Patient Spotlight: Kelli MacTaggart

Caring doctors made all the difference for a young patient with an unusual case

February 20, 2020

Kelli MacTaggart

Two years ago, Kelli MacTaggart was a typical high school junior. She loved spending time with her friends and family and was looking forward to going off to college. But her life changed suddenly in January 2018, when Kelli became dizzy and lost consciousness while walking with her friends from one class to the next. In the hallway of her high school, she went into cardiac arrest. Her friends, acting quickly to save her life, called 911. Paramedics arrived, used a defibrillator to stabilize her, and took her to Greenwich Hospital; she was then transferred to Westchester Medical Center. For the next 15 hours, Kelli continued to have arrests, a terrifying situation for her and her family. After doctors were able to stabilize her, Kelli was transferred to Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital three days after the first arrest.

Kelli’s time at Columbia proved transformative. After an MRI, Kelli met with pediatric cardiologist Leonardo Liberman, MD, an expert in the diagnosis and management of pediatric patients with cardiac arrhythmias. For Kelli and her mom, Chrissy, Dr. Liberman’s emotional support and calm in the face of crisis were just as crucial as his medical expertise. Says Chrissy, “Dr. Liberman was really good with us. I was looking at the monitor for 14 days while Kelli was in the hospital; I didn’t let her sleep one full night, afraid her heart rate would drop too low. Dr. Liberman said, ‘I get it, I have kids. Don’t worry about it. . . ' He had such an amazing bedside manner and was such an amazing person and he made us feel like, even though we didn’t know what was going on, that everything was going to be okay. He said to Kelli, ‘In two years, this is going to be just a memory.’”

Kelli’s nurses were another bright spot in such a testing time. “The nurses really played a big part in my stay,” says Kelli. “I remember all their names, and they were so sweet, I loved talking to them every day.” Chrissy adds, “They had a really good bedside manner. They weren’t there just to flash their IDs. They would really talk and connect with us.” 

Kelli’s MRI found that her heart was extremely inflamed, meaning her doctors needed to wait before implanting an ICD (implantable defibrillator). After the team determined the best combination of medications for her, Kelli was safely discharged following two weeks in the hospital. But Columbia’s diligent treatment and Kelli’s follow-up continues: Two months after her initial episode, Kelli had the ICD implanted, and she returns to Columbia’s clinic regularly for check-ins with her medical team. 

For Kelli, Dr. Liberman remains a steadfast source of support. She says, “Dr. Liberman doesn’t talk at me, he talks to me. It’s a conversation.” Adds Chrissy, “In a time of chaos, he was very level-headed.” 

Happily, Kelli was able to finish her junior year and later continue on to college as planned: She started her freshman year at Boston College this past fall. For her medical needs during the school year, Kelli’s Columbia physicians referred her to a team in Boston. She’ll return to her primary Columbia team for follow-up visits on her winter and spring breaks, working with the rheumatology, cardiology, and pediatric heart failure and electrophysiology teams, including Dr. Linda Addonizio, Director of Columbia’s Program for Pediatric Cardiomyopathy, Heart Failure, and Transplantation. 

Kelli remembers her Columbia doctors in a lasting and joyful way: She named one of her new puppies Leo after Dr. Liberman!