Being self-aware is essential for your overall health. Knowing when something doesn’t feel right should be an instant warning sign for you to take action—like when the “check engine” light comes on in your car. Too often we get busy, don’t want to be a bother, or may want to avoid being around others, and we try to ignore those warning signs. But if you ignore that “check engine” light, it’s going to cost you a lot more money. It can quickly turn into a bad situation.
In the Nick of Time
Gloria McNett of Washington, Illinois, is fit and active at 88 years old. Even after retiring from teaching, she still volunteered at a hospital and stayed busy at her church. But for the last few years, her heart had been an issue, so she kept a close eye on it, having a sonogram every three years.
When she started feeling off, Gloria went back ahead of time for another sonogram, but they couldn’t get a good reading. A short time later, she began feeling winded, having back pain and tiring easily. She knew she had to look for help. “I just didn’t feel good. I suspected it was tied in with my aortic valve, and it was,” Gloria explains. “My doctor sent me to the emergency room. The valve had stopped working.”
The emergency room physician took Gloria’s hand, looked her in the eye and said the situation was dire. “My thoughts immediately began planning all the things that would need to be put in place with these words,” she notes. Gloria was placed in the intensive care unit for two weeks while her care team worked out a strategy. Because she was high-risk, they wanted to send her to a specialist in St. Louis, but Gloria refused. She knew time was short and didn’t want to be away from her family if things went wrong.
“I was fortunate to have two good medical people on my side: my informally adopted daughter, Debbie Walker, who works at OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute, and my granddaughter, Michelle McNett, a pediatric-intensive care nurse at a Los Angeles children’s hospital,” she says. “Michelle started doing research and told me to go to OSF. They had the experience and the track record, and that was exactly what I needed to hear.” Michelle came home from Los Angeles, and the two women started advocating for Gloria.
Sudhir Mungee, MD, director of the Structural Heart Division at OSF Cardiovascular Institute, was contacted about the situation. He and Dr. Marco Barzallo agreed to do a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), which they have performed more than 900 times in the last six years. “While Gloria was a very high-risk candidate, Dr. Barzallo and I have the experience to perform these critical-nature TAVRs,” Dr. Mungee explains. “Gloria and her family decided to transfer to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center ASAP.”
The TAVR procedure has become a mainstay treatment for aortic stenosis in low- to high-risk patients. This minimally invasive procedure to replace the aortic valve is an alternative to traditional open-heart aortic valve replacement surgery. TAVR is performed through a small pinhole incision in the groin. A catheter transports the valve to the heart and positions it into place. Most patients can move about three to four hours after the procedure, and around 90 percent go home the next day.
The team performed the complex TAVR with local anesthesia, and instantly Gloria started to improve. She went from being in heart failure and shock to starting rehabilitation the very next morning. After only a couple days of strengthening, she was able to go home. “The team at the OSF Cardiovascular Institute was unbelievable. They continued to check on me even after I was better,” she says. “It was a miracle. If any of those things hadn’t happened, it could have turned out a lot different.”
Listen to Your Body
Gloria’s advice? Know and listen to your body. “I learned a long time ago that you’re responsible for your own body. I knew, or at least suspected, what was going on,” she says. “You know your body, and you have to be aware of reading your body. Because ultimately, the decisions are yours. They give you options, but you have to decide what will happen.”
She also encourages everyone to remember the importance of mental and spiritual strength. “I felt from the beginning that I was in God’s hands. He was in control and continually opened the closed doors. I never doubted that,” Gloria states. “You can call it faith, but if you don’t believe in a higher power, you can call it attitude. You have to be hopeful and follow it up with a positive attitude.”
According to Gloria, there was one moment—just before the St. Louis option was presented to her—that she wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. “But it was miraculous how this other option happened,” she recalls. “For me, I always felt like God had a plan. He still had more things for me to do and to carry on His work. Whatever you believe in, it has to be personal. You have to keep going.” PM