ultrasound showed all was well and he gave her a full release, although annual check-ups for the next couple of years are expected.

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As a thank you, Heather presented Dr. Illig with a University of Tampa Spartans hat.

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As if a story of a patient succeeding in life isn’t enough, another caveat is that Heather’s story ties together so many areas of expertise found in Tampa. It’s a story of a community of expert institutions coming together and providing the best care possible. Here are the players:

- University of Tampa has a title-winning swim team.

- Well trained athletic trainer recognizes symptoms and acts quickly to get the student to emergency room.

- Tampa General Hospital is affiliated with the USF Morsani College of Medicine, the region’s only academic medical center.

- Dr. Karl Illig has seen and treated this condition before in his training at academic medical centers.

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To see Heather Glenday winning a 800 yard freestyle relay title for UT post-surgery, check out this video.  Choose the 2013 DII Swimming & Diving Day 3, Evening Session: Full Replay (2:47:18) option and go to about 132/167.1.

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Story by Sarah A. Worth, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications