Doctors Catch Patient’s Tennis Ball Sized Heart Tumor

Image of Marcia Cox's heart prior to surgery shows a tennis ball sized tumor originating in her heart's left atrium and growing into the heart's left ventricle. (UConn Health Photo)
Image of Marcia Cox's heart prior to surgery shows a tennis ball sized tumor originating in her heart's left atrium and growing into the heart's left ventricle. (UConn Health Photo)

One morning just before Thanksgiving Marcia Cox, 70, of Avon stepped out of the shower and suddenly fainted, falling to the floor, hitting her head and experiencing a broken nose and bleeding.

She had no idea why. Cox has always been a healthy individual rarely needing to play the role of a sick patient.

After she woke up and consulted with a friend by phone following her fall, she was urged to go see a doctor right away. UConn Health Canton’s urgent care team referred her to the Emergency Department at UConn John Dempsey Hospital.

There cardiologists discovered something was growing deep inside her heart. Heart imaging showed a tumor originating in the heart’s left atrium was growing into the left ventricle through the mitral valve.

Marcia Cox
Marcia Cox, 70, of Avon is happy to be alive after doctors at UConn Health caught and successfully removed a 6.5 cm tumor from inside her heart (Photo Courtesy of Marcia Cox).

“I had a myxoma – a big growth in the left atrium of my heart that was significantly blocking blood flow through my heart valves,” says Cox. “Before I fainted in the shower, I had no symptoms or chest pain at all.”

The large, non-cancerous, soft heart tumor turned out to be a whopping 6.5 cm in diameter, the size of a tennis ball.

UConn Health’s Dr. David Underhill successfully performed the lifesaving open-heart surgery by cutting through the membrane separating the left and right atria in order to remove the tumor. Interestingly, a cow’s membrane had to be used to reconstruct Cox’s heart.

“I had a wonderful surgeon, who saved my life,” says Cox. “I am exceedingly fortunate to be alive.”

“This benign tumor like the size of a tennis ball grew in the heart’s left atrium,” said Dr. Kai Chen, Cox’s attending cardiologist from the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health. “It is very rare, particularly in this large size.  After surgery to remove the tumor and reconstruct her heart, her prognosis is excellent. She is doing very well now.”

Cox advises other people to never neglect getting a serious health concern checked-out by doctors. She also suggests consulting a family member or friend for an objective opinion instead of just deciding yourself to not seek follow-up medical care.

“Go to the doctor or the ER to get checked-out,” says Cox. “It’s a good thing I went. And now I am back to normal and probably even healthier too.”

Cox recommends anyone to go to UConn Health for treatment. “I want to thank UConn Health for really fine care because here I am still alive!”

“In addition, the new UConn John Dempsey Hospital tower is brand new and state-of-the-art,” says Cox. “I received excellent attention and everyone was so professional and kind.”

And in addition to her heart surgeon and cardiologist, how does a vegetarian like Cox feel about a cow’s role in saving her life?

“I am sad about the death of any animal, but I am incredibly grateful.”