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The heart in frame: Using echocardiogram to diagnose hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Written by Emmanuella Alawode, BA in Biology, MD candidate at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, and participant in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Emmanuella poses for a photo before working with her mentor in the CCR.

This summer in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program, as a trainee in the Summer Research Diversity Program in Cardiovascular Disease & Hematology (RADIANCE) track, I have the incredible opportunity to work with Sharon Cresci, MD, on the project on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at the Center for Cardiovascular Research (CCR).

The heart beats in rhythm to supply blood to the body. If the heart becomes diseased, then an individual’s quality of life can be compromised. A common inheritable disease is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is a thickening and stiffening of the heart muscle, particularly the left ventricle. This condition makes taking in and pumping blood hard. Normally, the left ventricle has sufficient blood to take to the aorta which in turn takes blood to the whole body.

HCM was once considered difficult to diagnose. However, advancements in medicine and technology have helped to diagnose this condition. A common diagnostic tool is an echocardiogram (echo). Echo is an ultrasound of the heart to check its structure and function. A transthoracic echo is initially first. This is where the probe or transducer is placed on the chest. Stress testing is next. This involves physical activity either on a treadmill or bike to increase a patient’s heart rate and blood pressure. This type of echo compares the heart at rest versus after stress or exercise.

To gain an understanding of echo, Victor Davila-Roman, MD, invited me to the Cardiovascular Imaging and Clinical Research Core Laboratory. The cardiac sonographers, Pattie and Rachel, taught me about the intricacies of echo. They had me identify the chambers and valves in different views (i.e., parasternal long-axis, apical). I felt more confident and equipped to be able to distinguish a normal versus abnormal echo. I am grateful for this foundational knowledge because I can interpret an echo with an HCM diagnosis. This knowledge is also relevant to my aspiration of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. Echo is a phenomenal diagnostic tool that puts the heart in a frame for clinical examination.

This is a poem I wrote that highlights my appreciation for the heart.


The great powerhouse of the body

Pumping, beating, and pulsating

To its own rhythm.

A four-chambered house

With the capacity to

Supply the body with blood.

A fist-sized organ.

This is the heart.

A powerful organ.

For it invigorates,

Yet it can stealthily cease

Notoriously called the “silent killer”

While this organ holds biological significance,

It is also a universal holder of all

Emotions, symbols, and metaphors.

The core of humanity,

Encased in a pericardial sac.

It governs our life, thoughts, emotions, and actions.

The heart –

What a powerful force of vitality. 

Each beat in a unifying rhythm

Affirms it as the powerhouse.