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“I just wasn’t myself,” says Barbara Vinck, 85, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “I used to walk a couple of miles a day, but I got to the point where I was so doggone tired. I just didn’t have any energy at all.” Besides a general feeling of fatigue, Barbara’s legs had swelled enough that she had to buy different pants.
Barbara, who had been told before that she had a leaky heart valve, told her primary physician how she was feeling. Andrew Calvin, M.D., her cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, says it is important for people to share such changes with their primary care provider.
“Listen to your body,” Dr. Calvin says. “Recognize when there’s a change, and be honest with your care provider.”
MULTIPLE HEART ISSUES
A stress test and echocardiogram revealed Barbara had multiple issues. Heart artery blockages had weakened her heart to the point that it was functioning at about 30 percent. She had severe leakage in her tricuspid valve and lesser leakage in another valve that was a result of her other problems.
Barbara says she had three options.
“I could wait and have a heart attack, just have either valve or bypass surgery, or do it all at once,” she says. “I decided to have everything taken care of.”
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever had done to me. It changed my whole life.” —Barbara Vinck
Barbara says she was not fazed by the prospect of having major surgery, and trusted in her cardiovascular surgery team.
“I just said we’re going to take care of it,” she says. “I wasn’t frightened. I have had a number of major surgeries.”
To repair the blockage, Barbara had a procedure known as coronary artery bypass grafting, or CABG, in which healthy blood vessels are taken from the leg and chest and used to bypass the blocked areas to improve blood flow to the heart. CABG is the most common surgical procedure performed in the U.S. Also repaired was her tricuspid valve.
“The surgery went well,” Barbara says. “Everybody was so caring.”
After surgery, getting back up to speed was up to her.
“We can correct the underlying problem,” says Dr. Calvin. “Then comes cardiac rehab. That’s where the hard work is done.”
Dr. Calvin says that because heart problems prevent people from engaging in vigorous activity, heart patients need to rebuild weakened muscles after surgery. Patients typically go through cardiac rehab for 12 weeks, exercising three times a week for one to two hours each session. After that, Dr. Calvin says he encourages patients to transition to an activity they enjoy to continue to get exercise.
Barbara was up to the task.
Ideally, within three months after surgery, patients are in better physical condition than they were before the procedure, restored to being able to do anything they want. When Dr. Calvin saw Barbara a few months after surgery, the change was dramatic.
“I thought, ‘Wow, she’s vivacious,’” Dr. Calvin says. “She’s doing everything she wants.”
Barbara says her family also noticed the change, as she began going for walks again and was able to travel to Iowa for the Pella Tulip Festival, one of her favorite events.
“My daughters said, ‘We got our mom back,’” she says. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever had done to me. It changed my whole life.”
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