Posts Tagged ‘Heart’

The Heart of a Woman

February 3, 2011

Written by heart attack survivor Susan Cardelli:

Just last week was the 10th Anniversary of my heart attack—January 25, 2001—or as the medical community would call it “A Cardiac Event”. Whenever I hear it referred to as a “cardiac event”, I always picture myself walking down the red carpet, dressed in a sequined hospital gown, pulling an IV cart, while waving at the paparazzi.

As we all know, having a heart attack, open heart surgery, or any heart procedure is anything but glamorous. It is frightening, lonely, painful, and life-altering. It is also isolating and causes most of us to suffer from depression. The media, people around us, and some medical professionals cluck their tongues and blame us, the patients, for having heart disease. We should’ve exercised more, ate more whole grain Cheerios, had less stress, lost weight, etc. What is worse is that WE blame ourselves!

For too long I beat myself up and blamed myself. This only kept me depressed, not caring about whether I lived or not, despite the fact that my cardiologist told me over and over again that the reason I had my heart attack at age 41 was due to heredity. It finally dawned on me that it was not about “fault” or “blame”, but about acceptance of what is. I had to get to a place of learning to love myself before I could take any steps towards taking care of myself.

I believe what the medical community and society in general needs to focus on is not what exercises or diets or medicines we need—but first, how we feel about what happened to us, how we feel about ourselves, and how to move forward in lives that have been forever changed.

Joining WomenHeart in 2001, just a few weeks after my heart attack, has been a major reason why I am still here. WomenHeart Co-founder Nancy Loving called me and talked with me for a long time. She made me realize that I was not alone and that there were others who had also been misdiagnosed and under treated. It was great talking with someone who totally understood. Then, in October of 2002, I attended the first ever Science and Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease at the Mayo Clinic. That is when I made amazing connections, and the real healing began.

There were many tears shed throughout the symposium. These tears were of relief and joy that, yes, we were truly not alone in this. We were finally being heard and validated. We all became family instantaneously. Even though we were all from different parts of the country and different ages, lifestyles, ethnicities and beliefs—having the shared experience of heart disease brought us together.

I am still so amazed and proud of what our WomenHeart Sisters Class of 2002 have accomplished in the last 10 years! When we started going out there, no one knew that heart disease was the #1 killer of women. All they saw were pink ribbons on yogurt. Today, almost everyone has seen a red dress on some product or ad. We started that. Imagine how many lives we have all saved…

A special thanks to all my WomenHeart sisters for having the courage to go out there and educate other women and medical professionals that yes, it is not just a woman’s heart that is important; but the heart of a woman as well.

Naomi Atrubin, American Heart Association Heart and Stroke Hero winner award

September 22, 2010

Naomi Atrubin of Rochester, Minnesota, is a two-time heart attack survivor. Not only is she a survivor, but she is also an active volunteer in the community, giving back to others through educating people she meets about heart disease.

One of Naomi’s volunteer interests is participating in Mayo Clinic’s One Voice patient/family advisory council for the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases. One Voice is dedicated to building on Mayo’s traditional value of the “needs of the patient come first.” This unique group of patients, family members and health care staff collaborate to develop improved processes and optimal outcomes for future patients.

Now, Naomi’s efforts at educating others will be recognized by the American Heart Association with the Heart and Stroke Hero Award at the annual gala in Minneapolis on October 16.

Read about Naomi’s heart health journey here:
I had my first heart attack on Christmas Eve 1992. Although I have been around cardiology and cardiologists most of my life, I was in denial at the time. I was a 62-year-old woman, and this couldn’t be happening to me. My second heart attack was in October 1997. Again, I found it very inconvenient and was fighting recognizing the symptoms.

In both episodes I had the classic symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and great weakness) and the family history too.

My family has a dreadful cardiac history which I guess is true of many cardiac families:
• My father, a cardiologist, died of a heart attack at age 51. He had “heart trouble” for seven years.
• My only brother, also a cardiologist, had a heart attack and suddenly died at the age of 50.
• My nephew (my brother’s son) had heart surgery at age 38.
• My sister had a heart attack at age 60 which she survived.

Naomi playing in a volleyball tournament at her high school reunion

I have participated in cardiac rehab twice, and I’m mostly
virtuous, following “healthy living” rules. I stay active, watch my diet and exercise often. I even got to play in a volleyball tournament at my high school all-school class reunion in Winnipeg. It was the 100th anniversary of the school.

I have been very active in the Rochester Coronary Club and in One Voice, and I am very active in “Women Heart” the advocacy group in Washington, DC. In 2005 I graduated from the “Women Heart” four day intensive training program, run conjointly by “Women Heart” and the Mayo Clinic, and I served a three year term on Mayo’s Institutional Review Board. I also was director of the “Heart Fund” race back in the late 1970s. I feel that by “giving back” through these activities, that I am thanking the Mayo Clinic for helping me survive my two heart attacks.

I joined the Coronary Club seven years before my first
heart attack because I was feeling so bad about my brother’s
heart attack and sudden death at age 50. I needed to do something. Kathy Zarling, who started the Coronary Club, was very supportive.

Naomi met Senator Franken while attending a training program with Women Heart in Washington, D.C.

There is still so much to be done to educate the public about
heart disease, and I want to be one of the educators. It can be done by giving talks but also in nontraditional ways, with friends at coffee shops and in other informal situations.

This story was submitted by Naomi Atrubin, a patient at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Deanna Constans, a communication specialist in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, also contributed.

To learn more about One Voice, please contact Carrie Sanvick, RN, Mayo Clinic One Voice Co-Chair (507-255-7074).

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Mayo Clinic is my answer

September 6, 2010

People often ask 22-year-veteran Kay Thiemann why she has stayed at Mayo Clinic for so many years. Her answer is simple: “Because we embrace our mission to put the needs of the patient first. And because we are committed to delivering quality care for our patients each and every time. It is very important to me that my personal values fit with my employer’s values.”

As the operations administrator for the departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery on the Florida campus, people rely on Kay Thiemann for answers. But when Thiemann recently needed answers, she had faith her colleagues would come through for her.

Ben Thiemann

On July 20, her son was brought to Mayo Clinic after complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath while attending a sports camp. As she anxiously waited for the results of his tests, she received a frightening call that her brother had been taken to the Rochester campus after suffering two heart attacks.

Thiemann says her brother Lynn had been on vacation in Iowa when the first heart attack occurred. “I was told he was taken to a rural hospital where the physician advised he was fine and would be discharged. He knew there was something wrong.” She said her brother insisted he be taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for a second opinion.

Thiemann was now more anxious. But soon, she had answers.

Though Ben had experienced symptoms similar to his uncle, Thiemann’s son was diagnosed with an extreme iron deficiency that could easily be treated. It was due to his extreme physical activity.

Lynn, however, was a bit more complex. He suffered a second heart attack during transport to the clinic and was determined to have a carotid artery that was 95 percent blocked. Surgery was needed to insert a stent.

“He was told by staff at the clinic if he had waited another 12 hours he would not have made it,” Thiemann said. “But he said he would rather have died trying to get to Mayo Clinic, than to have never tried at all.”

Today, both Ben and Lynn are doing well and Thiemann is even more vocal about the value of Mayo Clinic and its model of care.

“There is not a health care system that compares to the quality of care of Mayo Clinic and the compassion its staff provides to its patients,” Thiemann said. “When my family needs answers, there is only one Mayo Clinic.”

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Michigan heart patient counting blessings

December 18, 2009

This story was submitted by Ron Reffitt Jr.

Photograph by Melinda Ann Photography of Williamsburg, Mich

In this photo, I’m holding my first grandson, Blake, born this summer to my daughter, Jennifer, behind me, and her husband, Brandon. My sons, Cody and Ron, are on the other side of me. The smile on my face says it all — how happy and grateful I am to be alive and with my family.

In January 2009, I was diagnosed with a very rare cancerous tumor in my heart and was told prognosis was not good, and I only had six to eighteen months to live. Luckily my local cardiologist made several phone calls, and I was fortunate enough to end up at Mayo Clinic where they performed surgery and removed the majority of the tumor.

It’s been a long year filled with chemotherapy and radiation and numerous trips back to Mayo for follow-up testing and evaluations with my doctors to keep things in check. So far so good, and there is no evidence of any tumors growing — which is a wonderful feeling to have, especially this time of year.

I live in a small town in Northern Lower Michigan so everybody knows everybody. These days, every once in a while I get the “you’re supposed to be dead” kind of look. I smile at them when they realize it really is me.

I have a ton to be thankful for this year; just sitting at the table for Thanksgiving held new meaning. For me, the worst part of the last year was hearing and seeing how much it bothered my parents and the rest of my family to hear that I may not be around much longer. Once what you have been told about your illness really starts to sink in and you understand what you are up against, watching how worried and upset your family feels while there is nothing you can do about it is probably the worst feeling and part of the entire process. A person actually is then dealing with how they feel as well as trying to understand how others feel at the same time. Thankfully we are past that now.

A word about Mayo: No one person can know everything there is to know about everything — that is where a team effort comes into play and what the Mayo people are so good at. No ego, just quality patient care and people who genuinely care about the patient. It’s not, ‘Hello, I’m doctor so and so. It’s Hello, My name is ———and I am a ———-.’ They bring themselves to a person’s level when they speak and in the way they introduce themselves — and also in the way they present themselves. It’s not, ‘No we cannot help.’ Instead it’s, ‘This is what we are going to do and how we think we can help.’

To read Ron’s first post, click here.

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Happy Holidays, Happy Heart

December 17, 2009

Ah, the holidays − a time when most people have added chaos in their lives. Between stressing over finances and the best gifts to buy, fighting traffic at the mall and packing the calendar with parties, it can be the complete opposite of comfort and joy. As a result, the holidays can take a toll on health problems, especially heart disease.

As an intern with Public Affairs, I recently helped organize an interview between one of Mayo Clinic’s Emergency Medicine physicians, Gretchen Lipke, M.D., and a local radio station. Dr. Lipke was sharing information about the rise in holiday-time heart attacks and stroke.  

This is a time of year when people tend to stray from daily routines. They delay exercise and go off their diets. Those with health problems may shy away from seeing a doctor because they don’t want to disrupt the festivities. But sometimes, the problems can’t be ignored.

Dr. Lipke mentioned several studies that report more people suffer from heart attacks and strokes during the holidays than any other time throughout the year. The biggest spikes are seen on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

With all of the holiday parties and family gatherings, people tend to have more alcoholic beverages than normal. This can lead to “Holiday Heart” − a condition that may result in atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that can be spurred by binge drinking. Dr. Lipke told about a patient who was brought to Mayo Clinic’s Emergency Department with chest pain after drinking three glasses of wine at an office party.

After hearing Dr. Lipke speak of these issues, I began to think that I could unknowingly become a victim of holiday heart. Perhaps some lifestyle changes were necessary.

I have a family history of cardiovascular disease. My maternal grandfather died at age 47 from a heart attack. And I was diagnosed with a heart murmur a few years ago. Although I try to watch my diet and exercise regularly, I still indulge in a glass of wine (or two or three) on occasion. I admit to taking it easy with the dieting and exercising during the holidays, too.

After listening to Dr. Lipke, I know I need to remain conscious of my diet and cut back on the alcohol. I like Dr. Lipke, but I don’t want to ring in the New Year with her at the hospital.

♥ For more on heart attack signs and symptoms of stroke, visit

♥ As Dr. Lipke advises, don’t hesitate to call 911 or get medical attention if you have chest pain, arm pain or trouble swallowing or seeing. It’s worth your life to interrupt the party.

The following was written by Cody DeSaulniers, an intern in the Public Affairs Department at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus.

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Mike’s Mechanical Aortic Valve

December 1, 2009

Editor’s Note: Mike from the Minneapolis area sent us this message on the day after Thanksgiving, as he wanted to share his gratitude for the care he received at Mayo Clinic earlier this year. His story is below; here are options for how you can share your story.

Hello my name is Mike, and in March of 2009 I had a mechanical aortic valve (and some other stuff, ha!) installed by Dr. Hartzell Schaff.

I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve and I always knew it would need to be replaced at some point. Age 45 became my some point and thus the reason for the surgery. I am very fortunate to live in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area because there are significant options for quality health care in the area. Faced with the fact that I needed to have my valve replaced sooner rather than later I started to research my options regarding the location and surgeon. I found many that I’m sure I would have had a good experience with but when it came down to it, it seemed to me I should visit the Mayo Clinic because I heard they are the best and my research proved that out.

So I scheduled a clinic day for March 17th with the help of Donna Stucky who was wonderful to work with. My day of testing couldn’t have gone smoother, everyone was so professional, competent and complete in their area. My wife came with me and by the end of the day we were both in agreement, this was the place for us! The uneasy feeling of the unknown wasn’t gone but it had diminished greatly. I also happened to meet a couple of Dr. Schaff’s patients during the day and they explained he is the absolute best surgeon – one of the best in the world. By the end of the day I was set for surgery with Dr. Schaff and his team one week later and I was looking forward to getting on the road to recovery.

I didn’t know what to expect going to the hospital that morning in March, as I’ve not spent a lot of time in hospitals and haven’t had any significant surgeries prior to this one. Thinking about it now, I’d say my experience was so positive and life changing it’s impossible to put into words, but I’ll try.


Michigan man’s care highlights Mayo’s culture, expertise

October 12, 2009

Just days after being told he had a tumor inside his heart, Ron Reffitt Jr., of Elk Rapids, Mich., was on a medical airplane headed to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Gazing down at Lake Michigan on that beautiful sunny day in January 2009, he wondered: Is this the last time I’ll see this?

His symptoms began on New Year’s Day in 2009 — the day after his 42nd birthday. Reffitt woke with a cramp in his neck. The pain worsened as he walked to the kitchen, where he passed out. He roused and passed out again.

At the local hospital, tests revealed fluid around his heart. Then came the real blow: he had a tumor in the right atrium of his heart. Reffitt, who works in his family’s construction business in Traverse City, Mich., was told he didn’t have long to live.