October 9, 2013
George Toma’s career stat sheet reads better than those of the many professional teams he’s worked for: 47 Super Bowls, 37 Pro Bowls, two Olympic Games, and a World Cup.

The renowned groundskeeper belongs to the National Football League Hall of Fame, the Major League Baseball Groundskeeper Hall of Fame, and the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. His work has taken him to such hallowed venues as Yankee Stadium and Soldier Field to coliseums in London, Tokyo, Berlin, Barcelona, and Mexico City.

So it’s not surprising that when the former longtime Chiefs and Royals groundskeeper developed a deadly blood clot deep in his leg, he sought care from another major player: Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. It is Kansas City’s only hospital offering the most comprehensive heart care.

“From the crew who cleans the rooms to all the doctors and nurses, they have the and then some,” said the 84-year-old Westwood, Kan., resident. “They do their jobs and then some. It’s what distinguishes the mediocre from the great.”

Game on

It was Jan. 25, 2013, and George was in New Orleans prepping the field for Super Bowl XLVII and overseeing the San Francisco 49ers’ practice field. When his right leg suddenly swelled to twice its size, an NFL vascular surgeon referred George to a New Orleans hospital.

There, doctors diagnosed post-thrombotic syndrome, which is caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot deep within the body that typically affects the large veins in the thigh and lower leg. It can block blood flow and, if it breaks off, can travel to the lungs with deadly consequences.

Besides swelling, post-thrombotic syndrome can cause pain, heaviness, and venous ulcers, making it difficult to walk and stand for long periods. With the Feb. 3 Super Bowl just days away, George needed full mobility to tend to the grounds.

While blood thinners helped reduce the leg swelling, they also caused severe nose bleeds. So the New Orleans doctors had to pack George’s nose with gauze to stem the blood and get him through the game.

By the time he’d returned to Kansas City on Feb. 7, George’s left leg was swollen again. He turned to his cardiologist Iain McGhie, M.D., at Saint Luke’s.

 

Time Out

An ultrasound revealed a critical situation: George's DVT ran from his waist to his knee and his iliac vein in his pelvis had narrowed—both of which were dangerously limiting blood flow.

Dr. McGhie immediately referred George to his colleague Jason Lindsey, M.D., an interventional cardiologist.

"Traditionally, this type of DVT is treated with blood-thinning medications—like what the New Orleans doctors prescribed," said Dr. Lindsey. "However, we took a more aggressive treatment approach to break up the clot and reduce George's risk of developing future complications in his leg."

Called a catheter-guided thrombolysis, the procedure involved Dr. Lindsey threading a catheter through George's leg vein to the site of the clot and administering the clot-busting drug tPA.

By the next morning, the clot had dissolved considerably, returning George's leg to its normal size. As an added precaution, Dr. Lindsey inserted two stents in George's vein to keep it propped open and prescribed blood thinners for six months.

“Catheter-guided thrombolysis is actually underutilized, although Saint Luke’s interventional cardiologists and interventional radiologists have been using the procedure as a best practice for a few years,” said Dr. Lindsey.

In fact, Saint Luke’s was an early adopter of the procedure and was the only Kansas City hospital that participated in the ATTRACT clinical trial. This ongoing study is gauging the effectiveness of traditional anticoagulation (blood thinners) treatment versus breaking up the clot and prescribing anticoagulation in patients with DVT.

Back in the game

After the Feb. 15th and 16th procedures at Saint Luke’s, George was up and moving immediately.

Although he’s been “retired” since 1991, George didn’t have time to rest: He had to get to Florida to manage the fields during the month-long spring training for the Minnesota Twins. He’s tended the team’s grounds for the past 14 years.

Today, he continues doing what he loves: groundskeeping. Besides his yard, he mows four of his neighbors’ yards twice a week. “My mower is my walker,” he quipped. “I’m like an old house—sometimes things break down and need fixing.”

And when they do, he turns to Saint Luke’s, where he’s received care for years. In fact, two sons and three granddaughters were born at Saint Luke’s Hospital and a grandson and granddaughter at Saint Luke’s South Hospital.

“I tell everyone about Saint Luke’s excellent care,” said George. “My whole family has been treated great. Saint Luke’s has the and then some.”