Georgia man fights to beat rare heart tumor

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This is Alan and Jenny Drew's escape from everyday life.

"I have a vineyard, and I love going out in the vineyard and caring for my grapes. I love my grapes. And I have some pear trees," says Alan Drew.

And, it was out here last August, that Alan Drew, a maintenance supervisor with Charter Communications, realized he couldn't really catch his breath.

"And I kept just getting very tired very easily, " says Alan."I'd go out and I'd pick up some limbs and trees, limbs, I'd just be exhausted. I'd have to sit down and breathe."

So, on August 22, Drew's doctor sent him here to the Piedmont Heart Institute Athens for a heart stress test, to see if he had a blocked artery.

"I never finished the test.  I was on the treadmill and they were trying to get my heart rate up to 135. It was 132, and I passed out," says Drew.

Piedmont Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Matthew Crim says that's usually a sign of a very severe blockage of the heart vessels.
"It's never a good sign," says Dr. Crim. "So we rushed him over to the hospital, just across the bridge, to do a catheterization."

In a cath lab like this one, Piedmont Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Matthew Crim and the team began looking for blockages. But, at first, everything looked clear.

"And we were so focused on the blood vessels, because this is happening very quickly.  And then we see this abnormal vessel filling this abnormal growth in the heart, and so it was, like, what is that?" says Dr. Crim.

That's when they did a heart ultrasound.

"And right as they were doing it, they knew right off the bat what it was," says Drew.

"He had a huge tumor in his left atrium, which is the collecting chamber of the heart, that gets blood from the lungs and passes it on from the pumping chamber of the heart to the left ventricle," adds Dr. Crim.

Drew had a rare, benign tumor, known as a myxoma, that was over two and a half inches long, an inch and a half wide, so that blood was barely getting through the chamber.

"I was kind of shocked though that I had a tumor in my heart.  I mean that explains what's going on, says," says Drew.

Removing the mass required open heart surgery.

"The thankfulness was overwhelming and then there is that fear factor, of the what ifs?" says Jenny Drew.

Three and a half months later, the Drews says Alan's scare was a reality check, that forced the self-confessed workaholic to slow down and give his body the time it needs to recover from major surgery.  
But he can't wait to get back out into his vineyard because he says he feels great.

"He's better than he was.  He's so much better.  Even emotionally.  People who are workaholics tend to not want to feel.   And this forced all of us to feel," says Jenny."This event has been a cure, for him, to be a family person."