Federico De Puy, MD, was headed out of the office one day in spring 2023 when one of his colleagues stopped to introduce him to a new patient: LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey.
Her cardiologist, Carl Luikart, MD, was concerned about her heart.
Both Dr. De Puy and Dr. Luikart work with Our Lady of the Lake Health’s Heart & Vascular Institute. As an interventional cardiologist, Dr. De Puy specializes in the “plumbing of the heart,” as he says — opening up blocked arteries, addressing valve issues and other significant blockages.
“After introducing me to Coach Mulkey, Carl takes me aside and says, ‘I’d like you to look at some of her testing,’” Dr. De Puy recalls. “He shows me her stress echo [a stress echocardiogram that’s used to assess how well the heart functions under stress] and it was very abnormal.”
The stress echo showed she had around 95% blockage, or plaque buildup, in her coronary artery. Surgery was in order to open up the blockage, but there was just one problem: Coach Kim Mulkey was in the midst of celebrating an incredible NCAA championship with the LSU Women’s Basketball team, including a trip to the White House.
“I knew she was going to be OK during that time period based on the studies we have [for her condition], but in the back of my mind I always had the lingering hope that she was going to be OK during all those trips, especially whenever I saw her on TV,” Dr. De Puy says.
Treating a Nationally Recognized Coach
In June 2023, Dr. De Puy used a minimally invasive procedure to put two stents into Coach Mulkey’s blocked coronary artery. Coach Mulkey’s procedure involves a catheter inserted in the wrist to deliver a mesh tube, or a stent, to the artery to keep it open for better blood flow.
With Dr. De Puy’s skilled work and the assisting care of Dr. Luikart, Coach Mulkey was able to leave the hospital the same day and had an excellent recovery.
“I was thrilled with how well the procedure went,” Dr. De Puy says. “And she tolerated it like a champ. She’s a very hard worker and she’s got the heart of a champion, that’s for sure.”
Dr. De Puy says he was most impressed that Coach Mulkey still functioned as a leader even among her care team at Our Lady of the Lake.
“Whenever I was prepping her for the procedure, she was sort of prepping everyone else and made sure the whole room was under good control,” he says. “She’s a lot of fun, I can tell you that, and she was great to work with.”
For her part, Coach Mulkey was thankful for Dr. De Puy, Dr. Luikart and the rest of her care team.
“Our Lady of the Lake was just tremendous. I wish that same team could take care of me on every issue I have the remainder of my life,” Coach Mulkey says.
Listening to Your Heart
Dr. De Puy says it’s especially important for women to pay attention to their bodies, because they tend to show signs of heart conditions differently than men. It can take the form of slight chest discomfort rather than intense chest pain, as well as shortness of breath or extra fatigue after exerting themselves.
Methods of prevention such as healthy eating and managing stress are the best ways to combat certain heart conditions. “Unfortunately, in this life that we live — and for someone like Coach Mulkey — we can’t ever take stress completely out of our lives,” Dr. De Puy says. “It’s all about how you manage it.”
Regular checkups with a primary care provider are also incredibly important to monitor your heart health over time.
And if ever the help of someone like Dr. De Puy is required, know that he aims to treat all his patients — from nationally celebrated coaches to the average person — with the best care.
“I always think if this person was my mom or dad, how would I listen to them? How would I approach their disease? Is this what I would be doing if this was my loved one?” he says. “And this is exactly how we treated Coach Mulkey.”
Dr. De Puy is being honored as one of Our Lady of the Lake’s Geaux Heroes, which recognizes incredible stories of strength and resilience. He will be recognized at the LSU Women’s Basketball game on Feb 4.